Oracle 12c – SQL for JSON (Part 1): Introduction to Native Support

The Oracle Database 12c Release 1 (12.1.0.2.0) [http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/database/enterprise-edition/overview/index.html] introduces native JSON support and SQL access to JSON. This blog post gives a first introduction.

SQL access to JSON: Native Support

SQL access to JSON is a significant development in itself, but native support in context of a relational database it is actually quite huge and exciting. This blog post series will provide a discussion of the various aspects over several installments, including the mixed use of SQL on JSON with SQL on relational tables.

But first things first.

2-Second Overview

This is a 2-second overview showing how to create a table that can store JSON data, how to insert a row containing a JSON object and how to query it with a simple query.

CREATE TABLE supplier
( id NUMBER NOT NULL
    CONSTRAINT supplier_pk PRIMARY KEY,
  supplier_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT supplier_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (supplier_doc IS JSON));
INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (125,
'{
  supplierId: 125,
  "supplierName": "FastSupplier"}');
SELECT * FROM supplier;
        ID SUPPLIER_DOC
---------- -------------------------------------------------
       125 {supplierId: 125, "supplierName": "FastSupplier"}

That was easy 🙂

Creating a Table storing JSON

JSON data are stored in columns of regular tables. A constraint placed on a JSON column enforces JSON compliance:

CREATE TABLE supplier
( id NUMBER NOT NULL
    CONSTRAINT supplier_pk PRIMARY KEY,
  supplier_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT supplier_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (supplier_doc IS JSON));

Any attempt to insert invalid JSON data fails because of this constraint. Other columns are regular relational columns and they can be defined and constrained as necessary.

A JSON column stores JSON objects as well as JSON arrays as both are valid top-level JSON structures. Trying to insert scalars will fail. The following two insert statements are valid:

INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (125,
'{
  supplierId: 125,
  "supplierName": "FastSupplier"}');
INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (128,
'["empty_list_of_supplier"]');

While the JSON [json.org] standard allows duplicate members (aka, keys), many implementations only tolerate or even outright reject it. To avoid storing JSON objects with duplicate keys, the constraint of a JSON column can be extended:

CREATE TABLE supplier
( id number NOT NULL
    CONSTRAINT supplier_pk PRIMARY KEY,
  supplier_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT supplier_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (supplier_doc IS JSON (WITH UNIQUE KEYS)));

The following insert will fail with the additional constraint “WITH UNIQUE KEYS” (because of a duplicate keys), but would succeed otherwise.

INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (126,
'{
  "supplierId": 126,
  "supplierName": "FastSupplier",
  "supplierName": "FS"}');

JSON has a defined syntax, however, many implementations relax it by e.g. allowing to state member names without quotes. To enforce a strict syntax, the constraint on a JSON table can be extended:

CREATE TABLE supplier
( id number NOT NULL
    CONSTRAINT supplier_pk PRIMARY KEY,
  supplier_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT supplier_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (supplier_doc IS JSON (STRICT WITH UNIQUE KEYS))

The following insert will fail (because one key is not enclosed in quotes), but succeed without the “STRICT” constraint:

INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (125,
'{
  supplierId: 125,
  "supplierName": "FastSupplier"}');

With the various constraints and their combinations it is possible to restrict the flavor of JSON that is stored in the database. From an architecture perspective this means that the database can be the central point of enforcing conformity.

Since JSON data is stored in colums it is possible to create several columns in a table that contain JSON data. Here is an example of a table with two columns:

CREATE TABLE supplier
( id number NOT NULL
    CONSTRAINT supplier_pk PRIMARY KEY,
  supplier_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT supplier_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (supplier_doc IS JSON (STRICT WITH UNIQUE KEYS)),
  history_doc CLOB
    CONSTRAINT history_doc_ensure_json 
      CHECK (history_doc IS JSON (STRICT WITH UNIQUE KEYS)));

From a data modeling perspective this opens up a whole new dimension. A brief discussion follows later in this blog post.

Inserting JSON into a Table

Inserting JSON data into a table that has at least one JSON column is rather straight forward, as the previous examples have shown.

