A Visual Notation for OWL Ontologies (VisioOWL)

VisioOWL is a Microsoft Visio application to support the use of Visio for creating graphical representations of OWL ontologies. This implementation is intended to provide, as close as possible, a direct one-to-one mapping between the OWL language constructs and their graphical representation. The graphical representation of an OWL ontology may provide, for some developers and users, a more comprehensive insight into overall class and property relationships than could be garnered from the OWL markup alone.

Please contact John Flynn at jflynn12@gmail.com with any comments or questions about VisioOWL or with comments, suggestions or questions about this page. Also visit SemanticSimulations.com for information related to the use of OWL to support modeling and simulation applications.


VisioOWL consists of a Visio template, stencil and an example drawing. The Visio stencil contains shapes that represent the OWL and RDF language constructs that can be used to create ontologies. The Visio stencil is titled "OWL" and it looks like the figure below.

You can apply any one of the OWL language constructs by clicking on it and holding down the left mouse button while dragging it onto the drawing page.

When you wish to create a new ontology drawing using VisioOWL, double click on the OWL.vst file. That will bring up the OWL template, which consists of the OWL stencil and a blank drawing page. When you use a connector that represents a language construct, such as "subClassOf" to connect two boxes that represent language constructs, such as "Class", drag the end of the connector into each box until the outline of the box turns red. That ensures that the connection is permanent so that the connections will not break if you drag the boxes to new locations on the drawing. After you have completed creating your new ontology, select Save and you will be prompted to name the ontology drawing file.

For information and examples on how to use the various OWL and RDF constructs consult:
OWL Guide: http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-owl-guide-20040210/
OWL Reference: http://www.w3.org/TR/owl-ref/
OWL Semantics: http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-owl-semantics-20040210/
OWL Overview: http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-owl-features-20040210/


 Below is a portion of the OWL Wine Ontology that is used in the OWL Language Guide. You can download this VisioOWL example via the links at the bottom of this page or from http://www.semwebcentral.org/projects/visioowl/


VisioOWL uses some conventions for graphical representation of OWL ontologies that are intended to help visualize the relationships between entities. One such convention is that the graphical connector arcs, such as disjointWith have arrowheads at both ends of the connector because there is bi-directional meaning to disjointWith. There is a solid black arrowhead at one end and a solid white arrowhead at the other end. The black arrowhead should point to the resource that is being referenced in the OWL markup. For example:

<owl:Class rdf:ID="Female">
    <rdfs:subClassOF rdf:resource="#Animal"/>
    <owl:disjointWith rdf:resource=#Male"/>

specifically states that the class Female is disjointWith the class Male. So, the white arrowhead should connect to Female and the black arrowhead should connect to Male. This allows the viewer to visualize with which class the connector was declared.

Installing VisioOWL

Download the Visio OWL Template and Stencil by right-clicking on the links below and selecting Save Template As. Place both files in an appropriately named folder, such as "Ontologies" on your desktop or elsewhere then double click on the template file. When you use the template to create an ontology and then select Save or Save As the file will automatically be saved as a .vsd Visio drawing file.
Visio 2003 Pro:
VisioOWL Stencil
VisioOWL Template
Wine ontology: This graphically demonstrates key concepts from the wine ontology used in the OWL Guide. This will allow for easy visualization of the OWL constructs explained in the OWL Guide.
FOAF ontology: This is a graphical representation of the friend-of-a-friend ontology. A jpeg image of the FOAF ontology can be downloaded here.
VisioDAML Example: Note there are relatively minor differences in OWL and DAML so that the VisioDAML example is still useful for demonstration purposes.

If you do not have a copy of Microsoft Visio you can still view Visio drawings by using the free Visio 2013 Viewer