Skip to main content Accessibility help

Ontology visualization methods and tools: a survey of the state of the art

  • Marek Dudáš (a1), Steffen Lohmann (a2), Vojtěch Svátek (a1) and Dmitry Pavlov (a3)


Various ontology visualization tools using different visualization methods exist and new ones are being developed every year. The goal of this paper is to follow up on previous surveys with an updated classification of ontology visualization methods and a comprehensive survey of available tools. The tools are analyzed for the used visualization methods, interaction techniques and supported ontology constructs. It shows that most of the tools apply two-dimensional node-link visualizations with a focus on class hierarchies. Color and shape are used with little variation, support for constructs introduced with version 2 of the OWL Web Ontology Language is limited, and it often remains vague what tasks and use cases are supported by the visualizations. Major challenges are the limited maturity and usability of many of the tools as well as providing an overview of large ontologies while also showing details on demand. We see a high demand for a universal ontology visualization framework implementing a core set of visual and interactive features that can be extended and customized to respective use cases.



Hide All
Alani, H. 2003. TGVizTab: an ontology visualisation extension for Protege. In K-Cap’03 Workshop on Visualization Information in Knowledge Engineering.
Bach, B., Pietriga, E., Liccardi, I. & Legostaev, G. 2011. OntoTrix: a hybrid visualization for populated ontologies. In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference Companion on World Wide Web, 177-180. ACM.
Bārzdiņš, J., Bārzdiņš, G., Čerāns, K., Liepiņš, R. & Sprog´is, A. 2010. OWLGrEd: a UML style graphical notation and editor for OWL 2. In Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop OWL: Experience and Directions (OWLED-2010), CEUR WS 614.
Bertin, J. 1983. Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps, Berg, W.J. (trans). University of Wisconsin Press.
Borst, W. N. 1997. Construction of engineering ontologies for knowledge sharing and reuse, Universiteit Twente.
Bosca, A., Bonino, D. & Pellegrino, P. 2005. OntoSphere: more than a 3D ontology visualization tool. In SWAP, the 2nd Italian Semantic Web Workshop.
Burch, M. & Lohmann, S. 2015. Visualizing the evolution of ontologies: a dynamic graph perspective. In Ivanova, V., Lambrix, P., Lohmann, S. & Pesquita, C. (eds). Proceedings of the International Workshop on Visualizations and User Interfaces for Ontologies and Linked Data (VOILA 2015), CEUR WS 1456, 69.
Card, S. K. 2002. Information visualization. In Human-Computer Interaction Handbook, Julie A. Jacko & Andrew Sears (eds). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 544582.
Casasanto, D. 2008. Similarity and proximity: When does close in space mean close in mind? Memory & Cognition 36(6), 10471056.
Catenazzi, N., Sommaruga, L. & Mazza, R. 2009. User-friendly ontology editing and visualization tools: the OWLeasyViz approach. In 2009 13th International Conference Information Visualisation, 283–288. IEEE.
Ceccaroni, L. & Kendall, E. 2003. A graphical environment for ontology development. In Proceedings of the Second International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, 958–959. ACM.
Chung, M., Oh, S., Kim, K., Cho, H. & Cho, H.-K. 2005. Visualizing and authoring owl in ezOWL. In International Conference on Advanced Communication Technology, 528–531.
da Silva, I. C. S., Freitas, C. M. D. S. & Santucci, G. 2012. An integrated approach for evaluating the visualization of intensional and extensional levels of ontologies. In Proceedings of the 2012 BELIV Workshop: Beyond Time and Errors-Novel Evaluation Methods for Visualization, 2. ACM.
Dmitrieva, J. & Verbeek, F. J. 2009. Node-link and containment methods in ontology visualization. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on OWL: Experiences and Directions-Volume 529, 240–247. CEUR-WS. org.
Dudáš, M., Zamazal, O. & Svátek, V. 2014. Roadmapping and navigating in the ontology visualization landscape. In Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management, 137–152. Springer.
