JSON serialization and deserialization with Argonaut.

psc-package install argonaut-codecs



Latest release Build status Pursuit Maintainer: garyb Maintainer: thomashoneyman

Argonaut is a collection of libraries for working with JSON in PureScript. argonaut-codecs provides codecs based on the EncodeJson and DecodeJson type classes, along with instances for common data types and combinators for encoding and decoding Json values.


This library is bundled as part of Argonaut and can be installed via that library. To install just argonaut-codecs:

# with Spago
spago install argonaut-codecs

# with Bower
bower install purescript-argonaut-codecs


Module documentation is published on Pursuit. You may also be interested in other libraries in the Argonaut ecosystem:

Quick Start

Use encodeJson to encode PureScript data types as Json and decodeJson to decode Json into PureScript types, with helpful error messages if decoding fails.

type User = { name :: String, age :: Maybe Int }

-- We get encoding and decoding for free because of the `EncodeJson` instances
-- for records, strings, integers, and `Maybe`, along with many other common
-- PureScript types.

userToJson :: User -> Json
userToJson = encodeJson

userFromJson :: Json -> Either String User
userFromJson = decodeJson

In a REPL we can see these functions in action:

> user = { name: "Tom", age: Just 25 }
> stringify (encodeJson user)

> (decodeJson =<< jsonParser "{\"name\":\"Tom\",\"age\":25}") :: Either String User
Right { name: "Tom", age: Just 25 }

> (decodeJson =<< jsonParser "{\"name\":\"Tom\"}") :: Either String User
Left "JSON was missing expected field: age"


This library provides provides type classes and combinators for convenient encoding and decoding of Json for data types in your application, and includes instances for encoding and decoding most common PureScript types.

As a brief aside: this library works with Json values, not raw JSON strings.

  • If you need to parse Json from a JSON string so that you can use decodeJson, then you should use the jsonParser function from argonaut-core.
  • If you need to print Json as a valid JSON string (after using encodeJson, for example), then you should use the stringify function from argonaut-core.


You can follow along with this tutorial in a repl. You should install these dependencies:

# with Spago
spago install argonaut-codecs validation

# with Bower
bower install purescript-argonaut-codecs purescript-validation

Next, import the modules used in this tutorial -- you can also install argonaut and only import Data.Argonaut if you'd like to cut down on imports:

import Prelude

import Control.Alternative
import Data.Argonaut.Core
import Data.Argonaut.Encode
import Data.Argonaut.Decode
import Data.Argonaut.Parser
import Data.Maybe
import Data.Either
import Data.Validation.Semigroup

Tip: you can place this snippet in a .purs-repl file so the imports are loaded automatically when you run spago repl or pulp repl.

Automatic Encoding & Decoding

The EncodeJson and DecodeJson type classes let you rely on instances for common data types to automatically encode and decode Json. Let's explore automatic encoding and decoding using a type typical of PureScript applications as our example:

type User =
  { name :: String
  , age :: Maybe Int
  , team :: Maybe String

Tip: If you're following along in the repl, you can either define this type on one line or use :paste to input multiple lines followed by Ctrl+D to end the paste.

Automatic encoding with EncodeJson and encodeJson

We can automatically encode Json using the EncodeJson type class (pursuit).

Our User type is made up of several other types: Record, Maybe, Int, and String. Each of these types have instances for EncodeJson, which means that we can use the encodeJson function with them. Integers and strings will be encoded directly to Json, while container types like Record and Maybe will require on all of the types they contain to also have EncodeJson instances.

encodeJson :: EncodeJson a => a -> Json

Tip: There is no Show instance for Json. To print a Json value as a valid JSON string, use stringify -- it's the same as the JavaScript stringify method.

> user = { name: "Tom", age: Just 25, team: Just "Red Team" } :: User
> stringify (encodeJson user)
"{\"name\":\"Tom\",\"age\":25,\"team\":\"Red Team\"}"
Automatic decoding with DecodeJson and decodeJson

We can automatically decode Json using the DecodeJson type class (pursuit).

