What Is JSON? Decoding JavaScript Object Notation

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JSON can be a game-changer when it comes to electronic data interchange (EDI) and your business. But what is JSON? Learn more about how the JSON format works, what it does, and why it matters in our simple guide.

What is JSON?

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) is a lightweight data-interchange format used by developers and other IT professionals to transfer information from one program to another. Many developers feel JSON addresses some challenges of older EDI solutions.

The JSON file format is popular because it’s relatively easy for humans to read but lightweight enough for computer programs to quickly process. JSON is a recognized industry standard, so working with data in this format doesn't require a lot of complex coding. Developers can use preexisting libraries to quickly parse JSON data and perform actions on it in their programs.

Businesses often use JSON to serialize structured data and send it over a network. Imagine you have a database of customers stored in your business’s CRM application. You’d like to extract information about those customers and use it in a separate mailing list software. Your CRM software may have a JSON API that can connect the mailing list software to the CRM and request a serialized document with the necessary info.

The resulting JSON example could look like this:

Why are JSON files commonly preferred?

json representative image

JSON is popular with developers and other IT professionals because it's easy for both humans and computers to read, especially compared to older standards like XML.

Processing simple lists of data, such as names and email addresses, is easy to do with minimal coding. Even more complex data sets, such as lists within lists, can be handled with nested JSON or a computer data structure called an array.

There are highly optimized and intuitive tools for parsing JSON data for almost every programming language you can imagine. Whether you're a data scientist using Python, a web developer working with PHP, or a programmer creating desktop applications in .NET, you can easily parse JSON without reinventing the wheel.

Understanding JSON syntax: 6 data types

JSON data is presented in the form of key/value pairs. In the example above, "Firstname," "Surname," and "Email" are keys. As you'd expect, "Sally," "Smith," and "sally@example.com"  are values.

Many different pieces of information can be represented in JSON, including the following:


A string is a set of characters wrapped in double quotes. Usually, a string contains words, names, or addresses, although it could also contain numbers. For example:


A number in JSON can be an integer (whole number) or a floating point number. Some examples include:


Floating point:


The Boolean operator is a binary value — either true or false. Boolean operators are helpful for programmers because they provide a standard way of conveying information that might otherwise use "yes or no" or "on or off." It's easier to write code if you can confidently expect certain values.

Here’s an example:

In this example, the key "emailNotificationsEnabled" has a boolean value of true, indicating that the user has enabled email notifications. The key "darkMode" has a boolean value of false, meaning that the user prefers not to use dark mode. The key "receiveNewsletter" has a boolean value of true, showing that the user wants to receive newsletters.


Sometimes, you have a key that doesn't contain any data. Instead of leaving an entirely blank value, you can use the null value to specifically indicate an intentional absence of any value. A null value is distinct from a string containing the word “null,” which developers can use like any other string.

This is useful for programming because developers can write code that looks for null and tell their program to take a specific action in response to missing data.

In this example, the key "phone" has a value of null, indicating that the phone number is either absent or not provided.


A JSON object is made up of a pair of components. For example:

Here, "students" is the key, and the contents of the curly brackets after "students" represent the object.


An array is used to represent an ordered collection of values. Take the example of a manager who has several team members working for him. In JSON, this would appear as follows:

Not all arrays contain JSON objects. For example, a product could be available in multiple colors, and this would be shown as:

JSON document database

A JSON document database is a database that applications can interact with. Any data in the JSON document database is textual, although the underlying text can be stored in various ways. Helpfully, a JSON document database’s content can be stored, indexed, and queried without requiring access to a schema that defines the data.

The usefulness of JSON data depends on the underlying database. Some particularly strong use cases for JSON data include:

  • Content or catalog management: A product catalog with various products and associated metadata lends itself well to a JSON feed, making JSON a popular tool for EDI in the retail industry.
  • News feeds: Pulling JSON data associated with news feeds could allow a developer to present those feeds in a way that matches their app. Headless content management systems often use JSON for their data.
  • Applications delivering personalized experiences: Users get a more engaging, personalized experience across multiple platforms with JSON feeds.

3 JSON use cases

people programming on json

JSON can be employed in a variety of situations, including the following:

Data transfer between systems

Exporting data from one application and importing it to another isn't always easy, but JSON is a widely adopted standard that fulfills this purpose. Orderful's EDI mapping solutions could help you automate the conversion of data into useful formats for your organization's various applications.

If an application doesn't support JSON, it may support EDI X12 or a similar standard. Converting between JSON and EDI X12 or vice-versa allows data to be transferred between otherwise incompatible systems.

JSON object generation from user-generated data

JSON can turn user-generated data into something a computer program can understand. Researchers often use JSON in this way to better process surveys or scientific data.

Complex data model simplification

Organizations with complex data dumps can use JSON to simplify that information by extracting only the data they need for their current task.

JSON and Orderful can revolutionize your EDI

JSON is a versatile standard for businesses to better process their data. You may already be using JSON in your organization without realizing it.

If your applications are struggling to communicate with each other or you need a more efficient way to exchange information across organizations, get in touch with Orderful today. Contact us to schedule a talk with an expert about our modern and streamlined EDI integration solutions.

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