Working with the JSON data format

JSON data format is a standard feature of today’s Internet – and a common option for mobile and desktop apps – but many users still regard it as something of a mystery. We’ll take a close look at JSON format and some of the free tools you can use for reading and manipulating JSON data.

Our world of web applications and fast, interactive mobile devices calls for the free exchange of data in easily accessible forms. Standard formats promote interoperability and minimize development time. Open formats also make it easy to import data into other applications. Over the years, several popular alternatives have emerged. CSV, XML, and YAML are well known and easy to adapt to different applications (see the box entitled “Comparing Formats” and Listings 1-3 for examples). One format that is used extensively for web applications, mobile applications, and even some conventional desktop tools is JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) [1].

JSON is wildly popular as a tool for passing information between web apps – for instance, it is currently the de facto standard for REST services – yet for many users, the details of JSON format are shrouded in mystery. This article takes a close look at JSON and some of the tools available for reading, manipulating, and importing JSON data.

Understanding JSON

The notation of JSON is analogous to objects, records, or dictionaries – depending on what that structure is currently called in your favorite programming language. Even though JSON format is based on JavaScript, parsers exist in almost all programming languages. In addition to Awk and C/C++, you can integrate JSON with Fortran, Go, Lisp, Lua, Python, and Visual Basic.

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