JSON Support Is The Best New Developer Feature in SQL 2016 — Part 4: Performance Comparisons

Published on: 2017-02-21

This is the fourth article in my series about learning how to use SQL Server 2016’s new JSON functions. If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 — Parsing JSON, Part 2 — Creating JSON, and Part 3 — Updating, Adding, and Deleting JSON.


Additional performance comparisons available in an updated post.

We’ve finally come to my favorite part of analyzing any new software feature: performance testing. SQL Server 2016’s new JSON functions are great for parsing JSON data, creating JSON data, and modifying JSON data, but are they efficient?

Today we’ll examine three areas of SQL Server JSON performance:

  1. How to maximize performance for the new SQL Server JSON functions
  2. How the new SQL Server JSON functions compare against what was previously available in SQL Server
  3. How the new SQL JSON functions compare against Newtonsoft’s Json.NET

Maximizing SQL Server JSON Function Performance

I wanted to use a sizable data set in order to test the performance of the new JSON functions in SQL Server 2016. I found arthurkao’s car year/make/model data on GitHub and decided this ~20k element JSON array would be perfect for performance testing purposes. For my tests I’ll be using both the original JSON string as well as a SQL table that I created from the original JSON array:

-- Car data source: https://github.com/arthurkao/vehicle-make-model-data
IF OBJECT_ID('dbo.Cars') IS NOT NULL 
BEGIN
	DROP TABLE dbo.Cars;
END
CREATE TABLE dbo.Cars
(
	Id INT IDENTITY(1,1),
	CarDetails NVARCHAR(MAX)
);
-- See https://gist.github.com/bertwagner/1df2531676112c24cd1ab298fc750eb2 for the full untruncated version of this code
DECLARE @cars nvarchar(max) = '[ {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"CL"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"EL"},...]';

INSERT INTO dbo.Cars (CarDetails)
SELECT value FROM OPENJSON(@cars, '$');

SELECT * FROM dbo.Cars;
/* 
Output:
Id          CarDetails
----------- ----------------------------------------------
1           {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"CL"}
2           {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"EL"}
3           {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"INTEGRA"}
...
*/

Unlike XML in SQL Server (which is stored in it’s own datatype), JSON in SQL Server 2016 is stored as an NVARCHAR. This means instead of needing to use special indexes, we can use indexes that we are already familiar with.

To maximize performance, we can use Microsoft’s recommendation of adding a computed column for one of the JSON properties and then indexing that computed column:

-- Remember to turn on "Include Actual Execution Plan" for all of these examples

-- Before we add any computed columns/indexes, let's see our execution plan for our SQL statement with a JSON predicate
SELECT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE JSON_VALUE(CarDetails, '$.model') = 'Golf'
/*
Output:
Id          CarDetails
----------- --------------------------------------------------
1113        {"year":2001,"make":"VOLKSWAGEN","model":"GOLF"}
2410        {"year":2002,"make":"VOLKSWAGEN","model":"GOLF"}
3707        {"year":2003,"make":"VOLKSWAGEN","model":"GOLF"}
...
*/
-- The execution plan shows a Table Scan, not very efficient

-- We can now add a non-persisted computed column for our "model" JSON property.
ALTER TABLE dbo.Cars
ADD CarModel AS JSON_VALUE(CarDetails, '$.model');

-- We add the distinct to avoid parameter sniffing issues.  
-- Our execution plan now shows the extra computation that is occuring for every row of the table scan.
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE JSON_VALUE(CarDetails, '$.model') = 'Golf'
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE CarModel = 'Golf'

Non-persisted computed columns (like in the example above) do not take up any additional space in the table. You can verify this for yourself by running sp_spaceused 'dbo.Cars' before and after adding the non-persisted column to the table.

Having a computed column doesn’t add any performance to our query on its own but it does now allow us to add an index to our parsed/computed JSON property.

