How SQL 2016's JSON Functionality Will Make You Want To Use JSON

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This post is a response to this month's T-SQL Tuesday prompt. T-SQL Tuesday was created by Adam Machanic and is a way for SQL users to share ideas about interesting topics. This month's topic is Fixing Old Problems with Shiny New Toys.


Why I love JSON

I know that lots of users in the SQL community cringe when they hear about JSON, NoSQL, and other non-relational database storage options. I get it. Lots of times a string storage format compromises the many benefits SQL has to offer: indexing, data integrity, simple querying, oversight into schema changes by developers, etc… I've seen (and written) some queries that perform like molasses in winter solely due them being in a non-sargable string format.

Yet, with all of those downsides I still love JSON. I think there's a happy middle ground where DBAs and developers can agree on when it is appropriate to use JSON. Would I ever want to use JSON in a data warehouse that is being heavily queried for analytics? No. Would I also want to use JSON where performance is extremely important? No. Would I want to use it in an application where data or schema integrity is extremely important? No.

However, I love using JSON when capturing dynamically structured user input, especially if the database is being used only to persist the data instead of analyze it. I love having JSON in the database because it so easily serializes/deserializes between JSON and my C# models. If I want low latency to my webapp, I also might write the JSON from the app to the database and then have it get queued to transform into normalized data by an ETL later on. These reason in particular are what make me incredibly excited for the new JSON functionality in SQL Server 2016.

Okay, I guess there are some valid uses for JSON. What are my options for using JSON in SQL Server?

Before SQL Server 2016 was released there was no support for JSON in SQL Server. None. Zilch. Zero. The best thing we had was Phil Factor's amazing JSON parsing user defined function or writing your own CLR.

Phil's function is truly amazing and it cleverly uses some built-in SQL functionality to deserialize almost any type of JSON string you can throw at it. It does however have downsides — the function has a few edge case bugs (try adding a space before any ":" in your JSON), it does not allow for easy querying of the JSON, and the function needs to be added to any database you want to use it on.

I'm not trying to downplay Phil's function — I love it and use it in a lot of my code — but the fact of the matter is that it is a very clever workaround for something that Microsoft wasn't supporting at the time.

So what did JSON parsing look like in the pre-2016 world? Let's take a look at some example data I generated using http://www.json-generator.com/:

-- This version of that data has new lines removed to save space.
-- Please see https://gist.github.com/bertwagner/965acde93706a9a5d772509e56247a1c for the neatly formatted version of the data.

