One SQL Cheat Code For Amazingly Fast JSON Queries

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Watch this week's video on YouTube

Recently I've been working with JSON in SQL Server 2016 a lot.

One of the hesitations many people have with using JSON in SQL Server is that they think that querying it must be really slow — SQL is supposed to excel at relational data, not string parsing right?

It turns out that performance is pretty good with the standalone SQL Server JSON functions. Even better is that it's possible to make queries against JSON data run at ludicrous speeds by using indexes on JSON parsed computed columns. In this post I want to take a look at how SQL is able to parse* with such great performance.

*"Parse" here is actually a lie —it's doing something else behind the scenes. You'll see what I mean, keep reading!

Computed Columns in SQL Server

The only way to get JSON indexes working on SQL server is to use a computed column. A computed column is basically a column that performs a function to calculate its values.

For example, let's say we have a table with some car JSON data in it:

DROP TABLE IF EXISTS dbo.DealerInventory;
CREATE TABLE dbo.DealerInventory
(
  Id int IDENTITY(1,1) PRIMARY KEY,
  Year int,
  JsonData nvarchar(300)
);

INSERT INTO dbo.DealerInventory (Year, JsonData) VALUES (2017, '{ "Make" : "Volkswagen", "Model" : "Golf" }');

INSERT INTO dbo.DealerInventory (Year, JsonData) VALUES (2017, '{ "Make" : "Honda", "Model" : "Civic" }');

INSERT INTO dbo.DealerInventory (Year, JsonData) VALUES (2017, '{ "Make" : "Subaru", "Model" : "Impreza" }');

SELECT * FROM dbo.DealerInventory;

/* Output:
Id    Year     JsonData
----- -------- ---------------------------------------------
1     2017     { "Make" : "Volkswagen", "Model" : "Golf" }
2     2017     { "Make" : "Honda", "Model" : "Civic" }
3     2017     { "Make" : "Subaru", "Model" : "Impreza" }
*/

We can add a new computed column to the table, "Make", which parses and extracts the Make property from each row's JSON string:

ALTER TABLE dbo.DealerInventory
ADD Make AS JSON_VALUE(JsonData, '$.Make');

SELECT * FROM dbo.DealerInventory;

/* Output:
Id Year  JsonData                                    Make
-- ----- ------------------------------------------- ----------
1  2017  { "Make" : "Volkswagen", "Model" : "Golf" } Volkswagen
2  2017  { "Make" : "Honda", "Model" : "Civic" }     Honda
3  2017  { "Make" : "Subaru", "Model" : "Impreza" }  Subaru
*/

By default, the above Make computed column is non-persisted, meaning its values are never stored to the database (persisted computed columns can also be created, but that's a topic for a different time). Instead, every time a query runs against our dbo.DealerInventory table, SQL Server will calculate the value for each row.

The performance of this isn't great — it's essentially a scalar function running for each row of our output :(. However, when you combine a computed column with an index, something interesting happens.

Time to dive in with DBCC Page

DBCC Page is an undocumented SQL Server function that shows what the raw data stored in a SQL page file looks like. Page files are how SQL Server stores its data.

In the rest of this post we'll be looking at how data pages (where the actual table data in SQL is stored) and index pages (where our index data is stored) are affected by non-persisted computed columns — and how they make JSON querying super fast.

First, let's take a look at the existing data we have. We do this by first turning on trace flag 3604 and using DBCC IND to get the page ids of our data. Additional details on the column definitions in DBCC IND and DBCC PAGE can be found in Paul Randal's blog post on the topic.

DBCC TRACEON(3604);

-- "Sandbox" is the name of my database
DBCC IND('Sandbox','dbo.DealerInventory',-1);

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If you look at the results above, row 2 contains our data page (indicated by PageType = 1) and the PagePID of that page is 305088 (if you are playing along at home, your PagePID is most likely something else). If we then look up that PagePID using DBCC PAGE we get something like this:

DBCC PAGE('Sandbox',1,305088,3) WITH TABLERESULTS

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You can see our three rows of data highlighted in red. The important thing to note here is that our computed column of the parsed "Make" value is truly non-persisted and no where to be found, meaning it has to get generated for every row during query execution.