Having the computed column doesn’t improve performance — we are still seeing a Table Scan

The clustered index that we add next stores pointers to each parsed/computed value causing the table not to take up any space and only causes the SQL engine to recompute the columns when the index needs to be rebuilt:

-- Add an index onto our computed column
CREATE CLUSTERED INDEX CL_CarModel ON dbo.Cars (CarModel)

-- Check the execution plans again
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE JSON_VALUE(CarDetails, '$.model') = 'Golf'
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE CarModel = 'Golf'
-- We now get index seeks!

And the resulting execution plan now shows both queries (the one using JSON_VALUE() in the WHERE clause directly as well the one calling our computed column) using index seeks to find the data we are looking for:

Yay index seeks!

Overall, adding computed columns to our table adds no overhead in terms of storage space and allows us to then add indexes on JSON properties which improve performance significantly.

SQL Server 2016 JSON vs SQL Server pre-2016 JSON

As I’ve mentioned before, the best option for processing JSON data in SQL Server before 2016 was by using Phil Factor’s amazing JSON parsing function. Although the function works well, it is limited by what SQL Server functionality was available at the time and therefore wasn’t all that efficient.

-- Let's compare how quick Phil Factor's JSON parsing function does against the new SQL 2016 functions
-- Phil's parseJSON function can be downloaded from https://www.simple-talk.com/sql/t-sql-programming/consuming-json-strings-in-sql-server/

SELECT years.StringValue AS Year, makes.StringValue AS Make, models.StringValue AS Model FROM dbo.parseJSON(@cars) models
INNER JOIN dbo.parseJSON(@cars) years ON models.parent_ID = years.parent_ID
INNER JOIN dbo.parseJSON(@cars) makes ON models.parent_ID = makes.parent_ID
WHERE models.NAME = 'model' AND models.StringValue = 'Golf' AND years.NAME = 'year' AND makes.NAME = 'make'

The above query should work for getting the data we need. I’m abusing what the parseJSON function was probably built to do (I don’t think it was intended to parse ~20k element JSON arrays), and I’ll be honest I waited 10 minutes before killing the query. Basically, trying to parse this much data in SQL before 2016 just wasn’t possible (unless you wrote CLR).

Compared to the following queries which is using our indexed computed column SQL Server 2016 is able to return all of the results to us in 1 ms:

-- Indexed computed column returns results in ~1ms
SELECT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE CarModel = 'Golf'

SQL Server 2016 JSON vs Newtonsoft’s Json.NET

In cases like the above where parsing JSON in SQL Server was never an option, my preferred method has always been to parse data in C#. In particular, Newtonsoft’s Json.NET is the standard for high performance JSON parsing, so let’s take a look at how SQL Server 2016 compares to that.

The following code shows 6 tests I ran in SQL Server 2016:

-- Turn on stats and see how long it takes to parse the ~20k JSON array elements
SET STATISTICS TIME ON

-- Test #1
-- Test how long it takes to parse each property from all ~20k elements from the JSON array
-- SQL returns this query in ~546ms
SELECT JSON_VALUE(value, '$.year') AS [Year], JSON_VALUE(value, '$.make') AS Make, JSON_VALUE(value, '$.model') AS Model FROM OPENJSON(@cars, '$') 

-- Test #2
-- Time to deserialize and query just Golfs without computed column + index
-- This takes ~255ms in SQL Server
SELECT * FROM OPENJSON(@cars, '$') WHERE JSON_VALUE(value, '$.model') = 'Golf'

-- Test #3
-- Time it takes to compute the same query for Golf's with a computed column and clustered index 
-- This takes ~1ms on SQL Server
SELECT * FROM dbo.Cars WHERE CarModel = 'Golf'

-- Test #4
-- Serializing data on SQL Server takes ~110ms
SELECT * FROM dbo.Cars FOR JSON AUTO