DECLARE @WebsiteJson nvarchar(max) = '{ "Users": [ { "_id": "589f14e8427b0030d59615b1", "index": 0, "guid": "4a5ecd66-8c41-4553-9c1b-7597124b46e3", "isActive": true, "balance": "$1,418.71", "picture": "http://placehold.it/32x32", "age": 26, "eyeColor": "brown", "name": "Hanson Larson", "gender": "male", "company": "KENEGY", "email": "hansonlarson@kenegy.com", "phone": "+1 (804) 447-3852", "address": "698 Durland Place, Hachita, Louisiana, 1920", "about": "Consectetur laboris sunt proident ullamco ex excepteur duis cillum sit dolor occaecat officia. Sunt amet cupidatat enim mollit esse non minim dolore ullamco minim duis do. Sunt sint aliqua sit excepteur anim proident consequat magna reprehenderit laborum. Voluptate officia et duis sit laborum.\r\n", "registered": "2016-11-09T10:59:38 +05:00", "latitude": -72.754583, "longitude": 15.975401, "tags": [ "culpa", "excepteur", "adipisicing", "reprehenderit", "eiusmod", "officia", "incididunt" ], "friends": [ { "id": 0, "name": "Blake Dodson" }, { "id": 1, "name": "Marta Bullock" }, { "id": 2, "name": "Benson Soto" } ], "greeting": "Hello, Hanson Larson! You have 7 unread messages.", "favoriteFruit": "apple" }, { "_id": "589f14e8547a192d7a11a174", "index": 1, "guid": "a3c6533b-4c50-4054-9517-a03e8aa9c9ec", "isActive": true, "balance": "$3,450.53", "picture": "http://placehold.it/32x32", "age": 28, "eyeColor": "green", "name": "Wood Douglas", "gender": "male", "company": "FARMAGE", "email": "wooddouglas@farmage.com", "phone": "+1 (819) 515-3319", "address": "113 Dean Street, Kylertown, Massachusetts, 1666", "about": "Sunt laborum duis pariatur qui esse velit dolore mollit magna aute. Eiusmod velit dolor nostrud dolor culpa labore duis eiusmod sunt Lorem. Adipisicing eu minim voluptate veniam quis eu laboris dolore ipsum. Voluptate deserunt velit qui aliqua cillum. Voluptate in sit mollit irure velit fugiat dolore minim commodo. Commodo ea aliquip cupidatat commodo consequat ipsum laboris. Excepteur velit voluptate laborum dolor officia ullamco.\r\n", "registered": "2015-09-22T11:15:47 +04:00", "latitude": -88.972896, "longitude": 35.988156, "tags": [ "tempor", "in", "adipisicing", "nostrud", "officia", "cupidatat", "occaecat" ], "friends": [ { "id": 0, "name": "Vivian Gates" }, { "id": 1, "name": "Quinn Fitzgerald" }, { "id": 2, "name": "Jenifer Lowery" } ], "greeting": "Hello, Wood Douglas! You have 2 unread messages.", "favoriteFruit": "banana" }, { "_id": "589f14e8e9c6c96cd1f0b548", "index": 2, "guid": "4c71a47a-8212-46aa-97e3-bf8c136c49f5", "isActive": true, "balance": "$2,118.35", "picture": "http://placehold.it/32x32", "age": 27, "eyeColor": "green", "name": "Copeland Wiley", "gender": "male", "company": "OPTYK", "email": "copelandwiley@optyk.com", "phone": "+1 (801) 416-3699", "address": "824 Bristol Street, Sparkill, Delaware, 1706", "about": "In veniam elit nisi reprehenderit adipisicing veniam magna. Veniam proident commodo deserunt minim eiusmod commodo aliquip voluptate in occaecat id cillum fugiat. Excepteur magna adipisicing officia qui sit dolor nisi pariatur anim excepteur.\r\n", "registered": "2016-09-27T03:54:01 +04:00", "latitude": -52.752953, "longitude": -119.42916, "tags": [ "excepteur", "labore", "irure", "voluptate", "enim", "commodo", "sint" ], "friends": [ { "id": 0, "name": "Harding Sanford" }, { "id": 1, "name": "Tessa Colon" }, { "id": 2, "name": "Washington Jordan" } ], "greeting": "Hello, Copeland Wiley! You have 7 unread messages.", "favoriteFruit": "strawberry" }, { "_id": "589f14e857f47268893121d0", "index": 3, "guid": "1ba95a0c-7559-4fdd-b52a-94f5d2c76ca0", "isActive": true, "balance": "$1,955.54", "picture": "http://placehold.it/32x32", "age": 20, "eyeColor": "green", "name": "Kathleen Bradley", "gender": "female", "company": "PASTURIA", "email": "kathleenbradley@pasturia.com", "phone": "+1 (916) 463-3527", "address": "512 Holmes Lane, Chaparrito, District Of Columbia, 1651", "about": "Ea nostrud minim exercitation commodo laborum. Minim irure est sint adipisicing. Voluptate nisi fugiat qui et quis sint nisi ea deserunt laboris est dolor cillum. Ad sit duis nisi culpa aliquip incididunt.\r\n", "registered": "2015-07-20T03:11:35 +04:00", "latitude": -9.512905, "longitude": -108.671577, "tags": [ "eiusmod", "enim", "tempor", "amet", "reprehenderit", "sit", "ut" ], "friends": [ { "id": 0, "name": "Rowe Crawford" }, { "id": 1, "name": "Ginger Bray" }, { "id": 2, "name": "Nichole Bradford" } ], "greeting": "Hello, Kathleen Bradley! You have 6 unread messages.", "favoriteFruit": "banana" }, { "_id": "589f14e8128844a31ccb82e2", "index": 4, "guid": "03e2341e-da4d-48bb-8d6f-006234835828", "isActive": false, "balance": "$1,827.38", "picture": "http://placehold.it/32x32", "age": 32, "eyeColor": "brown", "name": "Colon Mays", "gender": "male", "company": "FREAKIN", "email": "colonmays@freakin.com", "phone": "+1 (919) 555-3410", "address": "627 Reed Street, Taft, Texas, 1724", "about": "Ullamco magna tempor dolore enim veniam aute incididunt. Deserunt nostrud fugiat reprehenderit consequat deserunt. Labore consequat magna pariatur amet mollit aute reprehenderit ea dolore exercitation anim.\r\n", "registered": "2014-06-08T02:13:34 +04:00", "latitude": 35.186997, "longitude": -1.722535, "tags": [ "cillum", "amet", "ad", "enim", "tempor", "amet", "est" ], "friends": [ { "id": 0, "name": "Gladys Rojas" }, { "id": 1, "name": "Luann Craft" }, { "id": 2, "name": "Camille Gibson" } ], "greeting": "Hello, Colon Mays! You have 7 unread messages.", "favoriteFruit": "apple" } ] }';