Every type within User has an instance for DecodeJson, which means we can use the decodeJson function to try to decode a Json value into our type. Once again, integer and string values will be decoded directly from the Json, but containing types like Record and Maybe will also require instances for the types they contain.

decodeJson :: DecodeJson a => Json -> Either String a

Tip: To parse a JSON string as a Json value, you can use the jsonParser function (which can fail). If you are sure you have valid JSON, then consider writing it in an FFI file and foreign importing it as Json as described in the argonaut-core documentation.

> userJsonString = """{ "name": "Tom", "age": 25, "team": null }"""
> decodedUser = decodeJson =<< jsonParser userJsonString

# there is no `Show` instance for `Json`, so we'll stringify
# the decoded result so it can be displayed in the repl
> map stringify decodedUser
Right "{\"name\":\"Tom\",\"age\":25,\"team\":null}"

Decoding can fail if the Json doesn't match the shape expected by a DecodeJson instance; in that case, an error is returned instead of the decoded value.

> badUserJsonString = """{ "name": "Tom", "age": null }"""
> (decodeJson =<< jsonParser badUserJsonString) :: Either String User
Left "JSON was missing expected field: team"

Writing New Instances

While instances of EncodeJson and DecodeJson exist for most common data types in the PureScript ecosystem, you will sometimes need to write your own. Common reasons to write your own instances include:

  1. You have defined a new data type
  2. You require encodeJson or decodeJson to behave differently, for a given type, than its existing EncodeJson or DecodeJson instance
  3. You are using a data type which already exists, but does not have an EncodeJson or DecodeJson instance (typically because there are many reasonable ways to represent the data in JSON types, as is the case with dates).

It is also common to have a 'default' way to decode or encode a particular data type, but to write alternative decoding and encoding functions that can be used instead of the one supported by the type class.

Let's explore the combinators provided by argonaut-codecs for encoding and decoding Json by treating our User type as a new data type instead of just a synonym for a record, and turning the team field into a sum type instead of just a String.

Remember that you can write multi-line definitions using by typing :paste in the repl, and then using Ctrl+D to exit when you're done.

newtype AppUser = AppUser
  { name :: String
  , age :: Maybe Int
  , team :: Team

data Team
  = RedTeam
  | BlueTeam

Encoding JSON

To encode JSON, you must decide on a way to represent your data using only primitive JSON types (strings, numbers, booleans, arrays, objects, or null). Since PureScript's string, number, boolean, and array types already have EncodeJson instances, your responsibility is to find a way to transform your data types to those more primitive types so they can be encoded.

Let's start with our Team type, which doesn't have an EncodeJson instance yet. It can be represented in JSON by simple strings, so let's write a function to convert Team to a String:

teamToString :: Team -> String
teamToString = case _ of
  RedTeam -> "Red Team"
  BlueTeam -> "Blue Team"

We can now write an EncodeJson instance for our type. As a brief reminder, this is the type signature required by encodeJson:

encodeJson :: EncodeJson a => a -> Json

String already has an instance of EncodeJson, so all we need to do is convert our type to a string and then use encodeJson to encode the resulting string.

instance encodeJsonTeam :: EncodeJson Team where
  encodeJson team = encodeJson (teamToString team)

If your type can be converted easily to a String, Number, or Boolean, then its EncodeJson instance will most likely look like the one we've written for Team.

Most reasonably complex data types are best represented as objects, however. We can use combinators from Data.Argonaut.Encode.Combinators to conveniently encode Json objects manually. You'll provide String keys and values which can be encoded to Json.

  • Use := (assoc) to encode a key/value pair where the key must exist; encoding the key "team" and value Nothing will insert the key "team" with the value null.
  • Use ~> (extend) to provide more key/value pairs after using :=.
  • Use :=? (assocOptional) to encode a key/value pair where the key may exist; encoding the key "age" and value Nothing will not insert the "age" key.
  • Use ~>? (extendOptional) to provide more key/value pairs after using :=?.