-- What about serializing/deserializing smaller JSON datasets?
-- Let's create our smaller set
DECLARE @carsSmall nvarchar(max) = '[ {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"CL"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"EL"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"INTEGRA"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"MDX"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"NSX"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"RL"}, {"year":2001,"make":"ACURA","model":"TL"}]';

-- Test #5
-- Running our query results in the data becoming deserialized in ~0ms
SELECT JSON_VALUE(value, '$.year') AS [Year], JSON_VALUE(value, '$.make') AS Make, JSON_VALUE(value, '$.model') AS Model FROM OPENJSON(@carsSmall, '$') 
--30ms in sql

-- Test #6
-- And serialized in ~0ms
SELECT TOP 7  * FROM dbo.Cars FOR JSON AUTO

And then the same tests in a C# console app using Json.Net:

static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            string cars = @"[ {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""CL""}, ... ]";
            Stopwatch stopwatch = new Stopwatch();

            // Test #1
            stopwatch.Start();
            var deserializedCars = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<IEnumerable<Car>>(cars);
            stopwatch.Stop();
            long elapsedMillisecondsDeserialize = stopwatch.ElapsedMilliseconds;

            // Test #2 & #3
            stopwatch.Restart();
            var queriedCars = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<IEnumerable<Car>>(cars).Where(x=>x.model == "Golf");
            stopwatch.Stop();
            long elapsedMillisecondsQuery = stopwatch.ElapsedMilliseconds;

            // Test #4
            stopwatch.Restart();
            var serializedCars = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(deserializedCars);
            stopwatch.Stop();
            long elapsedMillisecondsSerialize = stopwatch.ElapsedMilliseconds;

            // smaller data
            string carsSmall = @"[ {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""CL""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""EL""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""INTEGRA""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""MDX""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""NSX""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""RL""}, {""year"":2001,""make"":""ACURA"",""model"":""TL""}]";

            // Test #5
            stopwatch.Restart();
            var deserializedCarsSmall = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<IEnumerable<Car>>(carsSmall);
            stopwatch.Stop();
            long elapsedMillisecondsDeserializeSmall = stopwatch.ElapsedMilliseconds;

            // Test #6
            stopwatch.Restart();
            var serializedCarsSmall = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(deserializedCarsSmall);
            stopwatch.Stop();
            long elapsedMillisecondsSerializeSmall = stopwatch.ElapsedMilliseconds;
        }

And the results compared side by side:

Essentially, it seems like Json.Net beats SQL Server 2016 on larger JSON manipulations, both are equal with small JSON objects, and SQL Server 2016 has the advantage at filtering JSON data when indexes are used.

Conclusion

SQL Server 2016 is excellent at working with JSON. Even though Json.NET beats SQL Server 2016 at working with large JSON objects (on the magnitude of milliseconds), SQL Server is equally fast on smaller objects and is advantageous when JSON data needs to be filtered or searched.

I look forward to using the SQL Server 2016 JSON functions more in the future, especially in instances where network I/O benefits me to process JSON on the SQL Server or when working with applications that cannot process JSON data, like SQL Server Reporting Services.

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JSON Support Is The Best New Developer Feature in SQL 2016 — Part 3: Updating, Adding, and Deleting…

Published on: 2017-02-07

This is the third article in my series about learning how to use SQL Server 2016’s new JSON functions. If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 — Parsing JSON and Part 2 — Creating JSON.


So far we’ve looked at how to parse existing JSON objects and how to create new JSON objects. Today I want to look at the easy ways to modify JSON objects as well as the (mostly) easy ways to delete elements from a JSON object.