Now, what if we add an index to our non-persisted computed column and then run DBCC IND again:

CREATE NONCLUSTERED INDEX IX_ParsedMake ON dbo.DealerInventory (Make)

DBCC IND('Sandbox','dbo.DealerInventory',-1);

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You'll now notice that in addition to data page 305088 (PageType = 1), we also have an index page 305096 (PageType = 2). If we examine both the data page and the index page we see something interesting:

DBCC PAGE('Sandbox',1,305088,3) WITH TABLERESULTS

DBCC PAGE('Sandbox',1,305096,3) WITH TABLERESULTS

Nothing has changed with our data page:

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But our index page contains the parsed values for our "Make" column:

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What does this mean? I thought non-persisted computed columns aren't saved to disk!

Exactly right: our non-persisted computed column "Make" isn't saved to the data page on the disk. However if we create an index on our non-persisted computed column, the computed value is persisted on the index page!

This is basically a cheat code for indexing computed columns.

SQL will only compute the "Make" value on a row's insert or update into the table (or during the initial index creation) — all future retrievals of our computed column will come from the pre-computed index page.

This is how SQL is able to parse indexed JSON properties so fast; instead of needing to do a table scan and parsing the JSON data for each row of our table, SQL Server can go look up the pre-parsed values in the index and return the correct data incredibly fast.

Personally, I think this makes JSON that much easier (and practical) to use in SQL Server 2016. Even though we are storing large JSON strings in our database, we can still index individual properties and return results incredibly fast.

[Video] JSON Usage and Performance in SQL Server 2016

Using JSON because you are lazy is not a good excuse!

Last night I had the privilege to present to the Ohio North SQL Server User Group about JSON in SQL Server 2016. There was a great crowd present (they laughed at all of my terrible jokes so how can they not be great!?) and I had a wonderful time sharing what I know about JSON.

Below you can find my video recording of the presentation as well as the slides and demo code.

Also worth highlighting is OnTopReplica, an open source piece of software I used that basically does picture-in-picture display of another window on your desktop. You can hear everyone get excited by it at 18 minutes and 30 seconds into the video.

Enjoy the resources below :). These as well as resources from other past presentations are available at https://bertwagner.com/presentations/ .

Video

https://youtu.be/r2xFIsdSJ2Q

Slides

https://www.slideshare.net/BertWagner/json-usage-and-performance-in-sql-server-2016

Demo Scripts

https://bertwagner.com/presentations/JSON%20in%20SQL%20Server%202016%20-%20Bert%20Wagner.zip

Who Stuck These Letters In My DateTimes?

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Parsing, creating, and modifying JSON in SQL Server 2016 is really easy. JSON dates and times are not.

Coming from a predominantly SQL background, the JSON DateTime format took some getting used to, especially when it came to converting SQL datetimes to JSON and vice versa.

The remainder of this post will get you well on your way to working with JSON date times in SQL Server.

Breakdown of JSON date/time

In SQL Server, datetime2's format is defined as follows:

YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss[.fractional seconds]

JSON date time strings are defined like:

YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss.sssZ

Honestly, they look pretty similar. However, there are few key differences:

  • JSON separates the date and time portion of the string with the letter T
  • The Z is optional and indicates that the datetime is in UTC (if the Z is left off, JavaScript defaults to UTC). You can also specify a different timezone by replacing the Z with a + or  along with HH:mm (ie. -05:00 for Eastern Standard Time)
  • The precision of SQL's datetime2 goes out to 7 decimal places, in JSON and JavaScript it only goes out to 3 places, so truncation may occur.

Now that we know the key differences between SQL datetime2 and JSON date time strings, let's explore common transformations when working with JSON data in SQL.

Parsing JSON date time into SQL datetime2

The most common operation I perform with these new JSON functions is parsing, so let's start with those. Let's see how we can parse the date/times from JSON using SQL Server 2016's JSON_VALUE() function:

DECLARE @jsonData nvarchar(max) = N'{ "createDate" : "2017-03-28T12:45:00.000Z" }'

-- SQL's JSON_VALUE() will read in the JSON date time as a string
SELECT JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate')
-- Output: 2017-03-28T12:45:00Z

-- If we want to read it in as a SQL datetime2, we need to use a CONVERT() (or a CAST())
SELECT CONVERT(datetime2, JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate'))
-- Output: 2017-03-28 12:45:00.0000000

