Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Listening to bloggers over the last couple of years and also in talking to several developers in the industry it appeared to me that the JSON vs. XML debate seemed to primarily be a “religious” conflict – much like the “PC vs. Mac” or “Java vs. .NET” are to a large extent. I call it a religious conflict simply because there are fanatics on either side and they try to convert the masses and get them to agree with their point of view. But if you look at both XML and JSON with an unbiased mind and take each approach seriously, you’ll quickly find out that there are tons of applications where XML makes more sense and then there is a ton of other applications where JSON makes more sense. I would argue that XML has the better infra-structure of surrounding standards (like XML Schema, XSLT, XPath, etc.) that makes is a much richer platform and provides more flexibility, but there is something to be said about the elegance, efficiency, and simplicity of JSON, too. Instead of viewing JSON and XML as competing technologies we decided in our v2010 release to support them side-by-side and give our users the choice: XMLSpy 2010 now includes a JSON editor and supports JSON editing in its text and grid views with full syntax coloring, syntax checking, etc. This makes XMLSpy the first and only XML Editor to support JSON:

Just like we find some of our customers using XMLSpy as a plug-in within Eclipse and doing code-generation for Java, whereas other customers are using XMLSpy embedded within Visual Studio and doing primarily code-generation for C#, we expect that some of our customers will user our tools for JSON work, and others won’t. As a standards-focused developer tools vendor we simply want to give them the choice.

So let’s talk a bit more about the JSON vs. XML devate. For some background reading, I’d recommend doing a Google search for “JSON vs XML” and you will find various different opinions.

Here is my take on the matter: XML by itself appears to be similar to JSON only when you ignore all the surrounding XML-related standards. At its core, both JSON and XML are used to capture and describe structured and unstructured data. JSON mainly focuses on storing or transmitting that data efficiently, i.e. with very little overhead, whereas XML focuses on a rich environment that includes entities and a mechanism to support metadata and extensibility. The extensibility is really the huge difference: XML includes concepts on how existing XML data can be augmented, extended and enriched by additional data and metadata from other domains using XML Namespaces. Furthermore, XML data can be processed with XSLT, queried with XQuery, addressed and extracted via XPath, etc. – none of those supporting technologies are really available for JSON in such rich diversity. However, when it comes to just capturing simple structured data and expressing it either in files or in a transmission between client and server, JSON shines with its simplicity and – some argue – better human readability.

So once we made the decision to support JSON in XMLSpy in addition to XML, the next question became obviously how you get data from one format into the other, and so we added a JSON <=> XML conversion option to our Convert menu.

For example, take the following bit of JSON data:

And you can now easily convert that into an equivalent piece of XML data:

Our main logic to include easy one-click conversion was that we figured people would sometimes want to experiment to see what approach works best for their application or their data. As such, they can simply take existing XML data and easily convert it to JSON to test with their new app, or conversely if they run into an issue with a JSON based application and need to convert existing data files to XML because they need the extensibility, meta-data, attributes, or the processing capabilities of XSLT and XQuery, they can easily do that with XMLSpy now.

But make no mistake: we are not saying that JSON is better than XML. On the contrary, I continue to be a huge fan of XML, which is why this blog is called the XML Aficionado, not the JSON Aficionado!

So the fact that there is a conversion function from XML => JSON in XMLSpy now doesn’t mean that people should necessarily convert from one format to the other. Rather, I see people who use either one or both formats wanting to occasionally move data from one world into the other or experiment with the other format and to make that process very convenient we’ve added the ability to convert from one to the other whenever you need to. But mainly we expect people will work either with JSON files or with XML files – depending on what is most suitable for their particular application or use-case.

So go ahead, use the comment section and let me know how you feel about the JSON vs  XML debate and what you think of our approach to support both…

P.S. My thanks go to Peter Zschunke, because a lot of material for this blog post came from a discussion and e-mail interview we recently conducted for his German blog XML-Ecke.

1 comment:

mogulati said...

I really like this functionality. It really once again makes XMLSpy stand out amongst the rest and retain its title as truly the best XML Editor on the market! Good job!