JsonWrapp (JSON parsing and handling)


JavaScript Object Notation - JSON is a popular lightweight, text-based data interchange format. JSON derives a small set of formatting rules for portable representation of structured data. While handling of JSON data can be done using SERIAL library that could be too difficult. It would require data specification (ASN.1 or XML schema) and generation of special C++ data storage classes. In practice, specification is not always available, and code generation is not always desirable. There is a need for something simpler – simple tool to read, write and analyze any JSON data.

There are several libraries which do this, NCBI does not endorse any of them in particular. At present, we have chosen RAPIDJSON, but we have made every effort to hide its implementation details and created our own wrapper classes and API. In case we choose to change the underlying implementation in the future, what would be required from developers is recompilation only, the API will not change.


JSON value can represent four primitive types (string, number, boolean, and null) and two structured types - object and array). An object is an unordered collection of zero or more name/value pairs, where a name is a string and a value is a string, number, boolean, null, object, or array. An array is an ordered sequence of zero or more values.

The figure below illustrates JsonWrapp library class relationship diagram.

Image jsonwrapp_classes.png

First thing to note is that most classes here act like pointers. That is, creating or copying them does not create any data; destroying them does not destroy any data either. There is only one data storage class – Document. All others are simply pointers to different parts of the document. Once so, it is impossible to create a standalone JSON value object. To create a value, one should add it into a document and get a proper adapter object.

JsonWrapp classes

The library implements the following classes:

Node, Value, Array and Object classes provide relevant interfaces for their particular types. CJson_ConstX objects provide read methods, while CJson_X objects – write methods. Value holds primitive type data. Array provides vector-like interface. Object resembles STL map.

For a given Node, GetX() and SetX() do type checks and return proper adapter – for reading or writing. If the Node type does not match the expected one, an exception will be thrown. A node can be converted into another type using ResetX() methods. For example, if we have a node of object type, we can get access to its Object interface using SetObject() method:

CJson_Object obj = node.SetObject();

If we then want to convert it into Null, we use ResetValue():

CJson_Value val = obj.ResetValue();

Converting the Null value into String or Number does not require ResetX() because it is still primitive type:


Converting it into Array, does:

CJson_Array arr = val.ResetArray();


Two base classes CJson_ConstNode and CJson_Node provide only basic information about the node. It is possible to query node type: IsNull(), IsValue(), IsArray(), IsObject(), request access to node data using GetX() or SetX() methods, or change node type with the help of ResetX().


Value classes CJson_ConstValue and CJson_Value provide access to nodes of primitive types (numbers, strings and boolean). To convert a value from one type into another (for exanple, from number into a string), there is no need to call Reset. This can be done with a SetX().


JSON array is an ordered sequence of zero or more values. JsonWrapp array classes - CJson_ConstArray, CJson_Array - are designed to resemble STL vector class and implement practically identical (but limited) interface. The classes also implement random access iterators to access array elements.

For example, to populate an array with primitive type nodes:


To add Array or Object node into Array:

CJson_Array a2 = arr.push_back_array();
CJson_Object o2 = arr.push_back_object();

To enumerate contents of the Array:

for (CJson_Array::iterator i = arr.begin(); i != arr.end(); ++i) {
  CJson_Node v = *i
for_each(arr.begin(), arr.end(), [](const CJson_ConstNode& v) {


JSON object is an unordered collection of zero or more name/value pairs, where name is a string and value is a string, number, boolean, null, object, or array. JsonWrapp object classes - CJson_ConstObject, CJson_Object - resemble STL map. Unlike STL map though, pair elements are called name and value here. Object classes implement bidirectional iterators to access object elements.

To insert primitive type nodes into an object:

obj.insert("int", 1);
obj.insert("bool", false);
obj.insert("str", "string");

To insert Array or Object node into Object:

CJson_Array a2 = obj.insert_array("a2");
CJson_Object o2 = obj.insert_object("o2");

To enumerate contents of the Object:

for (CJson_Object::iterator i = obj.begin(); i != obj.end(); ++i) {
  string n = i->name;
  CJson_Node v = i->value;
for_each(obj.begin(), obj.end(), [](const CJson_ConstObject_pair& v) {
    cout << << ": " << v.value << endl;
for(CJson_Object::iterator::pair& v : obj) {
    cout << << ": " << v.value << endl;


In JsonWrapp library, Document is the only data storage class. All other objects are simply pointers to different parts of the document. Documents can be created and populated in memory, initialized from strings which contain valid JSON data, read from file.

For example, to create a document from a string:

CJson_Document doc1("{\"null\": null, \"bool\": true, \"str\": \"str\"}");
CJson_Document doc2;
doc2.ParseString("{\"null\": null, \"bool\": true, \"str\": \"str\"}");

To read document from file:

CJson_Document doc1;
ifstream ifs("filename")
CJson_Document doc2;
ifs >> doc2;

It is also possible to initialize Document with the contents of Node of another Document. In this case, data from one document will be copied into a new document:

CJson_Document doc1;
CJson_Document doc2(doc1.GetObject().at("name"));

JSON data parsing (DOM and SAX)

There are two types of data parsing – DOM and SAX. JsonWrapp library supports both. The DOM stands for Document Object Model. This type of parser loads the whole object into memory. The document has methods to access, insert, and delete data nodes. For example, to read data from file, do the following:

CJson_Document doc;

The data then can be modified and written back into a file:


The SAX stands for Simple API for XML. SAX type parser is event-based sequential access API. When reading data, it does not produce an object, it generates events instead. The data cannot be written because there is no data object, but inside SAX parser, it is possible to read parts of the data using DOM parser and write them separately. JsonWrapp library implements SAX type parsing with the help of CJson_WalkHandler class. Developers should provide their own class derived from CJson_WalkHandler. This class then receives parsing events through its virtual methods.

For example, having CSax class derived from CJson_WalkHandler, it is possible to use it to parse existing JSON document:

CJson_Document doc;
CSax parser;

Or to parse a file:

Ifstream ifs("filename");
CSax parser;
CJson_Document::Walk(ifs, parser);

JSON Schema

JSON Schema is a formal description of JSON data structure, used for validation and documentation. It is also a JSON Document and can be treated as such. In JsonWrapp library, CJson_Schema class provides support for Schema validation.

Schema can only be created from a Document (Schema specification). After that it can be used to validate JSON data:

CJson_Document schema_doc;
CJson_Schema sc(schema_doc);
CJson_Document data_doc;

Several methods return name or URI of nonconforming value, if any. It also possible to validate data on reading or writing - CJson_Document has Read and Write methods with Schema as a parameter.