-- 7 zeroes after the decimal? Our source only had 3 zeroes!
-- Since JSON/JavaScript times have decimal precision to only 3 places, we need to make
-- the precision of datetime2 match
SELECT CONVERT(datetime2(3), JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate'))
-- Output: 2017-03-28 12:45:00.000

-- So now we are returning our UTC date time from JSON, but what if we need to convert it to a different time zone?
-- Using SQL Server 2016's AT TIME ZONE with CONVERT() will allow us to do that easily.
-- To get a full list of time zone names, you can use SELECT * FROM sys.time_zone_info
SELECT CONVERT(datetime2(3), JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate')) AT TIME ZONE 'Eastern Standard Time'
-- Output: 2017-03-28 12:45:00.000 -04:00

-- What if we just need to grab the date?  Pretty easy, just CONVERT() to date
SELECT CONVERT(date, JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate'))
-- Output: 2017-03-28

--Same with just the time, just remember to use a precision value of 3
SELECT CONVERT(time(3), JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate'))
-- Output: 12:45:00.000

Inserting SQL datetime2 into JSON

Taking date/time data out of JSON and into SQL was pretty easy. What about going the opposite direction and inserting SQL date/time data into JSON?

DECLARE @sqlData datetime2 = '2017-03-28 12:45:00.1234567'

-- Let's first try the simplest SQL to JSON conversion first using FOR JSON PATH
SELECT @sqlData as SQLDateTime2 FOR JSON PATH
-- Output: [{"SQLDateTime2":"2017-03-28T12:45:00"}]

-- Honestly that's not too bad!
-- The datetime gets created in the YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SS.fffffff format
-- Although this is pretty much what we need, what if we want to be explicit and specify that we are in UTC?
-- Just add the AT TIME ZONE modifier and we will get our JSON "Z" indicating UTC
SELECT @sqlData AT TIME ZONE 'UTC' AS SQLDateTime2 FOR JSON PATH
-- Output: [{"SQLDateTime2":"2017-03-28T12:45:00.1234567Z"}]

-- And if we provide a different time zone offset, the JSON is formatted correctly with the +/-HH:MM suffix:
SELECT @sqlData AT TIME ZONE 'Eastern Standard Time' AS SQLDateTime2 FOR JSON PATH
-- Output: [{"SQLDateTime2":"2017-03-28T12:45:00.1234567-04:00"}]

-- You might notice that there are 7 fractional second decimal places in all of the above examples.
-- Although out of JSON spec, this is ok!

-- What if we just want to insert the date?  Just specify with a SQL CONVERT()
SELECT CONVERT(date, @sqlData) as SQLDateTime2 FOR JSON PATH
-- Output: [{"SQLDateTime2":"2017-03-28"}]

-- And the same goes with the time portion
SELECT CONVERT(time, @sqlData) as SQLDateTime2 FOR JSON PATH
-- Output: [{"SQLDateTime2":"12:45:00.1234567"}]

Modifying JSON date time with SQL

So we've seen how easy it is to parse and create JSON date/time strings, but what about modifying JSON data?

DECLARE @sqlDate datetime2 = '2017-03-28 12:45:00.1234567'



DECLARE @jsonData nvarchar(max) = N'{ "createDate" : "2017-03-28T12:45:00.000Z" }'
        ,@newDate datetime2(3) = '2017-03-28T12:48:00.123Z'

-- Let's start out modifying our data by replacing the value completely
SELECT JSON_VALUE(@jsonData, '$.createDate')

-- If we want to pass in a perfectly formatted JSON string, then it's pretty easy
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@jsonData, '$.createDate', '2017-03-28T12:48:00.123Z')
-- Output: { "createDate" : "2017-03-28T12:48:00.123Z" }

-- If we want to pass in a SQL datetime2 value, say like what we have stored in @newDate, then things get a little messy.
-- The JSON_MODIFY function requires the third argument to be the nvarchar datatype.  This means
-- we need to get our SQL datetime2 into a valid JSON string first.  

