JSON quick howto

Note: This HOWTO does not work with cxxtools <= 2.2. With 2.2 it is slightly more complicated. See the last section here, how to do it with version 2.2.


JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a lightweight data-interchange format. It is easy for humans to read and write.

Here is an example of JSON data:

// Configuration options
    // Default encoding for text
    "encoding" : "UTF-8",

    // Plug-ins loaded at start-up
    "plug-ins" : [

    // Tab indent size
    "indent" : { "length" : 3, "use_space": true }

Code example

cxxtools has a serialization framework which supports json. It has a intermediate data structure cxxtools::SerializationInfo, which can be used to read the json structure and access specific elements.

The operator >>= is overloaded for all standard types including std containers to convert a SerializationInfo into some value.

std::ifstream input("myconfiguration.json");
cxxtools::SerializationInfo si;
input >> cxxtools::Json(si);  // parse json into a cxxtools::SerializationInfo

std::string encoding;
si.getMember("encoding") >>= encoding;
std::cout << encoding << std::endl;  // prints "UTF-8"

unsigned length;
bool use_space;
si.getMember("indent").getMember("length") >>= length;
si.getMember("indent").getMember("use_space") >>= use_space;
// prints "length=3 use_space=true":
std::cout << "length=" << length << " use_space=" << use_space << std::endl;

This is fine, if you want to access single members. But the nice thing about operator overloading is, that you can easily add your own overloads. That is possible even for complex classes.

To read the above json structure we define the structure as a C++ struct and overload the operator >>= for that.

Since the operator(std::istream&, cxxtools::Json), which we use to parse the json structure uses the operator >>= also, we can read our structure easily from a std::istream.

// Configuration options
struct Configuration
    // Default encoding for text
    std::string encoding;

    // Plug-ins loaded at start-up
    std::vector<std::string> plug_ins;

    // Tab indent size
    struct {
        unsigned length;
        bool use_space;
    } indent;

// overload the operator >>= for our struct Configuration
void operator>>= (const cxxtools::SerializationInfo& si, Configuration& c)
    si.getMember("encoding") >>= c.encoding;

    // if you want to make encoding optional with a default value use:
    //   if (!si.getMember("encoding", c.encoding))
    //       c.encoding = "UTF-8";

    si.getMember("plug-ins") >>= c.plug_ins;
    const cxxtools::SerializationInfo& si_indent = si.getMember("indent");
    si_indent.getMember("length") >>= c.indent.length;
    si_indent.getMember("use_space") >>= c.indent.use_space;


// read configuration from json file
std::ifstream input("myconfiguration.json");
Configuration configuration;
input >> cxxtools::Json(configuration);  // parse json and put result into the configuration object

// print out the configuration structure
std::cout << configuration.encoding << "\n"
          << "length=" << configuration.indent.length << "\n"
          << "use_space=" << configuration.indent.use_space << std::endl;
for (unsigned n = 0; n < configuration.plug_ins.size(); ++n)
    std::cout << "plugin[" << n << "]=" << configuration.plug_ins[n] << "\n";

Note that cxxtools::SerializationInfo::getMember(string) throws an exception of type cxxtools::SerializationMemberNotFound, if the member is not found. This makes error handling easy, since you can either catch the exception or just let it propagate to a higher level.

Writing JSON

Writing json is also easily possible. Like reading there are 2 variants. Lets look at the first exmple, which again uses cxxtools::SerializationInfo directly. This time we use the opposite operator <<=:

cxxtools::SerializationInfo si;
si.addMember("encoding") <<= "UTF-8";
cxxtools::SerializationInfo& psi = si.addMember("plug-ins");
psi.addMember() <<= "python";
psi.addMember() <<= "c++";
psi.addMember() <<= "ruby";
cxxtools::SerializationInfo& isi = si.addMember("indent");
isi.addMember("length") <<= 3;
isi.addMember("use_space") <<= true;

std::ofstream output("myconfiguration.json");
output << cxxtools::Json(si);  // this prints unformatted and very compact json without any white space
output << cxxtools::Json(si, true);  // this adds indentatsion and line feeds to make it human readable
output << cxxtools::Json(si).beautify(true);  // same as above

The operator <<= for cxxtools::SerializationInfo is overloadable as well:

// overload the operator <<= for our struct Configuration
void operator<<= (cxxtools::SerializationInfo& si, const Configuration& c)
    si.addMember("encoding") <<= c.encoding;
    si.addMember("plug-ins") <<= c.plug_ins;
    cxxtools::SerializationInfo& si_indent = si.addMember("indent");
    si_indent.addMember("length") <<= c.indent.length;
    si_indent.addMember("use_space") <<= c.indent.use_space;


Configuration configuration;
configuration.encoding = "UTF-8";
configuration.indent.length = 3;
configuration.indent.use_space = true;

std::ofstream output("myconfiguration.json");
output << cxxtools::Json(configuration);  // this prints unformatted and very compact json without any white space
output << cxxtools::Json(configuration, true);  // this prints unformatted and very compact json without any white space
output << cxxtools::Json(configuration).beautify(true);  // same as above

For a full example, the header <cxxtools/json.h> must be included.