If you are a developer or IT professional, you may have noticed JSON (pronounced jay-sen or jay-son) coming up in conversation more frequently these days. That’s a good thing, because JSON is a deceptively simple, yet incredibly useful, data format you should know about. Why? Because JSON is:

  • The main format for data transfer on the web.
  • Extremely flexible and programming language agnostic
  • Easily read and understood by humans too.

If you haven’t yet encountered JSON, here is a brief overview that should pique your interest.

JSON is short for JavaScript Object Notation, and it’s a way to store information in an organized, easy-to-access manner. It is an open standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs. Currently, it is the primary data format used for asynchronous browser/server communication.

Although originally derived from JavaScript, JSON is a language-independent data format[1] that uses conventions familiar to programmers of the C-family of languages. These properties make it an ideal data-interchange language.[2]

The Emergence of JSON

Douglas Crockford, the computer programmer credited with specifying and later popularizing JSON, explains that he didn’t invent it, but rather discovered it in its “natural state” in 2001 and immediately recognized its potential. Essentially, he realized that data could be sent more efficiently to JavaScript in the form of an object rather than as comma-delimited strings, post-data, XML, or even HTML—all of which have to be parsed by JavaScript. When his enthusiasm for JSON was not echoed by the companies he approached with it, he set up the website, JSON.org, posted the specification and moved on to other things.

In a vivid illustration of how hard it is to keep a good thing under wraps, awareness of JSON gradually spread throughout the programming community, until developers skilled in over 60 programming languages have since chosen to adapt JSON for their own purposes.[3]

What’s So Special About JSON?

At its core, JSON allows applications developed in various programming languages to communicate easily; whether that communication is happening between multiple servers or, more commonly, between a browser and a server. JSON is much simpler to use for small data objects than XML because it is lightweight, easy to read, and highly portable; relying on these two fundamental structures:

  • A collection of name/value pairs.
  • An ordered list of values.

JSON utility is magnified by the fact that it is now supported natively by many languages (as opposed to requiring external libraries). This is, in large part, due to its simplified structure and functionality. Basically, the way JSON communicates circumvents many common interoperability challenges, opening up a world of exciting possibilities.

What Can JSON Do For You?

JSON puts your development team in the driver’s seat with a flexible programming vehicle that easily bridges the distance between disparate applications and platforms. On a practical level, here are a few things JSON makes it much easier to do:

  • Develop progressive web apps (more about these in a future blog post) that are highly compatible with all browsers and mobile devices.
  • Simplify the process of using HTML and Javascript together by significantly reducing the amount and complexity of coding required.
  • Develop applications for enterprise systems, like PeopleSoft, that render the user-interface as HTML pages.
  • Access data from enterprise applications with limited or no API access.
  • Modify enterprise applications without changing the underlying systems, so your team can implement updates independently and without disruption to the client.

Described on JSON.org as a “fat-free alternative” to XML, JSON is easier to read, simpler to write, quicker to process, just as open and interoperable as XML, and exceptionally well-suited to data-interchange. While JSON’s simplified structure and stream-lined functionality mean it can’t do everything that XML can do; what it does, it does very well. If you haven’t used JSON yet, it’s time you tried.

If your development team would like to learn more about using JSON to develop applications for enterprise systems, contact InFlight today.

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[1] Wikipedia, JSON https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JSON

[2] Introducing JSON www.JSON.org

[3] Douglas Crockford: The JSON Saga https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C-JoyNuQJs

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