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JSON Databases Explained

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) has become a standard data-interchange format, particularly for semi-structured data. JSON databases are part of the NoSQL family of databases that offer flexibility in storing varied data types and easily accommodating changes in data model or project requirements. The flexibility of a JSON database comes from the way data is stored—as documents instead of rigid tables. Read on to know more.

What are JSON databases?

A JSON database is a document-type NoSQL database, ideal for storing semi-structured data. It’s much more flexible compared to the row-columns format, which is fixed and expensive when it comes to implementing even small schema changes.

With relational databases, JSON data needs to be parsed or stored using the NVARCHAR column (LOB storage). However, document databases like MongoDB can store JSON data in its natural format, which is readable by humans and machines.

There are two ways to store JSON data in a JSON database:

  1. Store the whole object in a single document.

    Example:

book {
   title: 'Moby Dick',
   author: {
       name: 'Herman Melville',
       born: 1819
   }
}

Here, the author details are inside the book document itself. This technique is also known as embedding because the author subdocument is embedded in the book document.

  1. Store parts of objects separately and link them using the unique identifiers (referencing).

    One author may write multiple books. So, to avoid duplicating data inside all the books, we can create separate author document and refer to it by its _id field:

author {
  _id: ObjectId(1),
  name: 'Herman Melville',
  born: 1819
}

book {
  _id: ObjectId(55),
  title: 'Moby Dick',
  author: ObjectId(1)
}

Advantages of JSON databases

Just like traditional databases, JSON document databases manage data partitioning, indexing, clustering, replication, and data access on their own. Apart from this, JSON databases offer many advantages.

JSON databases are faster and have more storage flexibility

NoSQL databases, in general, have more storage flexibility and offer better indexing methods. In a document database, each document is handled as an individual object, and there is no fixed schema, so you can store each document in the way it can be most easily retrieved and viewed. Additionally, you can evolve your data model to adapt it to your changing application requirements. The schema versioning pattern makes use of the flexible document model to allow just that.

JSON databases provide better schema flexibility

The best part of a JSON document database is the schema flexibility—i.e., it supports whatever way you want to store your data. You can have all the information that you need to access together (embedding) in one document or take the liberty of creating separate documents and then linking them (referencing). It’s very simple to even query the nested objects inside a document, like nested arrays or embedded documents.

JSON databases can easily map to SQL structures

Many developers are familiar with SQL. By storing data in a JSON database, developers can simply map SQL columns and JSON document key names. For example, the bookName key of a document can be mapped to the book_name column of the book table. Most JSON databases automate this mapping, which saves on a developer’s learning curve and reduces the development time.

JSON databases support different index types

Due to the availability of various index types, search queries are quite fast. For example, since MongoDB has no fixed schema, you can create a wildcard index on a field or set of fields to support querying that field. There are many other types of indexes, like O2-tree and T-tree, that make NoSQL databases highly performant.

JSON databases are better suited for big data analytics

JSON databases have a flexible schema and scale well vertically and horizontally, making them suitable to store huge volumes and a variety of big data. Document databases like MongoDB have a rich query language (MQL) and aggregation pipeline, eliminating the need for ETL systems for data processing and transformation. Further, these databases can easily pass data to popular data analysis programming languages like Python and R, without additional coding steps.

JSON database examples

There are many JSON databases:

Database nameDescription
MongoDBMongoDB is the most popular document database used by companies like Google, Facebook, and Forbes. MongoDB stores data in a binary encoded JSON format (BSON) to offer better data types support, improved indexing and querying.
Cosmos DBCosmos DB is a serverless NoSQL database by Azure. It offers high scalability and enterprise-grade security, amongst other benefits of a document database.
CouchDBApache CouchDB natively uses JSON to store data and is an open source database. It supports binary data.
CouchbaseCouchbase is a memory-first database that stores data as JSON documents, and provides good performance and scalability.
FirestoreFirestore is a cloud-hosted NoSQL database that requires little to no maintenance and is a popular choice for mobile applications.

Database name

Description
MongoDBMongoDB is the most popular document database used by companies like Google, Facebook, and Forbes. MongoDB stores data in a binary encoded JSON format (BSON) to offer better data types support, improved indexing and querying.
Cosmos DBCosmos DB is a serverless NoSQL database by Azure. It offers high scalability and enterprise-grade security, amongst other benefits of a document database.
CouchDBApache CouchDB natively uses JSON to store data and is an open source database. It supports binary data.
CouchbaseCouchbase is a memory-first database that stores data as JSON documents, and provides good performance and scalability.
FirestoreFirestore is a cloud-hosted NoSQL database that requires little to no maintenance and is a popular choice for mobile applications.

The best database for JSON

JSON format stores data in the form of objects. The syntax is simple and readable for anyone. A JSON database like MongoDB stores the data in a JSON-like format (binary JSON), which is the binary encoded version of JSON, and is optimized for performance and space.

This makes the MongoDB database the best natural fit for storing JSON data. You can store details of an entire object in one document, making it easier to view and query. MongoDB is the most popular JSON database as it offers many other benefits, like:

  • Flexible schema.
  • Storage for semi-structured data.
  • Speed, flexibility, and space efficiency.
  • Retained data format, making it easier to map objects and run queries.
  • No need for any additional processing, like parsing or creating complex large objects.

FAQ

What is JSON and why is it used?

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a light-weight data interchange format, used for data interchange between client and server in web applications. It’s less verbose than XML and has syntax similar to JavaScript objects, which makes it a good choice for web applications. It’s also easier to store JSON data, using JSON databases like MongoDB.

Can JSON work as a database?

JSON is a data interchange format. There are many JSON databases that support storing data in JSON format, making data interchange between the database and the application faster and simpler.

What database is best for JSON?

There are many SQL and NoSQL databases available for storing data in JSON format.

However, NoSQL document databases like MongoDB are the best, as they store JSON data in the same format and there is no additional processing required. Data can be easily viewed in the form of documents and retrieved in JSON format using queries.

Is JSON a SQL database?

JSON is not a database but a lightweight data interchange format, similar to XML. However, it’s less verbose and more efficient. It’s used in applications that need faster access to data without page refresh and has a more readable format. JSON format is supported by both NoSQL and SQL databases. JSON database is a type of document-type NoSQL database that stores data as JSON documents.

Is JSON a document database?

JSON document database is a type of NoSQL database that stores data as JSON documents. This means that data doesn’t have to be normalized to accommodate them into multiple tables with fixed structure, like in a relational database. Examples of JSON document databases are MongoDB, DocumentDB, and CouchDB.

Is JSON good for storing data?

JSON is a good format for storing data for many reasons:

  • As JSON syntax is similar to JavaScript objects, it’s easier to store application objects in the database without transforming them in any way.

  • JSON is a human-readable format and usually, it’s easier to read compared to data split between multiple tables.

  • There are JSON databases that store data in the same format, so there is no additional coding or processing required to store data in the database.

Is JSON a relational database?

No, a JSON database is a document-type non-relational database that stores data in the form of JSON documents rather than having to normalize data and store it in tables.

Nowadays, many relational databases also support JSON format to store data.

Is MongoDB just JSON?

MongoDB is a NoSQL document database that stores data in a JSON-like format. It can receive JSON data, convert it internally into Binary JSON -(or BSON) format, and convert it back to JSON when sending data to the application.