Blawx Documentation Specific Blocks

Categories, Objects, and Attributes

Categories, Objects, and Attributes are how Blawx organizes what it knows about the world.

A Category is a type of object. For example, "Car."

A Category has Attributes, which are names for things that you can know about things in that Category. Attributes also describe the type of data that can go in that attribute. For example, "a car has a top speed, which is a number."

An Object is a specific thing in the world you want to model. An object can have any number of categories. An Object has the same attributes as all of the categories it belongs to, which hold that information about the object. For example, "my car's make is Ford, and my car's model is Mustang."

The information that you put into an object's attribute has to be of the correct type. You can't put a number if the attribute is supposed to hold a true or false value, and vice-versa.

An easy way to think of a Category is as a description of a blank form. The form might have a name, like “Application for a Permit”. That is like the Category name. A form will also have fields that can be filled in, like “Applicant’s Name". Those are like the category’s attributes.

When you create and fill out an actual form of that type, that is like creating an Object. The information that gets put into the blanks on the form are like the values that get put into the attributes of an object. Some fields on the form are for checkmarks, others numbers, and others dates. Those are like the types of the category attributes.

An attribute can hold either a basic data type, or objects in a category.

The basic data types are numbers, true or false values, dates, and durations.

Not only can you use your Categories as a type, but you can use your category as the type of an attribute inside itself!

For example, you can say that a Person has a friend, which is a Person.

person friend


Creating Categories

You create a category by putting a category declaration block in a fact block. A category declaration block can be found under the “Categories” drawer in the Toolbox.

Person is Category

When you drag a category declaration block onto the workspace and click "Save", a corresponding category block is added under the “known categories” drawer of the toolbox. This block is used in blanks that require or allow a Category as a value.

known category person

Note that if you have two category declarations with the same name defined, Blawx will create two different known category blocks with the same text, using either of them has the same effect. So it is best practice not to have duplicates in category names in order to avoid confusion.

Category names should not have spaces in them, and must start with a lowercase letter. Blawx will not stop you from creating a category with a space in its name, but they will not work properly.

Adding Attributes to a Category

Once you have declared a Category, you can use an category attribute block to give it one or more attributes. The category attribute block can be found in the “Categories” drawer of the toolbox, and looks like this:

category attribute block

To complete a category attribute block, you must provide the category that you are defining attributes for, and add new attribute blocks.

For example, to say that “a person has an age and a best friend” you might set out an attribute declaration block like this:

person ontology

Remember, all new category, category attribute, and new attribute blocks need to appear inside a Fact block to work properly.

The name of an attribute must start with a lowercase letter, must not have spaces, and must be unique across all categories.

Attribute Customization

When you create an attribute using the above blocks, attribute selector blocks will be created that looks like this:

attribute selector

In explanations, by default, the assignment of "38" as the value of "age" for the object "bob" will be displayed as "age holds for bob and 38".

To customize how the attribute is described in the attribute selector and explanations you can use the attribute customization block. The only place an attribute customization block can be used is directly under an attribute declaration block, and it applies only to the attribute declared directly above it.

The attribute customization block looks like this:

customization block

The block allows you to choose the order in which the object and the value are included, and the text that should appear before, between, and after them. By default the order is "object, then value". And the words "object" and "value" appear in that order below. If you change the order to "value, then object" in the dropdown, the illustration below the dropdown field will be updated, like this:

reverse order customization

Once you have selected the order that you want the object and the value to appear, you can specify the text that appears before, between, and after them. For example, imagine that you have a category called "Animal" and an attribute called "legs" that was supposed to hold how many legs the animal has.

Here are three different ways you might want your customized attribute block to appear, and how to achieve that effect using the attribute customization block:

first example

second example

third example

All three of these examples mean the same thing.


If you leave all three fields blank, Blawx will still know what attribute the block is for, but your users will have no clue. Make sure to customize attribute blocks in ways that sound natural to your users, but are also very clear about which attribute is being modified.

There is no need for your attribute's name to appear in the text, which can allow you to use more concise attribute names, or attribute names that are easier to keep unique.

Category Equivalence

An object can have more than one category. One of the ways you can give an object more than one category is by stating that all objects of one category are also included in another category. For example, “all cats are mammals”.

In Blawx you can do this using the category equivalence block, which looks like this:

category equivalence

The category equivalence block requires two category blocks from the “Known Categories” drawer of the Toolbox. A complete category equivalence block would look like this:

cat is mammal

Category equivalence works in one direction only. In this example, if you create an object the category “Cat”, and then ask whether that object is in the category “Mammal”, the answer will be yes. If you create an object in the category of “Mammal”, and then ask whether it is in the category “Cat”, the answer will be no.


Creating an Object

An object is created by using the new object block, which looks like this, and it just takes a name for the object. A different new object block is created for each of the known categories in your code.

bob is person

Object names should start with lowercase letters, and should not have spaces in them. Blawx will not stop you from creating an object with a name that has spaces in it, but it won't work properly.

When you drag an object declaration onto the Workspace, a corresponding Object Block appears in the “Known Objects” drawer of the Toolbox.

bob known

The object block for “Bob” can be used anywhere a block is expecting an or accepts an object as a value.

Giving an Object another Category

All objects are created inside a category. But it is possible to assign additional categories to objects that have already been created. You can do this using the object category block, which can be found in the “Objects” drawer of the Toolbox. It expects an object block and a category block. For example, if we wanted to say that in addition to being in the category person, "bob" is in the category "mammal", we could create a statement like this:

bob is mammal

Making Two Objects the Same Object

Sometimes your Blawx code will get data from more than one source, and each source may create its own versions of the same objects. In those cases, it can be useful to state that two objects are the same object. You can do that using the object equivalence block, which is found in the “Objects” drawer of the Toolbox, and which looks like this:

object identity

The object identity block takes two object blocks. To say that “Bob” and “Robert” are the same object, you could do this:

bob and robert

Note that unlike with the Category Equivalence, which goes in one direction only, object equivalence goes in both directions. If Bob is the same object as Robert, Robert is the same object as Bob. So if you set out Bob’s age, and then say that Bob and Robert are the same object, asking for Bob’s age and asking for Robert’s age will both work.

Adding Attributes to an Object

Once there is an object in the database, you can use the attribute selector blocks to assign values to that attribute for that object.

For example, we have said that "bob" is a person. Now we can say that bob is 35 years of age, by taking the attribute selector for "age", and giving it the object selector for bob and the number 35 as inputs, like this:

Bob is 35

Naming Attributes

Attribute names must start with a lowercase letter, and must not have spaces in them. They must also be unique across all categories. Blawx will not currently stop you from creating invalid attribute names, but they will cause errors.

When working with attributes you will want to be careful with how you name them. Blawx will not stop you from applying an attribute defined for “cars” to an object in the category “bicycle”. If you need to know how many seats both categories have, but you want to avoid the implication that bikes have car seats or vice-versa, you may want to name the attributes “bike_seats” and “car_seats” to make it clear what you are referring to.

If you create two attributes both named “seats”, they will both appear in the Known Attributes drawer of the toolbox, but Blawx will treat them as two copies of the same attribute.

Object Attributes Hold Multiple Values

Note that in Blawx all Attributes can hold multiple values, but only multiple unique values. So if you create an attribute that holds values that are of the true/false type, that value can hold up to two values. If you create an attribute that holds numbers, like "age", it can hold any number of values, but it cannot hold the same value twice.

Features for dealing with cardinality in attributes, and for dealing with lists of potentially identical values, will be added at a later date.