Let's use these combinators to encode a Json object from our AppUser record.

instance encodeJsonAppUser :: EncodeJson AppUser where
  encodeJson (AppUser { name, age, team }) =
    "name" := name       -- inserts "name": "Tom"
      ~> "age" :=? age   -- inserts "age": "25" (if Nothing, does not insert anything)
      ~>? "team" := team -- inserts "team": "Red Team"
      ~> jsonEmptyObject

To recap: manually encoding your data type involves a few steps:

  1. Ensure that all types you are encoding have an EncodeJson instance or can be converted to another type which does.
  2. Use := or :=? to create a key/value pair in a JSON object
  3. Use ~> or ~>? to chain together multiple key/value pairs.

Ultimately, this will produce Json which can be serialized to a JSON string or manipulated.

Decoding JSON

Decoding PureScript types from Json is similar to encoding them. You'll once again need a mapping from your data type to its representation in primitive JSON types. Booleans, strings, numbers, and arrays are covered by existing DecodeJson instances, so if you can convert from any of those types to your PureScript type then you can use that conversion to write a DecodeJson instance for your type.

Let's begin once again with our Team type, which can be represented as a string in JSON and does not have a DecodeJson instance yet. We'll start by writing a function which tries to produce a Team from a String:

teamFromString :: String -> Maybe Team
teamFromString = case _ of
  "Red Team" -> Just RedTeam
  "Blue Team" -> Just BlueTeam
  _ -> Nothing

We can use this function to write a DecodeJson instance for our type. As a quick reminder, this is the type signature required by decodeJson:

decodeJson :: DecodeJson a => Json -> Either String a

Let's write the instance using note from purescript-either:

instance decodeJsonTeam :: DecodeJson Team where
  decodeJson json = do
    string <- decodeJson json
    let decodeError = "Could not decode Team from " <> string
    note decodeError (teamFromString string)

If your type can be represented easily with a String, Number, Boolean, or array of one of these types, then its DecodeJson will most likely look similar to this one.

However, quite often your data type will require representation as an object. This library provides combinators in Data.Argonaut.Decode.Combinators which are useful for decoding objects into PureScript types by looking up keys in the object and decoding them according to their DecodeJson instances.

  • Use .: (getField) to decode a field where the key must exist; if the field is missing, this will fail with a decoding error.
  • Use .:? (getFieldOptional') to decode a field where the key may exist; if the field is missing or its value is null then this will return Nothing, and otherwise it will attempt to decode the value at the given key.
  • Use .!= (defaultField) in conjunction with .:? to provide a default value for a field which may not exist. If decoding fails, you'll still get an error; if decoding succeeds with a value of type Maybe a, then this default value will handle the Nothing case.

Let's use these combinators to decode a Json object into our AppUser record.

The decodeJson function returns an Either String a value; Either is a monad, which means we can use convenient do syntax to write our decoder. If a step in decoding succeeds, then its result is passed to the next step. If any step in decoding fails, the entire computation will abort with the error it encountered.

instance decodeJsonAppUser :: DecodeJson AppUser where
  decodeJson json = do
    obj <- decodeJson json              -- decode `Json` to `Object Json`
    name <- obj .: "name"               -- decode the "name" key to a `String`
    age <- obj .:? "age"                -- decode the "age" key to a `Maybe Int`
    team <- obj .:? "team" .!= RedTeam  -- decode "team" to `Team`, defaulting to `RedTeam`
                                        -- if the field is missing or `null`
    pure $ AppUser { name, age, team }

To recap: manually decoding your data type involves a few steps:

  1. Ensure that all types you are decoding have a DecodeJson instance
  2. Use .: to decode object fields where the key must exist
  3. Use .:? to decode object fields where the key may exist or its value may be null
  4. Use .!= to provide a default value for fields which may exist in the Json, but must exist in the type you're decoding to (it's like fromMaybe for your decoder, unwrapping the decoded value).
  5. It's common to use the Either monad for convenience when writing decoders. Any failed decoding step will abort the entire computation with that error. See Solving Common Problems for alternative approaches to decoding.

Deriving Instances

There are two ways to derive instances of EncodeJson and DecodeJson for new types.

