JSON.NET by James Newton-King is the library for working with JSON in .NET. The following is a small guide for using JSON.NET. It is in no way a substitute for the full documentation.

To follow along obtain the JSON.NET package using NuGet and the Newtonsoft.Json dll will be added to your project's references. Alternatively download from the official website and add the reference manually.

Serialize An Object And De-serialize

Serialization is the process of translating data structures or object state into a format that can be stored - Wikipedia.

We will start our investigation with a very simple C# object and continue from there. As always, we are using the Dog class:

public class Dog
    public int Id { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public string Breed { get; set; }
    public DateTime Birthday { get; set; }

    public int CalculateAgeInDays()
        return (DateTime.Now - Birthday).Days;

This is very simple class but might mirror something you need to serialize.

To start, let's create a dog and convert it to a string of Json (which I'll stop capitalising because it's a pain to type).

Dog dog = new Dog
    Id = 4,
    Breed = "Labradoodle",
    Name = "Baron Von Lassie",
    Birthday = Convert.ToDateTime("2013-01-07"),
string json = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(dog);

The string that we obtain is 'minified':

{"Id":4,"Name":"Baron Von Lassie","Breed":"Labradoodle","Birthday":"2013-01-07T00:00:00"}

As you can see all extraneous whitespace and extra line-breaks have been removed. This is ideal for data transfer objects such as a response from a Web Service, however if we're trying to present our data in a human readable way it's nicer to set Formatting.Indented like so:

string json = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(dog, Formatting.Indented);

This gives the neater response:

  "Id": 4,
  "Name": "Baron Von Lassie",
  "Breed": "Labradoodle",
  "Birthday": "2013-01-07T00:00:00"

This reveals that more complex datatypes like DateTime are stored as strings in Json. Json.NET uses the ISO standard 8601 for dates, you can read more about why on Scott Hanselman's blog.

We can get our dog back again using:

Dog lassie = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<Dog>(json);

Serialize A More Complex Object And Serializing To A File

We can now create and retrieve a Json representation of our dog, but how about persisting it somewhere on our hard-drive?

First let's add a list of collars to our Dog object, this will show an object with an object array in Json:

public class Collar
    public int Id { get; set; }
    public string Color { get; set; }
    public bool HasTag { get; set; }

The collars list property is added to the dog class and the dog now has 2 collars using nice collection initialization:

List<Collar> collars = new List<Collar>
    new Collar { Id = 1, Color = "Red", HasTag = true },
    new Collar { Id = 2, Color = "Pink", HasTag = false }
dog.Collars = collars;

JsonConvert from the previous example provides a simple way to write and read to/from a string. This provides a wrapper to JsonSerializer.

The simplest way to serialize to a file is shown:

string folder = "C:\\Test\\";
using (StreamWriter file = File.CreateText(folder + "dog.json"))
    JsonSerializer serializer = new JsonSerializer();

    serializer.Formatting = Formatting.Indented;

    serializer.Serialize(file, dog);

The text file then contains our dog object, preserved forever(!):

  "Id": 4,
  "Name": "Baron Von Lassie",
  "Breed": "Labradoodle",
  "Collars": [
      "Id": 1,
      "Color": "Red",
      "HasTag": true
      "Id": 2,
      "Color": "Pink",
      "HasTag": false
  "Birthday": "2013-01-07T00:00:00"

The dog can be retrieved from the file as follows:

using (StreamReader file = File.OpenText(folder + "dog.json"))
    JsonSerializer serializer = new JsonSerializer();
    Dog lassie = (Dog)serializer.Deserialize(file, typeof(Dog));

Serialization and deserialization can be thought of as hydration/dehydration, dehydrate your dog to store it and stop it rotting, then rehydrate it to play in the park with.

Json Settings

We've already seen one serialization setting, Formatting.Indented in the examples above. There are many more serialization options for which the documentation should be your first port of call.

For the simple Json serializer (JsonConvert) settings are stored in the JsonSerializerSettings object:

JsonSerializerSettings settings = new JsonSerializerSettings
    ConstructorHandling = ConstructorHandling.AllowNonPublicDefaultConstructor,
    Culture = CultureInfo.CurrentCulture,
    Formatting = Formatting.Indented,
    MissingMemberHandling = MissingMemberHandling.Error
string json = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(dog, settings);

Just out of interest I serialized the JsonSerializerSettings object from above:

  "ReferenceLoopHandling": 0,
  "MissingMemberHandling": 1,
  "ObjectCreationHandling": 0,
  "NullValueHandling": 0,
  "DefaultValueHandling": 0,
  "Converters": [],
  "PreserveReferencesHandling": 0,
  "TypeNameHandling": 0,
  "TypeNameAssemblyFormat": 0,
  "ConstructorHandling": 1,
  "ContractResolver": null,
  "ReferenceResolver": null,
  "TraceWriter": null,
  "Binder": null,
  "Error": null,
  "Context": {
    "Context": null,
    "State": 0
  "DateFormatString": "yyyy'-'MM'-'dd'T'HH':'mm':'ss.FFFFFFFK",
  "MaxDepth": null,
  "Formatting": 1,
  "DateFormatHandling": 0,
  "DateTimeZoneHandling": 3,
  "DateParseHandling": 1,
  "FloatFormatHandling": 0,
  "FloatParseHandling": 0,
  "StringEscapeHandling": 0,
  "Culture": "en-GB",
  "CheckAdditionalContent": false

Here you can see something else to note, by default Enums are serialized using their integer value, rather than string. For instance Formatting has the value 1 rather than "Indented".

By adding a Converter from Newtonsoft.Json.Converters the string value of an enum can be serialized:

serializer.Converters.Add(new StringEnumConverter());

For the JsonSerializer the settings are properties of the object itself. JsonSerializerSettings can be mapped to a JsonSerializer on initialization JsonSerializer serializer = JsonSerializer.Create(settings);.

One important setting for deserialization is MissingMemberHandling, this controls what happens when an additional property is present in the Json that isn't a property on the target object. If the value is set to MissingMemberHandling.Error a JsonSerializationException is thrown when an extra value in the Json is encountered.

The name for this is slightly confusing since actual missing members (e.g. a property is present on the object but not in the Json) aren't dealt with, the default value of the property (0 for int, false for boolean, etc.) is used.

Json Attributes

A higher level of control over serialization can be achieved by adding attributes to classes. For example, if you only want some properties to be serialized you can add the JsonObject attribute to the class then JsonProperty to each property to include.

For more on this see this page of the documentation.

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