-- If we use FOR JSON PATH to create the JSON date from the SQL datetime2, things get ugly because 
-- FOR JSON PATH always creates a property : value combination
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@jsonData, '$.createDate', (SELECT @newDate as newDate FOR JSON PATH))
-- Output: { "createDate" : [{"newDate":"2017-03-28T12:48:00.123"}] }

-- In order to only pass the JSON datetime into the value for the "createDate" property, we need to 
-- use the CONVERT style number 127 to convert our dateTime to a JSON format
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@jsonData, '$.createDate', (SELECT CONVERT(nvarchar, @newDate, 127)))
-- Output: { "createDate" : "2017-03-28T12:48:00.123" }

-- But what happened to our "Z" indicating UTC?  
-- We of course need to specify the AT TIME ZONE again:
SELECT JSON_MODIFY(@jsonData, '$.createDate', (SELECT CONVERT(nvarchar, @newDate AT TIME ZONE 'UTC', 127)))
--Output: { "createDate" : "2017-03-28T12:48:00.123Z" }

Overall, working with JSON dates/times is really easy using SQL Server 2016's new JSON functions. Microsoft could have done a really bad job not following the ECMA standards, but they did a great job crossing their T's and placing their Z's.

When Is It Appropriate To Store JSON in SQL Server?

Who needs a relational database when everything can be stored in a JSON string?

Every once in a while I hear of some technologist say that relational databases are dead; instead, a non-table based NoSQL storage format is the way of the future. SQL Server 2016 introduced JSON functionality, making it possible for some "non-SQL" data storage to make its way into the traditionally tabled-based SQL Server.

Does this mean all data in SQL Server going forward should be stored in long JSON strings? No, that would be a terrible idea. There are instances when storing JSON in SQL Server is a good choice though. In this post I want to create recommendations for when data should be stored as JSON and when it shouldn't.

Databases Should Not Be Entirely Comprised Of JSON

The screenshot below is an example of what I think some developers would do if they were given free reign in SQL Server 2016:

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Here we have an application database ("InventoryApp") that consists of only a single table ("dbo.Data") with three JSON NVARCHAR(MAX) columns to represent all of the data required by the app. Relationships exist between Sales, Purchases, and Customers but these are not defined on the database side.

If you are from the world of relational-SQL, you might not believe that anyone would design such a database structure. Believe me though, this is a realistic scenario. Entire companies (eg. Firebase: https://firebase.google.com/) build their services around abstracting the database layer away from developers, essentially storing entire tables or databases in large JSON strings.

Many developers like storing data this way because it is easy to deserialize JSON strings into objects in their programming languages to use in their apps. They like the fact that with JSON they can have an infinitely changing storage schema (just add new keys, values, and arrays!) so if they need a new field for their app, they can just add it in, serialize the object to a JSON string, and store it again in the database.

Obviously, going completely "NoSQL" might make short term development easier/quicker, but using SQL Server 2016 to only store data this way is a travesty: there's no way to use many of SQL Server's amazing performance, schema definition and validation, and security features.

So when is it appropriate to store JSON in SQL Server?

Appropriate Use Case #1: Error Logging

Errors happen. When they do, it's nice to be able to go back and look at the error message to see what happened.

The problem is that the structure of error messages isn't always consistent. Sometimes only the value of a single property will help identify the cause of failure. Other times, something more complex fails and it would be nice to have all of the values of a complex object available to make troubleshooting easier.

This is where JSON steps in: in most programming languages, it is easy to convert error messages and run time values to a JSON object on error. And since error messages and data values change in structure depending on where they occur, it's easy to dynamically turn any type of object into JSON data.

This data is perfect to store in SQL to be looked at later. None of these ideas are new — nvarchar(max) has been in SQL for a while now, and so programmers everywhere have been storing error information in that datatype.

With SQL Server 2016, it is now easier to examine and parse the error information directly in SQL Server Management Studio with the variety of JSON parsing functions available. No longer do programmers have to copy the code into some different tool — they can easily do it in SSMS.

Appropriate Use Case #2: Piloting Ideas

Most large workplaces have controls in place that prevent developers from making changes in production. In general this is a Good Idea™.

However, controls are sometimes too restrictive. For example, due to security restrictions, lack of server space, company politics, etc… developers are sometimes stuck developing in production. It's an unfortunate fact of life. In those scenarios, developers have to go through hell if they have to elevate each database structure change every time they want to test something in production.