Newtype Deriving

We intentionally introduced a newtype around a record, AppUser, so that we could hand-write type class instances for it. What if we'd needed the newtype for another reason, and we planned on using the same encoding and decoding as the underlying type's instances provide?

In that case, we can use newtype deriving to get EncodeJson and DecodeJson for our newtype for free:

newtype AppUser = AppUser { name :: String, age :: Maybe Int, team :: Team }

derive instance newtypeAppUser :: Newtype AppUser _

derive newtype instance encodeJsonAppUser :: EncodeJson AppUser
derive newtype instance decodeJsonAppUser :: DecodeJson AppUser

If your data type has an instance of Generic, then you can use purescript-argonaut-generic to leverage genericEncodeJson and genericDecodeJson to write your instances:

import Data.Generic.Rep (class Generic)
import Data.Argonaut.Encode.Generic.Rep (genericEncodeJson)
import Data.Argonaut.Decode.Generic.Rep (genericDecodeJson)

data Team = RedTeam | BlueTeam

derive instance genericTeam :: Generic Team _

instance encodeJsonTeam :: EncodeJson Team where
  encodeJson = genericEncodeJson

instance decodeJsonTeam :: DecodeJson Team where
  decodeJson = genericDecodeJson

Solving Common Problems

Handling Multiple JSON Representations

Sometimes a data type in your application can be represented in multiple formats. For example, consider a User type like this:

newtype User = User
  { uuid :: String
  , name :: String

In previous versions of your API the uuid field has been named uid and id. Unfortunately, you receive data from all three versions, so you need to accommodate each. You only want one canonical type in your application, though: the User type above.

There are several ways to handle the case in which a data type has multiple JSON representations.

1. Use Alternative to provide fallback decoders

The first option is to use the Alternative type class and its <|> operator to provide multiple ways to decode a particular field in an object. For example:

instance decodeJsonUser :: DecodeJson User where
  decodeJson json = do
    obj <- decodeJson json
    name <- obj .: "name"
    uuid <- obj .: "uuid" <|> obj .: "uid" <|> obj .: "id"
    pure $ User { name, uuid }

You may sometimes need to do additional processing so that uuid always ends up being decoded to the correct type. For example, if in a previous API version the id field was actually an object with a value field containing the id, then you could provide a two-step decoder for that case.

instance decodeJsonUser :: DecodeJson User where
  decodeJson json = do
    uuid <- obj .: "uuid" <|> obj .: "uid" <|> ((_ .: "value") =<< obj .: "id")
2. Write multiple encodeJson or decodeJson functions

Another option is to have a default representation for the type implemented as the type class instance, but alternative decodeJson and encodeJson functions which can be used directly. For example, consider the case in which our User data can be sent to multiple sources. One source requires the data to be formatted as an object, and another requires it to be formatted as a two-element array.

In this case, our type class instance can use the default object encoding, and we can supply a separate encodeJsonAsArray function for use when required.

-- our default object encoding
derive newtype instance encodeJsonUser :: EncodeJson User

encodeUserAsArray :: User -> Json
encodeUserAsArray user = encodeJson [ user.uuid, ]

Decoding With More Arguments than Json

You may occasionally be unable to write EncodeJson or DecodeJson instances for a data type because it requires more information than just Json as its argument. For instance, consider this pair of types:

data Author
  = Following String    -- you are subscribed to this author
  | NotFollowing String -- you aren't subscribed to this author
  | You                 -- you are the author

type BlogPost =
  { title :: String
  , author :: Author

Our API tells us the author of the blog post as a string and whether we follow them as a boolean. This admits more cases than are actually possible -- you can't follow yourself, for example -- so we are more precise and model an Author as a sum type.

When our application is running we know who the currently-authenticated user is, and we can use that information to determine the Author type. That means we can't decode an Author from Json alone -- we need more information.