SQL Server 2016 offers us the new JSON_MODIFY() function for updating existing JSON strings. It’s pretty simple to use for replacing existing values in a JSON string:

-- See https://gist.github.com/bertwagner/356bf47732b9e35d2156daa943e049e9 for a formatted version of this JSON
DECLARE @garage nvarchar(1000) = N'{ "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GL" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }] }'

-- I upgraded some features in my Volkswagen recently, technically making it equivalent to a "GLI" instead of a "GL".  
-- Let's update our JSON using JSON_MODIFY:
SET @garage = JSON_MODIFY(@garage, '$.Cars[0].Model.Trim', 'GLI')
SELECT @garage
-- Output: { "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

The JSON_MODIFY() function works similar to a SQL REPLACE() function: the first argument specifies what data we are modifying, the second argument selects which property we are going to replace via XPath syntax, and the third argument specifies what we are replacing the value with. Pretty easy!

Replacing values with JSON is simple. Adding new values into existing JSON is also fairly simple using JSON_MODIFY():

-- See https://gist.github.com/bertwagner/356bf47732b9e35d2156daa943e049e9 for a formatted version of this JSON
DECLARE @garage nvarchar(1000) = N'{ "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }] }'

-- I decided to sell my Golf.  Let's add a new "SellDate" property to the JSON saying when I sold my Volkswagen.
-- If we use strict mode, you'll see we can't add SellDate because the key never existed before
--SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@garage, 'append strict $.Cars[0].SellDate', '2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z')
-- Output: Property cannot be found on the specified JSON path.

-- However, in lax mode (default), we have no problem adding the SellDate
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@garage, 'append lax $.Cars[0].SellDate', '2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z')
-- Output: { "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" ,"SellDate":["2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z"]}, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

-- After selling my Golf, I bought another car a few days later: A new Volkswagen Golf GTI.  Let's add it to our garge:
-- Note the use of JSON_QUERY; this is so our string is interpreted as a JSON object instead of a plain old string
SET @garage = JSON_MODIFY(@garage, 'append $.Cars', JSON_QUERY('{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }'))
SELECT @garage;
-- Output: { "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

Replacing data and adding new data is pretty easy with JSON_MODIFY(). This new SQL Server 2016 function ain’t no two trick pony though — it allows deletion of data as well!

Deleting properties in a JSON object is fairly straightforward: all you have to do is run the function with the same arguments as our modification example, except this time passing in NULL as our replacement value:

DECLARE @garage nvarchar(1000) = N'{ "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z", "SellDate" : "2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }'

-- Let's remove the PurchaseDate property on my original Volkswagen Golf since it's not relevant anymore:
SET @garage = JSON_MODIFY(@garage, '$.Cars[0].PurchaseDate', NULL)
SELECT @garage
-- Output: { "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "SellDate" : "2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

Up to this point, JSON_MODIFY() has worked great for modifying, adding to, and deleting properties from our JSON data. However, there is one serious flaw with JSON_MODIFY() and that’s deleting JSON array values — instead of deleting the value from the array and then shifting the rest of the array over, it simply replaces the array value with a NULL:

DECLARE @garage nvarchar(1000) = N'{ "Cars": [{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GLI" }, "Year": 2003, "SellDate" : "2017-02-17T00:00:00.000Z" }, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }'

-- I realize it's not worth keeping the original Volkswagen in my @garage data any longer, so let's completely remove it.
-- Note, if we use NULL as per the MSDN documentation, we don't actually remove the first car element of the array - it just gets replaced with NULL
-- This is problematic if we expect the indexes of our array to shift by -1.
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@garage, '$.Cars[0]', NULL)
-- Output: { "Cars": [null, { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

-- To truly delete it (and not have the NULL appear as the first item in the array) we have to convert to a rowset, select everything that's not the first row, aggregate the rows into a string (UGH) and then recreate as JSON.
-- This is incredibly ugly.  The STREAM_AGG() function in SQL vNext should make it a little cleaner, but why doesn't the JSON_MODIFY NULL syntax just get rid of the element in the array?
-- I have opened a Microsoft connect issue for this here: https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/3120404 
SELECT JSON_QUERY('{ "Cars" : [' + 
		STUFF((
			   SELECT	',' + value
               FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars') 
			   WHERE [key] <> 0
               FOR XML PATH('')), 1, 1, '') + '] }')
-- Output: { "Cars" : [{ "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" },{ "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GTI" }, "Year": 2017, "PurchaseDate": "2017-02-19T00:00:00.000Z" }] }

I hate that solution. FOR XML PATH() to rebuild or JSON array? Ugly, ugly, ugly. I have been impressed with all of the new JSON functionality in SQL Server 2016 except for the deletion of array elements.