Eklund, P., Roberts, N. & Green, S. 2002. OntoRama: browsing rdf ontologies using a hyperbolic-style browser. In Cyber Worlds, 2002. Proceedings. First International Symposium on, 405–411. IEEE.
Falconer, S. 2010. OntoGraf Protege plugin. Place, (accessed 21 March 2014).
Falconer, S. M., Callendar, C. & Storey, M.-A. 2009. Flexviz: visualizing biomedical ontologies on the web. In International Conference on Biomedical Ontology, Software Demonstration.
Fu, B., Noy, N. F. & Storey, M.-A. 2013. Indented tree or graph? A usability study of ontology visualization techniques in the context of class mapping evaluation. In The Semantic Web-ISWC 2013, 117–134. Springer.
Fu, B., Noy, N. F. & Storey, M.-A. 2017. Eye tracking the user experience-an evaluation of ontology visualization techniques. Semantic Web 8(1), 2341.
García-Peñalvo, F. J., Colomo-Palacios, R., García, J. & Therón, R. 2012. Towards an ontology modeling tool. A validation in software engineering scenarios. Expert Systems with Applications 39(13), 1146811478.
Guo, S. S. & Chan, C. W. 2010. A tool for ontology visualizaiton in 3D graphics: Onto3DViz. In 2010 23rd Canadian Conference on Electrical and Computer Engineering (CCECE), 1–4. IEEE.
Haag, F., Lohmann, S., Negru, S. & Ertl, T. 2014. OntoViBe: an ontology visualization benchmark. In International Workshop on Visualizations and User Interfaces for Knowledge Engineering and Linked Data Analytics (VISUAL 2014), 1299, 14–27.
Hartung, M., Groß, A. & Rahm, E. 2012. CODEX: exploration of semantic changes between ontology versions. Bioinformatics 28(6), 895896.
Hayes, P., Eskridge, T. C., Saavedra, R., Reichherzer, T., Mehrotra, M. & Bobrovnikoff, D. 2005. Collaborative knowledge capture in ontologies. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Knowledge Capture, 99–106. ACM.
Herman, I., Melancon, G. & Marshall, M. S. 2000. Graph visualization and navigation in information visualization: a survey. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 6(1), 2443.
Holten, D. 2006. Hierarchical edge bundles: visualization of adjacency relations in hierarchical data. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 12(5), 741748.
Hop, W., de Ridder, S., Frasincar, F. & Hogenboom, F. 2012. Using hierarchical edge bundles to visualize complex ontologies in glow. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, 304–311. ACM.
Howse, J., Stapleton, G., Taylor, K. & Chapman, P. 2011. Visualizing ontologies: a case study. In The Semantic Web-ISWC 2011, 257–272. Springer.
Hussain, A., Latif, K., Rextin, A. T., Hayat, A. & Alam, M. 2014. Scalable visualization of semantic nets using power-law graphs. Applied Mathematics & Information Sciences 8(1), 355.
Jiao, Z. L., Liu, Q., Li, Y.-F., Marriott, K., Wybrow, M. 2013. Visualization of large ontologies with landmarks. In GRAPP/IVAPP, 461–470. SciTePress.
Johnson, B. & Shneiderman, B. 1991. Tree-maps: a space-filling approach to the visualization of hierarchical information structures. In Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Visualization'91, 284–291. IEEE Computer Society Press.
Katifori, A., Halatsis, C., Lepouras, G., Vassilakis, C. & Giannopoulou, E. 2007. Ontology visualization methods a survey. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR) 39(4), 10.
Katifori, A., Torou, E., Halatsis, C., Lepouras, G. & Vassilakis, C. 2006. A comparative study of four ontology visualization techniques in protege: experiment setup and preliminary results. In Tenth International Conference on Information Visualization, 2006. IV 2006, 417–423. IEEE.
Knublauch, H., Fergerson, R. W., Noy, N. F. & Musen, M. A. 2004. The Protege OWL plugin: an open development environment for semantic web applications. In The Semantic Web-ISWC 2004, 229–243. Springer.
Kriglstein, S. & Wallner, G. 2010. Knoocks – a visualization approach for OWL Lite ontologies. In 2010 International Conference on Complex, Intelligent and Software Intensive Systems (CISIS), 950–955. IEEE.
Krivov, S., Williams, R. & Villa, F. 2007. GrOWL: A tool for visualization and editing of OWL ontologies. Web Semantics: Science, Services and Agents on the World Wide Web 5(2), 5457.
Lambrix, P., Dragisic, Z., Ivanova, V. & Anslow, C. 2016. Visualization for ontology evolution. In Ivanova, V., Lambrix, P., Lohmann, S. & Pesquita, C. (eds). Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Visualization and Interaction for Ontologies and Linked Data (VOILA 2016), CEUR WS 1704 , 54–67.