In these cases, unfortunately, you can't write an instance of DecodeJson for the data type. You can, however, write decodeJsonAuthor and use it without the type class. For instance:

decodeJsonAuthor :: Maybe Username -> Json -> Either String Author
decodeJsonAuthor maybeUsername json = do
  obj <- decodeJson json
  author <- obj .: "author"
  following <- obj .: "following"
  pure $ case maybeUsername of
    -- user is logged in and is the author
    Just (Username username) | author == username -> You
    -- user is not the author, or no one is logged in, so use the `following` flag
    otherwise -> author # if following then Following else NotFollowing

decodeJsonBlogPost :: Maybe Username -> Json -> Either String BlogPost
decodeJsonBlogPost username json = do
  obj <- decodeJson json
  title <- obj .: "title"
  author <- decodeJsonAuthor username =<< obj .: "author"
  pure { title, author }

Writing Instances For Types You Don't Own

While not an issue specific to argonaut-codecs, you may sometimes wish to write an EncodeJson or a DecodeJson instance for a data type you did not define -- for instance, the PreciseDateTime type from purescript-precise-datetime. This type has no instances because there are many ways you might wish to represent it in JSON.

If you want to use an application-specific encoding for this type then you will need to define a newtype wrapper for it and define instances for that new type instead.

module App.Data.PreciseDateTime where

import Data.PreciseDateTime as PDT
import Data.RFC3339String (RFC3339String(..))

newtype PreciseDateTime = PreciseDateTime PDT.PreciseDateTime

instance decodeJsonPreciseDateTime :: DecodeJson PreciseDateTime where
  decodeJson json = fromString =<< decodeJson json
    fromString :: String -> Either String PreciseDateTime
    fromString =
      map PreciseDateTime
        <<< note "Could not parse RFC3339 string"
        <<< PDT.fromRFC3339String
        <<< RFC3339String

You can now use the wrapped PreciseDateTime type in your application and the instance will be used by the DecodeJson type class.

Accumulating Errors Instead of Short-Circuiting

You may sometimes want to accumulate errors, rather than short-circuit at the first failure. The V type from purescript-validation is similar to Either, but it allows you to accumulate errors into a semigroup or semiring instead of stopping when the first failure occurs. You can define decoders which work in V and then convert them back to Either at the end.

For example, let's say we have a User type which occasionally gets bad input, and we want to see all errors in the input rather than one at a time. This is how we might write a decoding function for the type:

newtype User = User
  { name :: String
  , age :: Maybe Int
  , location :: String

derive instance newtypeUser :: Newtype User _
derive newtype instance showUser :: Show User

decodeUser :: Json -> Either String User
decodeUser json = do
  obj <- decodeJson json
  name <- obj .: "name"
  age <- obj .:? "age"
  location <- obj .: "location"
  pure $ User { name, age, location }

Running this in the REPL with bad input, we only see the first error:

> decodeUser =<< jsonParser "{}"
Left "Expected field \"name\""

However, by collecting results into V instead of into Either we will accumulate all errors. We can even make it a little nicer by writing a new operator, .:|, which works in V:

-- a replacement for `decodeJson`
decodeJsonV :: forall a. DecodeJson a => Json -> V (Array String) a
decodeJsonV = either (invalid <<< pure) pure <<< decodeJson

-- a replacement for `getField`
getFieldV :: forall a. DecodeJson a => Object Json -> String -> V (Array String) a
getFieldV object key =
  either (invalid <<< pure) pure (object .: key)

-- a replacement for .:
infix 7 getFieldV as .:|

With this new operator and applicative-do we can recreate our original decoder, except with accumulating errors this time:

decodeUser :: Json -> Either (Array String) User
decodeUser json = do
  user <- toEither $ V.andThen (decodeJsonV json) \obj -> ado
    name <- obj .:| "name"
    age <- obj .:| "age"
    location <- obj .:| "location"
    in { name, age, location }
  pure $ User user

This decoder will now print all errors:

> import Data.Bifunctor (lmap)
> decodeUser =<< lmap pure (jsonParser "{}")
  [ "Expected field \"name\""
  , "Expected field \"age\""
  , "Expected field \"location\""


Read the contribution guidelines to get started and see helpful related resources.