Deleting properties should be the same as deleting array elements with JSON_MODIFY(): the property and array element should be completely removed from the JSON object, not just replaced with a NULL. I opened a Microsoft Connect issue for this bug here, please vote for it if you want to see this problem fixed as well: https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/3120404

Microsoft’s been pretty good about fixing bugs lately, so let’s hope this gets fixed in SQL Server vNext!

Thanks for reading. You might also enjoy following me on Twitter.

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JSON Support Is The Best New Developer Feature in SQL 2016 — Part 2: Creating JSON

Published on: 2017-01-31

This is the second article in my series about learning how to use SQL Server 2016’s new JSON functions. If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 — Parsing JSON.


Last time we looked at SQL 2016’s new functions for parsing JSON data. Today, I want to explore the different options available for creating JSON data from a SQL result set.

The first option we have for creating JSON is by hardcoding a SQL string value. This is a terribly painful way to creating JSON and doesn’t use any of SQL 2016’s new functionality. However, for the sake of completeness I thought it would good to highlight the obvious:

-- The most primative way of creating JSON in SQL.  We don't want to have to do this
DECLARE @garage nvarchar(100) = '{ "Cars" : [{ "Make" : "Volkswagen"}, { "Make" : "Subaru"}] }'

-- But it works!
SELECT @garage
-- Output: { "Cars" : [{ "Make" : "Volkswagen"}, { "Make" : "Subaru"}] }

-- And with our SQL 2016 ISJSON() function we can check that the JSON string is valid
SELECT ISJSON(@garage)
-- Output: 1

Fortunately, SQL 2016 makes it much easier to generate JSON data from a query’s result set. First, let’s create some data to play around with:

-- Create our table with test data
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS ##Garage;
CREATE TABLE ##Garage
(
	Id int IDENTITY(1,1),
	Make varchar(100),
	BaseModel varchar(50),
	Trim varchar(50),
	Year int,
	PurchaseDate datetime2
);
INSERT INTO ##Garage VALUES ('Volkswagen', 'Golf', 'GL', 2003, '2006-10-05');
INSERT INTO ##Garage VALUES ('Subaru', 'Impreza', 'Premium', 2016, '2015-08-18');

-- Take a look at our data
SELECT * FROM ##Garage;

The data above should look pretty familiar from Part 1 of this series. It’s only two rows and a handful of columns, but it should get the job done at showing how to use SQL’s two new JSON creating functions.

First up is the clause FOR JSON AUTO. This clause will take the results of a query and format them into very basic JSON. Not much magic here, but it sure beats having to hardcode (or build dynamic JSON strings) using the first method outlined above.

FOR JSON AUTO does offer some formatting flexibility though as shown in the examples: nesting JSON objects is possible through joining of tables.

-- AUTO will format a result into JSON following the same structure of the result set
SELECT Make, BaseModel, Trim, Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage
FOR JSON AUTO;
-- Output: [{"Make":"Volkswagen","BaseModel":"Golf","Trim":"GL","Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","BaseModel":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium","Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]

-- Using aliases will rename JSON keys
SELECT Make AS [CarMake] 
FROM ##Garage 
FOR JSON AUTO;
-- Output: [{"CarMake":"Volkswagen"},{"CarMake":"Subaru"}]

