A meta-model is an explicit model of the constructs and rules needed to build specific models within a domain of interest. A valid meta-model is an ontology, but not all ontologies are modeled explicitly as meta-models. A meta-model can be viewed from three different perspectives:
1. as a set of building blocks and rules used to build models
2. as a model of a domain of interest, and
3. as an instance of another model.
When comparing meta-models to ontologies, we are talking about meta-models as models (perspective 2).
Note: Meta-modeling as a domain of interest can have its own ontology. For example, the CDIF Family of Standards, which contains the CDIF Meta-meta-model along with rules for modeling and extensibility and transfer format, is such an ontology. When modelers use a modeling tool to construct models, they are making a commitment to use the ontology implemented in the modeling tool. This model making ontology is usually called a meta-model, with “model making” as its domain of interest.