JSON – Introduction, Structure, Syntax Rules, and Data Exchange

In this tutorial, we will introduce JSON data exchange format. This post covers structure of a JSON object, JSON syntax rules, data exchange with JSON and programming languages support for JSON.


What is JSON?


  • JSON is lightweight, human-readable data-interchange format.
  • JSON is used to store a collection of name-value pairs or an ordered list of values.
  • JSON is useful for serializing objects, and arrays for transmitting over the network.
  • JSON is very easy to parse and generate and doesn’t use a full markup structure like a XML.
  • JSON became a popular alternative of XML format for its fast asynchronous client–server communication.
  • All JSON files have the extension .json.


Structure of a JSON Object:

A JSON can be:

1. A collection of name-value pairs:
    The name must be a double-quoted string; and the value can be another string, an array, a number, boolean or null. The value itself can be another JSON object.


2. An ordered collection:
    JSON can be used to store an ordered collection of objects/values. The collection is similar to array of primitives and array of objects in programming languages.


JSON Example:


The following example shows a JSON representation of a person object.


In the above example,

  1. The first two name-value pairs maps a string to a another string.
  2. The third name-value pair maps a string age with a number 25.
  3. The fourth name-value pair maps a string children with an empty array [].
  4. The fifth name-value pair maps a string spouse with a null value.
  5. The sixth name-value pair maps a string address with another JSON object.
  6. The seventh name-value pair maps a string phoneNumbers with an array of JSON objects.


JSON Syntax Rules:


  • A JSON object is surrounded by curly braces {}
  • The name-value pairs are grouped by a colon (:) and separated by a comma (,).
  • An array begins with a left bracket and ends with a right bracket [].
  • The trailing commas and leading zeros in a number are prohibited.
  • The octal and hexadecimal formats are not permitted.
  • Each key within the JSON should be unique and should be enclosed within the double quotes.
  • The boolean type matches only two special values: true and false and NULL values are represented by the null literal (without quotes).


JavaScript JSON built-in library:

JavaScript JSON built-in library provides two functions to decode and encode JSON objects – JSON.parse() and JSON.stringify().

1. JSON.stringify() returns a JSON string corresponding to a JavaScript object.



2. JSON.parse() is safe and fast method of decoding a JSON string as JavaScript object.



We can also parse a JSON string into a JavaScript object by invoking the eval() function on the JSON string wrapped by parenthesis. This works since JSON is derived from JavaScript. eval() is an evil function, which should be avoided at all costs. This is because eval can execute any malicious scripts on the user’s machine with privileges of the caller. Moreover, malicious code can find the scope in which eval() was invoked, which can make the website vulnerable to attacks. JSON.parse() is the safe and fast alternative of eval which safely fails on malicious code. JSON is included in almost all modern browsers. For old versions of browsers, use external JavaScript library such as Douglas Crockford’s json2.js.


Data Exchange with JSON:

JSON is primarily used for transmission of serialized text between a browser and a server.


1. Sending Data:
    In client side, the JavaScript object is first converted to into a JSON string using JSON.stringify() method. And the resultant string is then transmitted to a server in request body or param.


2. Receiving Data:
    The server might return another JSON string as response. Any JSON received from the server can be converted into JavaScript objects using the JSON.parse() method.

The official Media type for JSON is application/json.


Programming Languages Support:

Originally, JSON was intended to be a subset of the JavaScript languages but now almost all major programming languages supports JSON due to its language-independent data format. JSON’s official website lists major JSON libraries available in various programming languages which can be used to parse and generate JSON. For instance, the most popular JSON libraries for Java are: GSON, JSON.simple, Jackson, and JSONP.

That’s all about JSON data exchange format. Thanks for reading.

Useful links:

JSON Validator, JSON Formatter, JSON Minifier, JSON Editor



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