Basically we have a JSON string that represents five users and some of their attributes (note: I would argue that storing this much data about an individual would be better suited to fit into some structured tables, but alas this was the type of data that was easy to generate for example purposes).

If I wanted to parse out each user's name to use for an infrequently ran report or for ETL purposes, this is what my query would have to look like:

SELECT 
    NAME, 
    StringValue, 
    ValueType
FROM 
(
    SELECT 
        [NAME], 
        StringValue, 
        ValueType, 
        LAG([NAME],1,0) OVER (ORDER BY  element_id, sequenceNo, parent_ID) as PreviousKey 
    FROM 
        Sandbox.dbo.parseJSON(@WebsiteJson) -- This is Phil Factor's JSON parsing function: https://www.simple-talk.com/sql/t-sql-programming/consuming-json-strings-in-sql-server/
)d 
WHERE 
    PreviousKey <> 'id' 
    and [NAME] = 'name'

There are a couple funny things we have to do in pre-2016 SQL to parse this JSON:

  1. We have to add the parseJson() function to our database
  2. Since there are multiple key's named "NAME", we need to add a LAG() function to help identify the property's key so we can ensure we have the correct one.
  3. Nested queries required since windowed functions can't run in the WHERE clause.

Overall this code works and it gets the job done. However we need to ensure our server has the parseJson( function added and filtering our JSON data to pull out the properties we are interested in takes a little bit of work. Additionally, the parseJson() function does do some heavy processing which affects our overall performance:

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The Shiny New Toys in SQL Server 2016: JSON Functions

SQL Server 2016 includes many new JSON parsing functions that are available for us to use. Writing a query to return the same result set as above is now as simple as this:

SELECT 
    JSON_VALUE(value, '$.name') 
FROM 
    OPENJSON(@WebsiteJson,'$.Users')

The OPENJSON() function allows us to write an XPath query to filter the JSON Users object into five separate rows of data, one per user:

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Then, we use the JSON_VALUE() function and XPath once again to filter out just the "name" property. Overall, this code is much simpler to write, performs more consistently (the issue with a space character before a ":" is handled correctly), and performs much quicker:

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I love the syntax of the new SQL JSON parsing functions: it's easy to remember, easy to use in real life scenarios, and is very fast. This is one new feature of SQL Server 2016 that definitely makes my life easier and makes any other ways of parsing out JSON data obsolete.


If you are interested in learning more about JSON in SQL server, I've been blogging the past few weeks about how to use all of SQL's new JSON functions.

There's also one bug that I found with how SQL handles JSON deletes that I submitted to Microsoft Connect if you want to upvote and see JSON continue to evolve on SQL Server.

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

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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!

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

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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.

JSON Support Is The Best New Developer Feature in SQL 2016 — Overview Part 1: Parsing JSON

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As a developer my favorite new feature of SQL Server 2016 is JSON support.

I love JSON in SQL because I already love JSON everywhere outside of SQL: it uses much less space than XML for serializing data, it's what most apps are now using for API communication, and when web developing I love that it is already valid JavaScript (no need to deserialize!).

I had this same type of excitement for XML in SQL Server, but after using it the excitement quickly turned into disappointment: having to constantly use the XML datatype was inconvenient (when most XML data I used was already stored in nvarchar(max) columns) and I never found the syntax of OPENXML() to be that intuitive.

Everything I've done with JSON in SQL Server 2016 so far has been great. I've already been storing persistent JSON in SQL, so being able to manipulate JSON within SQL is even better. In this series of posts I will go over the various functionalities of using JSON in SQL Server 2016:

Part 1 — Parsing JSON

What is JSON?

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) " is a lightweight data-interchange format."

