Tag Archives: prov

A couple of weeks ago I was at Provenance Week 2018 – a biennial conference that brings together various communities working on data provenance. Personally, it’s a fantastic event as it’s an opportunity to see the range of work going on from provenance in astronomy data to the newest work on database theory for provenance. Bringing together these various strands is important as there is work from across computer science that touches on data provenance.

The week is anchored by the International Provenance and Annotation Workshop (IPAW) and the Theory and Practice of Provenance (TaPP) and includes events focused on emerging areas of interest including incremental re-computation , provenance-based security and algorithmic accountability. There were 90 attendees up from ~60 in the prior events and here they are:


The folks at Kings College London, led by Vasa Curcin, did a fantastic job of organizing the event including great social outings on-top of their department building and with a boat ride along the thames. They also catered to the world cup fans as well. Thanks Vasa!

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I had the following major takeaways from the conference:

Improved Capture Systems

The two years since the last provenance week have seen a number of improved systems for capturing provenance. In the systems setting, DARPAs Transparent Computing program has given a boost to scaling out provenance capture systems. These systems use deep operating system instrumentation to capture logs over the past several years these have become more efficient and scalable e.g. Camflow, SPADE. This connects with the work we’ve been doing on improving capture using whole system record-and-replay. You  can now run these systems almost full-time although they capture significant amounts of data (3 days = ~110 GB). Indeed, the folks at Galois presented an impressive looking graph database specifically focused on working with provenance and time series data streaming from these systems.

Beyond the security use case, was a a neat tool using execution traces to produce reproducible computational experiments.

There were also a number of systems for improving the generation of instrumentation to capture provenance. UML2PROV automatically generates provenance instrumentation from UML diagrams and source code using the provenance templates approach. (Also used to capture provenance in an IoT setting.) Curator implements provenance capture for micro-services using existing logging libraries. Similarly, UNICORE now implements provenance for its HPC environment. I still believe structured logging is one of the under rated ways of integrating provenance capture into systems.

Finally, there was some interesting work on reconstructing provenance. In particular, I liked Alexander Rasin‘s work on reconstructing the contents of a database from its environment to answer provenance queries:2018-07-10 16.34.08.jpg

Also, the IPAW best paper looked at using annotations in a workflow to infer dependency relations:

Lastly, there was some initial work on extracting provenance of  health studies directly from published literature which I thought was a interesting way of recovering provenance.

Provenance for Accountability

Another theme (mirrored by the event noted above) was the use of provenance for accountability. This has always been a major use for provenance as pointed out by Bertram Ludäscher in his keynote:

However, I think due to increasing awareness around personal data usage and privacy the need for provenance is being recognized. See, for example, the Royal Society’s report on Data management and use: Governance in the 21st century. At Provenance Week, there were several papers addressing provenance for GDPR, see:

Also, the I was impressed with the demo from Imosphere using provenance for accountability and trust in health data:

Re-computation & Its Applications

Using provenance to determine what to recompute seems to have a number of interesting applications in different domains. Paolo Missier showed for example how it can be used to determine when to recompute in next generation sequencing pipelines.

I particular liked their notion of a re-computation front – what set of past executions do you need to re-execute in order to address the change in data.

Wrattler was a neat extension of the computational notebook idea that showed how provenance can be used to automatically propagate changes through notebook executions and support suggestions.

Marta Mattoso‘s team discussed the application of provenance to track the adjustments when performing steering of executions in complex HPC applications.

The work of Melanie Herschel‘s team on provenance for data integration points to the benefits of potentially applying recomputation using provenance to make the iterative nature of data integration speedier as she enumerated in her presentation at the recomputation worskhop.2018-07-12 15.01.42.jpg

You can see all the abstracts from the workshop here. I understand from Paolo that they will produce a report from the discussions there.

Overall, I left provenance week encouraged by the state of the community, the number of interesting application areas, and the plethora of research questions to work on.

Random Links


Last week, I was at Provenance Week 2016. This event happens once every two years and brings together a wide range of researchers working on provenance. You can check out my trip report from the last Provenance Week in 2014.  This year Provenance Week combined:

For me, Provenance Week is like coming home, lots of old friends and a favorite subject of mine. It’s also a good event to attend because it crosses the subfields of computer science, everything from security in operating systems to scientific workflows on to database theory. In one day, I went from a discussion on the role of indirection in data citation to staring at the C code of a database. Marta, Boris and Sarah really put together a solid program. There were about 60 attendees across the four days:


So what was I doing there? Having served as co-chair of the W3C PROV working group, I thought it was important to be at the PROV: Three years later event where we reflected on the status of PROV, it’s uptake and usage. I presented some ongoing work on measuring the usage of provenance on the web of data.  Additionally, I gave the presentation of joint work led by my student Manolis Stamatogiannakis and done in conjunction with Ashish Gehani‘s group at SRI. The work focused on using benchmarks to help inform decisions on what provenance capture system to use. Slides:

I’ll now walk through my 3 big take aways from the event.