The insert statement must have a valid JSON object or JSON array in the position of the JSON column(s), or SQL NULL as the value of a JSON column can be unknown.

Querying JSON with SQL

Oracle Database 12c supports a number of functions to query and to manipulate JSON data. In the following only a first impression is given and the full set will be discussed in additional separate blog posts.

The most basic query was already introduced:

SELECT * FROM supplier;

Selecting scalars from JSON:

SELECT s.supplier_doc.supplierName FROM supplier s;

The select clause is what one would expect: the table name followed by the column name followed by the key name using dot notation. The return value is a table with a single column containing strings.

This query selects scalar value across different columns:

SELECT s.id, s.supplier_doc.supplierName FROM supplier s;

In order to be able to construct more interesting queries, a more complex JSON object is used (see the end of this blog post for its details – it is not included here as it is quite large).

Querying a JSON object looks like this:

SELECT s.supplier_doc.businessAddress FROM supplier s;

This returns a table with one column containing a string representing a JSON object. For those objects that do not have a ‘businessAddress’, a SQL null is returned.

Querying a JSON array is done like this:

select s.supplier_doc.shippers from supplier s;

Like previously, the dot-notation path leads to the JSON member that contains an array as value.

The queries included so far give a first impression of how to query JSON data in Oracle 12c. Upcoming blog posts will provide much more details on the query capabilities, amongst other discussions.

Table Design

With the introduction of JSON it is now possible to have a data model design that combines relational and JSON data modeling instead of having just a relational data model or just a JSON data model. A single table supports the combination of relational and JSON data types.

Some important design questions are:

  • Should top level scalar data items be separate columns, or top-level keys in a JSON object, or both?
    • In the above examples, a primary key column ‘id’ was designed, as well as a key ‘supplierId’ in the JSON object. The ‘id’ column enforces a primary key and supports access to the supplier identifier without accessing the JSON document. The JSON document, however, contains the supplier identifier to be self-contained.
  • Should all data be in one JSON document or is it more appropriate to have separate JSON objects in different columns?
    • In one of the above table creation statements two JSON columns where defined, one containing the supplier data, and another one containing history about the supplier. This supports the separation of data that should not be combined, e.g., for security or privacy reasons. An internal supplier history is not part of the operational supplier data and should be kept separate.

More design principles and best practices will emerge over time in this context in addition to the ones mentioned here so far.

Documentation

The documentation can be found here: [http://docs.oracle.com/database/121/ADXDB/json.htm#ADXDB6246]

Installation Notes

The Oracle Database 12c Release 1  (12.1.0.2.0) is available on Windows as well as Linux and Solaris at the time of this blog post [http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/database/enterprise-edition/downloads/index.html].

In case you want to run the Linux version on Windows, install Virtual Box (version 4.3.15 build 95923 (!) [https://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=62615]) and then create a virtual machine with Oracle Linux 6. Once the VM is up and running, install the Oracle Database 12c Release 1 (12.1.0.2.0) in the VM and you are ready to go.

Example Large JSON Object

INSERT INTO supplier
VALUES (123,
'{
  "supplierId": 123",
  "supplierName": "FastSupplier",
  "rating": 5,
  "shippers": [{
    "shipperName": "TopSpeed",
    "address": {
      "street": "Sunrise",
      "streeNumber": 17,
      "city": "Sun City",
      "state": "CA",
      "zip": 12347
      }
    },
    {
    "shipperName": "PerfectPack",
    "address": {
      "street": "Solid Road",
      "streeNumber": 1771,
      "city": "Granite City",
      "state": "CA",
      "zip": 12348
      }
    },
    {
    "shipperName": "EconomicWay",
    "address": {
    "street": "Narrow Bridge",
    "streeNumber": 1999,
    "city": "Central City",
    "state": "CA",
    "zip": 12345
    }
  }],
  "businessAddress": {
    "street": "Main Street",
    "streeNumber": 25,
    "city": "Central City",
    "state": "CA",
    "zip": 12345
  },
  "warehouseAddress": {
    "street": "Industrial Street",
    "streeNumber": 2552, 
    "city": "Central City",
    "state": "CA",
    "zip": 12346
    }
  }');

Disclaimer

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

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