JSON to the rescue! An nvarchar(max) column in a table can have its JSON data be easily added to and modified to fit more data than it was originally intended to hold. All without any database structure change requests.

Now this is not an ideal situation. In fact, it's a scenario that can add a lot of technical debt to the application long-term if not planned for.

However, if a "flexible" JSON column is built with eventual conversion to a traditional table structure in mind from the start, it's actually simple for a developer to transition an entirely JSON storage structure to a relational format later on. They key here is that the developer needs to have this conversion planned from day one.

Appropriate Use Case #3: Non-Analytical Data

Analytical data is SQL Server's bread and butter. Need to store lots of data and be able to query against it all day long? No problem, there are a plethora of performance tuning options to make your queries run fast and efficiently.

However, sometimes not all data needs to be analyzed. Often an app might need to save some session data to a database temporarily — why bother creating all of the maintenance overhead of strict database schemas if the data will never be queried for analytical purposes? Another example might be a website's dynamically created user profile settings. You can build normalized table(s) to store all of that data, but then you will be writing programming logic to normalize and denormalize your data out of the app.

If this data will not have to be searched, then why bother adding all of the overhead? Keep it in JSON and be done with.

The Ultimate SQL Server JSON Cheat Sheet

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This post is a reference of my examples for processing JSON data in SQL Server. For more detailed explanations of these functions, please see my post series on JSON in SQL Server 2016:

Additionally, the complete reference for SQL JSON handling can be found at MSDN: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn921897.aspx


Parsing JSON

Getting string JSON data into a SQL readable form.

ISJSON()

Checks to see if the input string is valid JSON.

SELECT ISJSON('{ "Color" : "Blue" }') -- Returns 1, valid
-- Output: 1

SELECT ISJSON('{ "Color" : Blue }') -- Returns 0, invalid, missing quotes
-- Output: 0

SELECT ISJSON('{ "Number" : 1 }') -- Returns 1, valid, numbers are allowed
-- Output: 1

SELECT ISJSON('{ "PurchaseDate" : "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }') -- Returns 1, valid, dates are just strings in ISO 8601 date format https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601
-- Output: 1

SELECT ISJSON('{ "PurchaseDate" : 2015-08-18 }') -- Returns 0, invalid
-- Output: 0

JSON_VALUE()

Extracts a specific scalar string value from a JSON string using JSON path expressions.

-- 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" }] }'

SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars[0].Make') -- Return the make of the first car in our array
-- Output: Volkswagen

SELECT CAST(JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars[0].PurchaseDate') as datetime2) -- Return the Purchase Date of the first car in our array and convert it into a DateTime2 datatype
-- Output: 2006-10-05 00:00:00.0000000

SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars') -- This returns NULL because the values of Cars is an array instead of a simple object
-- Output: NULL

SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars[1].Model') -- This is also invalid because JSON_VALUE cannot return an array...only scalar values allowed!
-- Output: NULL

SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars[1].Model.Base') -- Much better
-- Output: Impreza

Strict vs. Lax mode

If the JSON path cannot be found, determines if the function should return a NULL or an error message.

-- Lax (default: function will return an error if invalid JSON path specified
SELECT JSON_VALUE('{ "Color" : "Red" }', '$.Shape') --lax is the default, so you don't need to be explicitly state it
-- Output: NULL

SELECT JSON_VALUE('{ "Color" : "Red" }', 'lax $.Shape')
-- Output: NULL

-- Strict: function will return an error if invalid JSON path specified
SELECT JSON_VALUE('{ "Color" : "Red" }', 'strict $.Shape')
-- Output: Property cannot be found on the specified JSON path.

JSON_QUERY()

Returns a JSON fragment for the specified JSON path.

-- 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" }] }'

-- This returns NULL because the values of Cars is an array instead of a simple object
SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars') 
-- Output: NULL

-- Using JSON_QUERY() however returns the JSON string representation of our array object
SELECT JSON_QUERY(@garage, '$.Cars') 
-- Output: [{ "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" }]

-- This instance of JSON_VALUE() correctly returns a singular scalar value
SELECT JSON_VALUE(@garage, '$.Cars[0].Make')
-- Output: Volkswagen

-- Using JSON_QUERY will not work for returning scalar values - it only will return JSON strings for complex objects
SELECT JSON_QUERY(@garage, '$.Cars[0].Make')
-- Output: NULL

This is useful to help filter an array and then extract values with JSON_VALUE():

-- 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" }] }'

-- We use JSON_QUERY to get the JSON representation of the Cars array
SELECT JSON_QUERY(@garage, '$.Cars')
-- Output: [{ "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" }]

-- If we combine it with JSON_VALUE we can then pull out specific scalar values
SELECT JSON_VALUE(JSON_QUERY(@garage, '$.Cars') , '$[0].Make')
-- Output: Volkswagen

OPEN_JSON()

Returns a SQL result set for the specified JSON path. The result set includes columns identifying the datatypes of the parsed data.

