JSON-LD Serialization

Table of Contents


JSON-LD is a Linked Open Data serialization using the popular JSON (Javascript Object Notation) format that is convenient for both backend and browser based development. It is specified by the W3C as an official serialization. Continued development work happens in the JSON for Linking Data W3C Community Group.

The serialization for JSON-LD is friendly to developers through the use of context documents that specify the mapping between the key used in the json object and the RDF predicate used in the model. This abstraction allows the developer to work with existing patterns and frameworks, while the data is still managed as a graph underneath. This document describes the context used for CIDOC-CRM and other ontologies.

The context that provides the mapping of the terms used in the model is published as:


Media Type

The media type to use for representations in JSON-LD using the context is:


This would be the value of the Content-Type HTTP header on responses, and if there are other representations available via content negotiation, then it can be sent in requests in the Accept header.

Other Serialization Formats

Other serialization formats of the underlying graph may also be available, such as RDF/XML, Turtle, other standardized formats, or even non-standardized representations. These are not required in order to fully conform with the Linked Art API, and should not be assumed to exist. How to request these alternative serializations is documented in the protocol section.


The examples throughout the documentation use the JSON-LD serialization. Each has a link to the raw JSON-LD, and to load it into the invaluable JSON-LD playground where you can explore the details. Instead of trying to describe all of the predicates and classes (for that just read the CIDOC-CRM specification), we present the models for the known use cases in an attempt to be more practical and results oriented. We strive for usability and familiarity for developers, and the examples aim to present best practices at the same time as being easy to follow.

An example of the JSON-LD serialization for a painting, that is made of watercolor on a canvas support:

  "@context": "https://linked.art/ns/v1/linked-art.json", 
  "id": "https://linked.art/example/object/2", 
  "type": "HumanMadeObject", 
  "_label": "Example Painting", 
  "classified_as": [
      "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300033618", 
      "type": "Type", 
      "_label": "Painting", 
      "classified_as": [
          "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300435443", 
          "type": "Type", 
          "_label": "Type of Work"
      "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300133025", 
      "type": "Type", 
      "_label": "Artwork"
  "made_of": [
      "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300015045", 
      "type": "Material", 
      "_label": "watercolors"
  "part": [
      "id": "https://linked.art/example/object/2/part/1", 
      "type": "HumanMadeObject", 
      "_label": "Canvas Support", 
      "classified_as": [
          "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300014844", 
          "type": "Type", 
          "_label": "Support", 
          "classified_as": [
              "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300241583", 
              "type": "Type", 
              "_label": "Part Type"
      "made_of": [
          "id": "http://vocab.getty.edu/aat/300014078", 
          "type": "Material", 
          "_label": "canvas"
graph TD classDef object stroke:black,fill:#E1BA9C,rx:20px,ry:20px; classDef actor stroke:black,fill:#FFBDCA,rx:20px,ry:20px; classDef type stroke:red,fill:#FAB565,rx:20px,ry:20px; classDef name stroke:orange,fill:#FEF3BA,rx:20px,ry:20px; classDef dims stroke:black,fill:#c6c6c6,rx:20px,ry:20px; classDef infoobj stroke:#907010,fill:#fffa40,rx:20px,ry:20px classDef timespan stroke:blue,fill:#ddfffe,rx:20px,ry:20px classDef place stroke:#3a7a3a,fill:#aff090,rx:20px,ry:20px classDef event stroke:blue,fill:#96e0f6,rx:20px,ry:20px classDef literal stroke:black,fill:#f0f0e0; classDef classstyle stroke:black,fill:white; O1(object2) class O1 object; O1-- type -->O1_0[HumanMadeObject] class O1_0 classstyle; O1-- _label -->O1_4("''Example Painting''") class O1_4 literal; O2(aat:300033618) class O2 type; O2-- type -->O2_0[Type] class O2_0 classstyle; O2-- _label -->O2_3("''Painting''") class O2_3 literal; O3(aat:300435443) class O3 type; O3-- type -->O3_0[Type] class O3_0 classstyle; O3-- _label -->O3_3("''Type of Work''") class O3_3 literal; O2-- classified_as -->O3 O1-- classified_as -->O2 O4(aat:300133025) class O4 type; O4-- type -->O4_0[Type] class O4_0 classstyle; O4-- _label -->O4_3("''Artwork''") class O4_3 literal; O1-- classified_as -->O4 O5(aat:300015045) class O5 type; O5-- type -->O5_0[Material] class O5_0 classstyle; O5-- _label -->O5_3("''watercolors''") class O5_3 literal; O1-- made_of -->O5 O6(object2part1) class O6 object; O6-- type -->O6_0[HumanMadeObject] class O6_0 classstyle; O6-- _label -->O6_3("''Canvas Support''") class O6_3 literal; O7(aat:300014844) class O7 type; O7-- type -->O7_0[Type] class O7_0 classstyle; O7-- _label -->O7_3("''Support''") class O7_3 literal; O8(aat:300241583) class O8 type; O8-- type -->O8_0[Type] class O8_0 classstyle; O8-- _label -->O8_3("''Part Type''") class O8_3 literal; O7-- classified_as -->O8 O6-- classified_as -->O7 O9(aat:300014078) class O9 type; O9-- type -->O9_0[Material] class O9_0 classstyle; O9-- _label -->O9_3("''canvas''") class O9_3 literal; O6-- made_of -->O9 O1-- part -->O6
Other Representations: JSON-LD (Raw) | JSON-LD (Playground) | Turtle (Raw) | Turtle (Styled)

