JSON Serializer Format

The compact JSON serialization format is designed to be a simple format to import / export data to and from other JSON based structures. It follows the JSON data standard, and does not contain any unnecessary info per field.

There are two dimension variants when serializing the JSON:

  • Field ID type: NAME vs ID.
  • Enum value type: NAME vs ID.

If field ID type is NAME the thrift field name will be used. Otherwise the string value of the ID will be used. E.g. "my_field" vs "4";

If enum value type is NAME the enum will be serialized based on the value name. Otherwise the value number will be used. E.g. "ENUM_VALUE" vs 5.

Binary values are encoded as strings using Base64 url safe encoding with no padding. Strings are encoded using UTF-8 encoding.

JSON format

The JsonSerializer tries as best to conform to standard JSON formatting, so that each message (struct, exception, union) are encoded as a JSON object, where the field keys are the field names (or ID), and the values are the field value.

  • Missing fields are omitted.
  • Maps must have it's key encoded in a string. Strings and binaries use the normal formatting, and all others are JSON serialized values and then string escaped and quoted.

With the NAME type encoding, string names are used for field and enum values. This can be used to read classical JSON files or use (and serve) REST services.

  "my_string": "my-string",
  "my_number": 13579,
  "my_boolean": false,
  "my_enum": "ENUM_VALUE",
  "map": {
     "12": 12

With the ID type encoding, numeric values are used for field and enum values. The format is pretty compact, but is not supported by any other libraries (AFAIK). The format can be mixed with NAME, e.g. using named fields and enum ID values.

  "1": "my-string",
  "2": 13579,
  "3": false,
  "4": 42,
  "5": {
    "12": 12

Specifics on map keys

Since map keys have to be encoded as strings in JSON, the JSON serializer will only accept primitive types, enums and so-called simple messages as map keys. A simple message is a message that:

  • No field is a container; list, set, map.
  • No field is a message; struct, union, exception.

The actual content of the message is irrelevant when it comes to simplicity.

Compact messages

Compact JSON messages is a concept made to be able to use way less space for small (compact) messages. The criteria for a message to be json.compact is:

  • Only structs may be compact (not union or exception).
  • May have a maximum of 10 fields.
  • Fields must be numbered 1 .. N.
  • A required field may not come after an optional field.

When the compact struct is serialized the serializer may choose to use a different serialization format that serializes the first M fields of the struct in order. E.g. in JSON a compact struct may be serialized as an array if (and only if).

Compactible messages will have a jsonCompact() method that determines if the message is compact for serialization. The descriptor will have a similar isJsonCompactible() method which determines if the message can be deserialized with the compact format.

To make a struct compact, add the json.compact = "" annotation to the struct. This will still allow thrift compiler to parse the .thrift files. This applies both to using the JsonSerializer and using the jackson java generator option with a jackson JSON serializer and deserializer.

struct Compact {
   1: string my_string;
   2: i32 my_number;
   3: bool my_boolean;
} (json.compact = "")

Compact chances to serialization

Messages in providence are per default encoded as JSON objects. But in modes where Field-Name encoding mode is required, lists of many small messages with the same fields can have a huge overhead of field names.

  • For the 'compact' serialization to take effect, the first M fields must be set, and no other fields may be set. E.g.:
    • If 1, 2 abd 3 are set, and 4, 5 are not set, then compact is used.
    • If 1, 2 and 4 are set, and 3, 5 are not set, compact is not used.

When encoding the message as compact, array notation is used instead of object notation. So the message of 62 significant bytes:

  "my_string": "my-string",
  "my_number": 13579,
  "my_boolean": false

Can be encoded as 24 significant bytes instead:


The compact message notation works regardless of the Field-ID mode of the serializer.

Service Calls

JSON Service calls are done in a pretty compact way. It follows the 'compact' struct definition, representing the call with a struct like:

enum CallType {
  call = 1,
  reply = 2,
  exception = 3,
  oneway = 4

struct Call {
  1: required string name
  2: required CallType type
  3: required i32 sequence
  4: required struct message
} (json.compact = "")

Where what the message struct is is determined by the call type. See definition of fast-binary and binary for details on service calls. An example service call would look like:

    "param1": 42

JSON IDL - Data format


MESSAGE_OBJ ::= '{' (FIELD_SPEC ','?)* '}'

MESSAGE_ARR ::= '[' (FIELD_VALUE ','?)* ']'




LIST        ::= '[' ((VALUE (',' VALUE )*)? ']'

MAP         ::= '{' (MAP_ENTRY (',' MAP_ENTRY)*)? '}'


MAP_KEY     ::= STRING | '"' (BOOLEAN | NUMBER) '"'

STRING      ::= CHAR*

CHAR        ::= [0x20 .. 0x7E] | [0xC1 - 0xFD] [0x81 .. 0xBF]+

NUMBER      ::= [0-9]+ | ([0-9]+ | [0-9]* ('.' [0-9]+)) (('e' | 'E') '-'? [0-9]+)?