RDF is, in mathematical terms, a labeled directed graph. That means that RDF is a graph of nodes and arrows between them where each node and arrow has some label. Since it's a graph, arrows can point all over the place and nodes can have any number of arrows pointing out of them and pointing at them. And also because it is a graph, there is no real starting point or root node so you can just start anywhere. In the picture below, you can see that node A at the top has arcs pointing to B, C and D. As well, C has an arc pointing to D. You could have arcs pointing elsewhere, for example node D could have an arc pointing back to A. To navigate around, you could start at node A and navigate around the graph following the arrows to B, C or D. Or you could start at B and go to A and then go to C and D. No requirement exists to follow the arrows in the direction they point; you can easily go the other way. The picture was generated from the W3C's RDF validator, a good place to go to check if your RDF is valid.

The text in red are the labels for the arrows, called predicates. In this example, all the arrows have the same label. Usually, this won't be the case. Templates provide a means of navigating around using only arrows with specific labels. Here is the serialized RDF/XML for this graph.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"
  <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/A">
    <rel:relatedItem rdf:resource="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/B"/>
    <rel:relatedItem rdf:resource="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/C"/>
    <rel:relatedItem rdf:resource="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/D"/>
  <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/C">
    <rel:relatedItem rdf:resource="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/D"/>

For a XUL template query, you first need to select a starting point in the RDF graph. Once you have selected a starting point, you use a number of statements which indicate where to go next when navigating the graph. Eventually, you will end up with a set of nodes you consider the endpoints of your query. These become the results and content would be generated for each of these results. Say you start at A. You could navigate to B, C and D and generate three blocks of output. Or, you could start at D and follow two arrows back. This will get two results, A and B. Look at the graph to see if you can see why two results would be generated in this case.

In XUL template terminology, the starting point is called the container or reference point and the endpoint is called the member. It is so called because it is most common to gather the list of the members, or children, of a container. But this doesn't have to be the case. Any starting point and ending points will do.

Nodes in RDF are identified by a string value. There are two types of nodes in RDF, resources which usually represent 'things', and literals which are values like the names of things, the dates of things, the sizes of things, and so on. A literal's value is, for example, the name of the thing, such as 'Fred'. A resource's value is a URI which for your own RDF data you can just make up. We'll use the URI of the resource nodes in a template. In the image, the resource URI's are the blue labels of each node. There are no literals in this example, but we'll see some later.

Let's say we want the starting point to be A from the above example graph. We will use A's URI (http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/A) as the reference starting point. In a XUL template, you specify the starting point using the 'ref' attribute. Here is an example:

<vbox datasources="http://www.xulplanet.com/ds/sample.rdf"
      ref="http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/A" flex="1">

This is an indicator that we want to construct a XUL template using the reference point with the URI 'http://www.xulplanet.com/rdf/A'. Next, we'll see how to construct the template.