Context Design

The important part of the JSON-LD serialization is the shared context document. This context has some design constraints that it is useful to understand before looking at the data model and mapping from the ontology. In particular:

  • The resulting JSON must be valid Linked Open Data and valid JSON-LD. The nested object structure in the JSON is a result of the graph of resources.
  • The resulting JSON must be understandable by developers who are unfamiliar with both the model and RDF in general. If the target technical audience was developers who had the full suite of RDF tools at their disposal, then Turtle and SPARQL would likely be preferable. The serialization instead tries to make the content as accessible as the model will allow, to the broadest possible audience.
  • The resulting JSON must be usable regardless of programming language or application environment to ensure the widest possible adoption and value. The context is designed to allow as many of conveniences as possible to be used, and to maximize the situations in which it can be used. Consistency is a core feature of usability, and as such the context tries to be as consistent as possible.

There are some challenges overlaid on these principles from the CIDOC-CRM ontology.

  • The use of numbers in the class and properties runs counter to the understandable and usable principles.
  • The use of - in the names of some classes and properties reduces usability, as it is not allowed as the name of a property in most programming languages.
  • The use of the same name for a property, minus its number, is not possible in JSON-LD as the keys must map uniquely to a predicate.
  • The use of underscores in class or property names is not common in Javascript or in RDF ontologies, which tend to prefer CamelCase.
  • The same conceptual relationship between resources has different instantiations in the ontology, introducing unnecessary inconsistency. For example, the core partitioning relationships are class-specific rather than being a more obvious part relationship for everything.

The context tries to manage all of these issues in a practical and programmatically accesible way from the ontology definition.


The following process is used to create the JSON-LD keys from the CIDOC-CRM ontology:

  • Remove @ symbols (id not @id) as a JSON-LD best practice
  • Remove namespaces from classes and properties (E22_Man-Made_Object not crm:E22_Man-Made_Object) as unnecessary with the context mapping
  • Remove the prefix numbers (Man-Made_Object not E22_Man-Made_Object) as impossible to remember
  • Remove dashes (ManMade_Object not Man-Made_Object) as invalid in class names
  • Use upper CamelCase for classes (ManMadeObject not ManMade_Object) as common practice
  • Use lower snake_case for properties (is_identified_by) as generating camelCase is difficult automatically for such a broad set of terms
  • Remove is_, was_, has_ and had_ from the beginning of properties, as being inconsistently applied in the ontology and hard to remember (identified_by not is_identified_by ; compare the created and destroyed properties, which are not of the form was_created in the ontology)
  • Rename properties with collisions, from furthest down the hierarchy first, with a first effort of adding the range's class to the predicate name, but preferring a human understandable term
  • Rename properties that are inconsistently named, when those properties are used
  • Provide a single context with all of the terms, to facilitate ease of extensions using core terminology
  • Include prefixes for commonly used ontologies (skos, schema, rdf) and vocabularies (aat, tgn, geonames)

The context implements the notion that if a property can ever have multiple values, then it must always be an array. In JSON-LD this is done with @container: @set on such properties, and you'll see many instances of this in the examples where a property has an array with a single object inside it.

The context is designed for JSON-LD 1.1, and uses the feature known as "scoped contexts": sub-contexts that are defined per class or per relationship that apply only within that term. This is used to map all of the the various partitioning relationships to part and part_of, regardless of the type of resource being partitioned. This feature makes the JSON much easier to read and write, without losing the semantic precision of the separate underlying terms.

Name collisions and naming inconsistencies in the ontology have been resolved as follows:

Property Key
P2 classified_as
P5 subState
P5i subState_of
P7i location_of
P9 part
P9i part_of
P12 involved
P14i carried_out
P20i specific_purpose_of
P28 transferred_custody_from
P29 transferred_custody_to
P29i acquired_custody_through
P32 technique
P33 specific_technique
P35i condition_identified_by
P37 assigned_identifier
P37i identifier_assigned_by
P42 assigned_type
P42i type_assigned_by
P45 made_of
P46 part
P46i part_of
P50 current_custodian
P50i current_custodian_of
P56 bears
P65 shows
P74 residence
P86 part_of
P86i part
P89 part_of
P89i part
P100i died
P101 general_use
P106 part
P106i part_of
P107 member
P107i member_of
P127 part_of
P127i part
P132 volume_overlaps_with
P133 distinct_from
P135i type_created_by
P139 alternative
P140 assigned_to
P148 c_part
P148i c_part_of
P151i participated_in_formation
P164i timespan_of_presence
P165i incorporated_by
P168 defined_by
P172 spatially_contains
P177 assigned_property
P186i type_produced_by
P190 content
skos:exactMatch exact_match
sci:O19_has_found_object encountered
sci:O13i_is_triggered_by caused_by
la:has_member member
la:member_of member_of
rdfs:seeAlso see_also
dcterms:relation related
dcterms:conformsTo conforms_to
rdfs:label _label
sci:O19i_was_object_found_by encountered_by
skos:closeMatch close_match
sci:O13_triggers caused
schema:genre style