-- 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" }] }'

SELECT * FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars') -- Displaying the values of our "Cars" array.  We additionally get the order of the JSON objects outputted in the "key" column and the JSON object datatype in the "type" column
/* Output:
key    value                                                                                                                                type
------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ----
0      { "Make": "Volkswagen", "Model": { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GL" }, "Year": 2003, "PurchaseDate": "2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z" }        5
1      { "Make": "Subaru", "Model": { "Base": "Impreza", "Trim": "Premium" }, "Year": 2016, "PurchaseDate": "2015-08-18T00:00:00.000Z" }    5
*/

SELECT * FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars[0]') -- Specifying the first element in our JSON array.  JSON arrays are zero-index based
/* Output:
key              value                                 type
---------------- ------------------------------------- ----
Make             Volkswagen                            1
Model            { "Base": "Golf", "Trim": "GL" }      5
Year             2003                                  2
PurchaseDate     2006-10-05T00:00:00.000Z              1
*/

SELECT * FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars[0].Model') -- Pulling the Model property from the first element in our Cars array
/* Output:
key     value   type
------- ------- ----
Base    Golf    1
Trim    GL      1
*/

-- 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" }] }'

-- Here we retrieve the Make of each vehicle in our Cars array
SELECT JSON_VALUE(value, '$.Make') FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars') 
/* Output: 
------------
Volkswagen
Subaru
*/ 

-- Parsing and converting some JSON dates to SQL DateTime2
SELECT CAST(JSON_VALUE(value, '$.PurchaseDate') as datetime2) FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars') 
/* Output: 
---------------------------
2006-10-05 00:00:00.0000000
2015-08-18 00:00:00.0000000
*/ 

-- We can also format the output schema of a JSON string using the WITH option.  This is especially cool because we can bring up values from sub-arrays (see Model.Base and Model.Trim) to our top-level row result
SELECT * FROM OPENJSON(@garage, '$.Cars')
 WITH (Make varchar(20) 'strict $.Make',  
       ModelBase nvarchar(100) '$.Model.Base',
       ModelTrim nvarchar(100) '$.Model.Trim',
        Year int '$.Year',  
       PurchaseDate datetime2 '$.PurchaseDate') 
/* Output: 
Make           ModelBase   Year        PurchaseDate
-------------- ----------- ----------- ---------------------------
Volkswagen     Golf        2003        2006-10-05 00:00:00.0000000
Subaru         Impreza     2016        2015-08-18 00:00:00.0000000
*/

Creating JSON

Creating JSON data from either strings or result sets.

FOR JSON AUTO

Automatically creates a JSON string from a SELECT statement. Quick and dirty.

-- 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;

-- 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"}]}

FOR JSON PATH

Formats a SQL query into a JSON string, allowing the user to define structure and formatting.

-- 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"}]}
*/

Modifying JSON

Updating, adding to, and deleting from JSON data.

JSON_MODIFY()

Allows the user to update properties and values, add properties and values, and delete properties and values (the delete is unintuitive, see below).

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": "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" }] }

Add:

-- 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" }] }

Delete property:

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" }] }

Delete from array (this is not intuitive, see my Microsoft Connect item to fix this: https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/3120404/sql-modify-json-null-delete-is-not-consistent-between-properties-and-arrays)

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" }] }

SQL JSON Performance Tuning

SQL JSON functions are already fast. Adding computed columns and indexes makes them extremely fast.

Computed Column JSON Indexes

JSON indexes are simply regular indexes on computed columns.

Add a computed column:

-- 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"}
...
*/

-- 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'

Add an index to our computed column:

-- 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!

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

Performance test:

-- 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

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