-- Any joined tables will get created as nested JSON objects.  The alias of the joined tables becomes the name of the JSON key
SELECT g1.Make,  Model.BaseModel as Base, Model.Trim, g1.Year, g1.PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage g1
INNER JOIN ##Garage Model on g1.Id = Model.Id
FOR JSON AUTO;
-- Output: [{"Make":"Volkswagen","Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00","Model":[{"Base":"Golf","Trim":"GL"}]},{"Make":"Subaru","Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00","Model":[{"Base":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium"}]}]

-- Finally we can encapsulate our entire JSON result in a parent element by specifiying the ROOT option
SELECT Make, BaseModel, Trim, Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage
FOR JSON AUTO, ROOT('Cars');
-- Output: {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","BaseModel":"Golf","Trim":"GL","Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","BaseModel":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium","Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}

Although FOR JSON AUTO is perfect for quick and dirty JSON string creation, SQL offers much more customization with FOR JSON PATH. TheFOR JSON PATH clause will take column aliases into consideration when building the JSON structure, making it unnecessary to have to join data in order to get a nested JSON schema.

-- PATH will format a result using dot syntax in the column aliases.  Here's an example with just default column names
SELECT Make, BaseModel, Trim, Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage
FOR JSON PATH, ROOT('Cars');
-- Output: {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","BaseModel":"Golf","Trim":"GL","Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","BaseModel":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium","Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}

-- And here is the same example, just assigning aliases to define JSON nested structure
SELECT Make, BaseModel as [Model.Base], Trim AS [Model.Trim], Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage
FOR JSON PATH, ROOT('Cars');
-- Output: {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","Model":{"Base":"Golf","Trim":"GL"},"Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","Model":{"Base":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium"},"Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}

-- We can actually go multiple levels deep with this type of alias dot notation nesting
SELECT Make, BaseModel as [Model.Base], Trim AS [Model.Trim], 'White' AS [Model.Color.Exterior], 'Black' AS [Model.Color.Interior], Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage
FOR JSON PATH, ROOT('Cars');
-- Output: {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","Model":{"Base":"Golf","Trim":"GL","Color":{"Exterior":"White","Interior":"Black"}},"Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","Model":{"Base":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium","Color":{"Exterior":"White","Interior":"Black"}},"Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}

-- Concatenating data rows with UNION or UNION ALL just adds the row as a new element as part of the JSON array
SELECT Make,  BaseModel AS [Model.Base], Trim AS [Model.Trim], Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage WHERE Id = 1
UNION ALL
SELECT Make,  BaseModel, Trim, Year, PurchaseDate
FROM ##Garage WHERE Id = 2
FOR JSON PATH, ROOT('Cars');
-- Output: {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","Model":{"Base":"Golf","Trim":"GL"},"Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"},{"Make":"Subaru","Model":{"Base":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium"},"Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}

-- We can even include our FOR JSON in our SELECT statement to generate JSON strings for each row of our result set
SELECT g1.*, (SELECT Make, BaseModel AS [Model.Base], Trim AS [Model.Trim], Year, PurchaseDate FROM ##Garage g2 WHERE g2.Id = g1.Id FOR JSON PATH, ROOT('Cars')) AS [Json]
FROM ##Garage g1
/* Output: 
Id  Make          BaseModel    Trim      Year    PurchaseDate                Json
--- ------------- ------------ --------- ------- --------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1   Volkswagen    Golf         GL        2003    2006-10-05 00:00:00.0000000 {"Cars":[{"Make":"Volkswagen","Model":{"Base":"Golf","Trim":"GL"},"Year":2003,"PurchaseDate":"2006-10-05T00:00:00"}]}
2   Subaru        Impreza      Premium   2016    2015-08-18 00:00:00.0000000 {"Cars":[{"Make":"Subaru","Model":{"Base":"Impreza","Trim":"Premium"},"Year":2016,"PurchaseDate":"2015-08-18T00:00:00"}]}
*/

And that’s it for creating JSON data in SQL Server 2016. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we look at other SQL JSON functions that will help us modify data as well as a comparison of how SQL’s JSON functions perform against other languages JSON serialization/deserialization methods.

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