Lamping, J., Rao, R. & Pirolli, P. 1995. A focus+context technique based on hyperbolic geometry for visualizing large hierarchies. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 401–408. ACM Press/Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Lanzenberger, M., Sampson, J. & Rester, M. 2009. Visualization in ontology tools. In Barolli, L., Xhafa, F. & Hsu, H. (eds). 2009 International Conference on Complex, Intelligent and Software Intensive Systems (CISIS), 705–711. IEEE CS.
Liebig, T. & Noppens, O. 2005. OntoTrack: a semantic approach for ontology authoring. Web Semantics: Science, Services and Agents on the World Wide Web 3(2), 116131.
Lohmann, S., Link, V., Marbach, E. & Negru, S. 2015. WebVOWL: web-based visualization of ontologies. In Proceedings of EKAW 2014 Satellite Events, LNAI 8982, 154–158. Springer.
Lohmann, S., Negru, S., Haag, F. & Ertl, T. 2016. Visualizing ontologies with VOWL. Semantic Web 7(4), 399419.
Motta, E., Mulholland, P., Peroni, S., dAquin, M., Gomez-Perez, J. M., Mendez, V. & Zablith, F. 2011. A novel approach to visualizing and navigating ontologies. In The Semantic Web-ISWC 2011, 470–486. Springer.
Mouromtsev, D., Pavlov, D., Emelyanov, Y., Morozov, A., Razdyakonov, D. & Galkin, M. 2015. The simple, web-based tool for visualization and sharing of semantic data and ontologies. In ISWC 2015 Posters & Demonstrations Track. CEUR.
Novak, J. D. & Gowin, D. B. 1984. Learning how to learn. Cambridge University Press.
Ochs, C., Geller, J., Musen, M. A. & Perl, Y. 2017. Real time summarization and visualization of ontology change in protege. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Visualization and Interaction for Ontologies and Linked Data (ISWC 2017), CEUR Workshop Proceedings 1947, 75–86.
Roberts, J. C. 2007. State of the art: coordinated & multiple views in exploratory visualization. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Coordinated and Multiple Views in Exploratory Visualization, CMV’07, 61–71, Washington, DC. IEEE Computer Society.
Sarkar, M. & Brown, M. H. 1992. Graphical fisheye views of graphs. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 83–91. ACM.
Schaaf, M., Jahn, F., Tahar, K., Kücherer, C., Winter, A. & Paech, B. 2016. Visualization of large ontologies in university education from a tool point of view. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 228, 349.
Shneiderman, B. 1996. The eyes have it: a task by data type taxonomy for information visualizations. In IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages, 1996 Proceedings, 336–343. IEEE, ACM.
Somasundaram, R. 2007. OntoSELF: a 3D Ontology Visualization Tool. PhD thesis, Miami University.
Storey, M.-A., Musen, M., Silva, J., Best, C., Ernst, N., Fergerson, R. & Noy, N. 2001. Jambalaya: interactive visualization to enhance ontology authoring and knowledge acquisition in Protege. In Workshop on Interactive Tools for Knowledge Capture (K-CAP-2001), 93.
Tufte, E. R. 1986. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Graphics Press.
Von Landesberger, T., Kuijper, A., Schreck, T., Kohlhammer, J., van Wijk, J. J., Fekete, J.-D. & Fellner, D. W. 2011. Visual analysis of large graphs: state-of-the-art and future research challenges. In Computer Graphics Forum, 30, 1719–1749. Wiley Online Library.
Wang, T. D. & Parsia, B. 2006. Cropcircles: topology sensitive visualization of owl class hierarchies. In International Semantic Web Conference, 4273, 695–708. Springer.
Ware, C. 2012. Information Visualization: Perception for Design. Elsevier.
Weiten, M. 2009. Ontostudio® as a ontology engineering environment. In Semantic Knowledge Management, 51–60. Springer.
Wielemaker, J., Schreiber, G. & Wielinga, B. 2005. Using triples for implementation: the Triple20 ontology-manipulation tool. In The Semantic Web-ISWC 2005, 773–785. Springer.
Wiens, V., Lohmann, S. & Auer, S. 2017. Semantic zooming for ontology graph visualizations. In Proceedings of the Knowledge Capture Conference (K-CAP’17), 4:1–4:8. ACM.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Ontology visualization methods and tools: a survey of the state of the art

  • Marek Dudáš (a1), Steffen Lohmann (a2), Vojtěch Svátek (a1) and Dmitry Pavlov (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.