My simple, mostly caveat-free* explanation is that it is a format for storing object data in JavaScript. It's lightweight and easy to read, so it's used in lots of applications that aren't just JavaScript (although it's especially easy to consume in JavaScript because it is JavaScript*).

*Caveats? See http://stackoverflow.com/a/383699

So what's JSON look like? The JSON below represents the current inventory of cars in my garage. It shows I have two cars as well as some of their attributes:

{
    "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"
    }]
}

Strict versus Lax mode

For any of the SQL JSON functions (OPENJSON(), JSON_VALUE(), JSON_QUERY(), andJSON_MODIFY()) you can specify whether invalid JSON paths will return NULL or an error. The default value is lax, which will return a NULL for non-existing JSON paths, whereas strict will return 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.

The laxmodifier is helpful when writing queries that check to see if values exist in a JSON object while the strict modifier works great for error checking and and validation.

ISJSON()

A simple function for verifying whether an inputted string is valid JSON. This is great to use in order to validate JSON formatting before running any of remaining functions in this post.

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 scalar value from a JSON string. This function needs to be able to parse the value, so it will not parse out complex objects like arrays.

-- 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

JSON_VALUE() is great for accessing operational data that might be using JSON to store multiple attributes for a single entry.

JSON_QUERY()

JSON_QUERY() is meant to work for all of the datatypes that JSON_VALUE() doesn't know how to return: basically JSON_QUERY() returns JSON string representations of complex JSON objects like arrays.

-- 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

It's possible to use JSON_QUERY() along with JSON_VALUE() to essentially extract any type of data from JSON, whether it's a simple or complex object datatype.

-- 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

OPENJSON()

While JSON_VALUE() extracts singular scalar values and JSON_QUERY() extracts singular JSON strings, the OPENJSON() function extracts result sets from a JSON string. In addition to the extracted value, OPENJSON() outputs the order of JSON objects as well as their datatypes. OPENJSON() will also output string representations of JSON arrays instead of just displaying NULL, similar to JSON_QUERY().

-- 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
*/

The flexibility of OPENJSON() makes it possible to extract any values from JSON data, especially when combining OPENJSON() with JSON_VALUE(). The examples below show how to parse out a scalar value from complex JSON objects (like arrays). Note that using the WITH option gives us a lot more flexibility with how we can format our output result.

-- 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
*/

These JSON functions should help you parse any JSON data you encounter in SQL server (as long as it's valid and stored as nvarchar). Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we look at other SQL JSON functions that will help us create data, modify data, and compare SQL's JSON performance to other languages.

The Most Lacking Feature In SSRS (7 years and no fix?)

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This post is a response to this month's T-SQL Tuesday prompt. T-SQL Tuesday was created by Adam Machanic and is a way for SQL users to share ideas about interesting topics. This month's topic is SQL Server Bugs & Enhancement Requests.


Being a frequent user of SQL Server Reporting Services for the past 6 years has made me blind to the annoyances that I had with the software when I first started using it. For example, I've learned to deal with not being able to easily change the order that reports appear in the Solution Explorer. I am no longer frustrated that I can't change the order of datasets in the Report Data pane. I've grown accustomed to editing the XML of the report to accomplish these annoyances and many others.

Even though I think SSRS is a superb piece of software (no other tool I know of can generate reports so easily with as much flexibility as SSRS) there is one lacking feature that still drives me nuts:

Why can't I organize my reports in sub folders!?

Don't be fooled by my photo manipulating skills, this New Folder button doesn't actually exist in SSRS.

Seriously. Visual Studio allows me to organize my files in sub folders in nearly all other project types: C# console apps? Check. ASP.NET MVC solutions? Check.

Why then can't my SSRS solutions do the same thing?

If you look at the Microsoft Connect for the issue more than 200 people agree. It's ridiculous this functionality isn't built in. Not only does Visual Studio have the capability in other solutions, but reports can be deployed to multiple different folders on the SSRS server itself, leaving the only missing link a context menu action that says "Create New Folder." I know what I'm asking for here is a "basic" change, nothing nearly as complicated as adding an additional QUALIFY filtering clause (which would be great to have too), but that just makes it more reason that this should have been fixed a long time ago!

However, there is a brief glimmer of hope. Microsoft has been releasing updates to SQL Server Data Tools somewhat regularly the past year, including bug fixes and feature requests from Connect feedback. Let's hope they continue to get better about fixing issues like these so that everyone will be able to right click > Create New Folder in their SSRS projects sometime in the near future.

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