Provenance to attack Advanced Persistent Threats

DARPA’s $60 million transparent computing explicitly calls out the use of provenance to address the problem of what’s called an Advanced Persistent Threat (APTs). APTs are attacks that are long terms, look like standard business processes, and involve the attacker knowing the system well. This has led to a number of groups exploring the use of system level provenance capture techniques (e.g. SPADE and OPUS) and then integrating that from multiple distributed sources using PROV inspired data models. This was well described by David Archer is his talk as assembling multiple causal graphs from event streams.  James Cheney’s talk on provenance segmentation also addressed these issues well. This reminded me some what of the work on distributed provenance capture using structured logs that the Netlogger and Pegasus teams do, however, they leverage the structure of a workflow system to help with the assembly.

I particularly liked Yang JiSangho Lee and  Wenke Lee‘s work on using user level record and replay to track and replay provenance. This builds upon some of our work that used system level record replay as mechanism for separating provenance capture and instrumentation. But now in user space using the nifty rr tool from Mozilla. I think this thread of being able to apply provenance instrumentation after the fact  on an execution trace holds a lot of promise.

Overall, it’s great to see this level of attention on the use of provenance for security and in more broadly of using long term records of provenance to do analysis.

PROV as the starting point

Given that this was the ten year anniversary of IPAW, it was appropriate that Luc Moreau gave one of the keynotes. As really one of the drivers of the community, Luc gave a review of the development of the community and its successes.One of those outcomes was the W3C PROV standards. 

Overall, it was nice to see the variety of uses of PROV and the tools built around it. It’s really become the jumping off point for exploration. For example, Pete Edwards team combined PROV and a number of other ontologies including (P-Plan) to create a semantic representation of what’s going on within a professional kitchen in order to check food safety compliance. 


Another example is the use of PROV as a jumping off point for the investigation into the provenance model of HL7 FHIR (a new standard for electronic healthcare records interchange).

As whole, I think the attendees felt that what was missing was an active central point to see what was going on with PROV and pointers to resources for implementation. The aim is to make sure that the W3c PROV wiki is up-to-date and is a better resource overall.

Provenance as lens: Data Citation, Documents & Versioning

An interesting theme was the use of provenance concepts to give a frame for other practices. For example, Susan Davidson gave a great keynote on data citation and how using a variant of provenance polynomials can help us understand how to automatically build citations for various parts of curated databases. The keynote was based off her work with James Frew and Peter Buneman that will appear in CACM (preprint). Another good example of provenance to support data citation was Nick Car’s work for Geoscience Australia.

Furthermore, the notion of provenance as the substructure for complex documents appeared several times. For example, the Impacts on Human  Health of Global Climate Change report from uses provenance as a backbone. Both the OPUS and PoeM systems are exploring using provenance to generate high-level experiment reports.

Finally, I thought David Koop‘s versioning of version trees showed how using provenance as lens can help better understand versioning of version trees themselves. (I have to give David credit for presenting a super recursive concept so well).

Overall, another great event and I hope we can continue to attract new CS researchers focusing on provenance.

Random Notes

  • PROV in JSON-LD – good for streaming
  • Theoretical provenance paper recipe = extend provenance polynomials to deal with new operators. Prove nice result. e.g. now for Linear Algebra.
  • Prefixes! R-PROV, P-PROV, D-PROV, FS-PROV, SC-PROV, — let me know if I missed any..
  • Intel Secure Guard Extensions (SGX) – interesting
  • Surprised how dependent I’ve become on taking pictures in conferences for note taking. Not being able to really impacted my flow. Plus, there are less pictures for this
  • Thanks to Adriane for hosting!
  • A provenance based data science environment
  • 👍Learning Health Systems – from Vasa Curcin

Yesterday, Luc (my coauthor) and I received our physical copies of Provenance: An Introduction to PROV in the mail. Even though the book is primarily designed to be distributed digitally – it’s always great actually holding a copy in your hands. You can now order your own physical copy on Amazon. The Amazon page for the book there also includes the ability to look inside the book.

booksonshelf Prov Book Cover

Cross-posted from

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