Getting dynamic ExpandoObject to serialize to JSON as expected

Serializing ExpandoObjects

I am currently creating a JSON API for a handful of upcoming Sierra Trading Post projects. When I found myself generating JSON for a stripped-down representation of a number of domain classes, all wrapped with some metadata, I turned to dynamic and things have been going quite well. Unfortunately, there was a hurdle to getting the JSON to look the way I wanted.

If you start playing around with serializing ExpandoObject to JSON, you will probably start finding a number of options. The easiest solution to find is the one that comes with .NET, JavaScriptSerializer under System.Web.Script.Serialization. It will happily serialize an ExpandoObject for you, but it probably won’t look the way you expect. Your searches will probably vary, but I found Newtonsoft’s JSON.NET, which handled ExpandoObject right out of the NuGet box. Then I stumbled on ServiceStack.Text (also “NuGettable”). While it does even weirder things than the .NET serializer with ExpandoObjects, it supposedly does them very fast.

Test code

dynamic test = new ExpandoObject();
test.x = "xvalue";
test.y = DateTime.Now;

BCL JavaScriptSerializer (using System.Web.Script.Serialization;)

JavaScriptSerializer javaScriptSerializer = new JavaScriptSerializer();
string jsonOfTest = javaScriptSerializer.Serialize(test);
// [{"Key":"x","Value":"xvalue"},{"Key":"y","Value":"\/Date(1314108923000)\/"}]

Not quite what I was looking for but it makes sense if you realize that ExpandoObject plays very nicely with IDictionary<string, object>. By using some code borrowed from StackOverflow (not the accepted answer, but I like it) and theburningmonk.com, you put together a custom serializer for ExpandoObject and you can get something more typical of what went into assembling the object.

/// <summary>
/// Allows JSON serialization of Expando objects into expected results (e.g., "x: 1, y: 2") instead of the default dictionary serialization.
/// </summary>
public class ExpandoJsonConverter : JavaScriptConverter {
    public override object Deserialize(IDictionary<string, object> dictionary, Type type, JavaScriptSerializer serializer) {
        // See source code link for this extension method at the bottom of this post (/Helpers/IDictionaryExtensions.cs)
        return dictionary.ToExpando();
    }
    public override IDictionary<string, object> Serialize(object obj, JavaScriptSerializer serializer) {
        var result = new Dictionary<string, object>();
        var dictionary = obj as IDictionary<string, object>;
        foreach (var item in dictionary)
            result.Add(item.Key, item.Value);
        return result;
    }
    public override IEnumerable<Type> SupportedTypes {
        get {
            return new ReadOnlyCollection<Type>(new Type[] { typeof(ExpandoObject) });
        }
    }
}

JavaScriptSerializer javaScriptSerializer = new JavaScriptSerializer();
javaScriptSerializer.RegisterConverters(new JavaScriptConverter[] { new ExpandoJsonConverter() });
jsonOfTest = javaScriptSerializer.Serialize(test);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"\/Date(1314108923000)\/"}

Newtonsoft Json.NET

string jsonOfTest = Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert.SerializeObject(test);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"\/Date(1314108923000-0600)\/"}

That worked exactly as I expected. If I can get JSON.NET to work consuming JSON under MonoTouch, it will make my life quite easy; more to come on that.

ServiceStack.Text

string jsonOfTest = JsonSerializer.SerializeToString(test);
// ["[x, xvalue]","[y, 8/23/2011 08:15:23 AM]"]

ServiceStack’s JSON serialization system does something similar to the .NET JavaScriptSerializer, but not quite the same. I haven’t spent enough time with ServiceStack to know how this syntax will work out on consumption by another deserializing system, but I suspect this may be something that only ServiceStack would handle correctly.

Unfortunately, the author of the project was nice enough to confirm that ServiceStack.Text does not currently afford the same extensibility as the .NET JavaScriptSerializer for overriding its default behavior in this situation. He did welcome a pull request which I will look into.

ServiceStack.Text also doesn’t appear to support deserializing into an ExpandoObject as this resulted in an empty object.

dynamic testDeserialization = ServiceStack.Text.JsonSerializer.DeserializeFromString<ExpandoObject>(jsonOfTest);

I haven’t confirmed if ServiceStack.Text deserializing works under MonoTouch yet. If it does, it would be worthwhile to have it running API JSON generation as well as the client-side JSON consumption since there is evidence it performs quite nicely.

UPDATE

I slapped together a new MonoTouch project in MonoDevelop and tossed in ServiceStack.Text’s DLLs with a few bits of code and confirmed it works great for a deserializing JSON into a pre-defined object.

public class TestClass {
    public int x { get; set; }
    public string x { get; set; }
}
TestClass result = ServiceStack.Text.JsonSerializer.DeserializeFromString<TestClass>("{\"x\":3,\"y\":\"something\"}");
Console.WriteLine("result: x={0}, y={1}", result.x, result.y);
// result: 3, something

UPDATE (2012-04-05)

I missed a blog entry on the author’s blog describing how to get Json.NET to output DateTime in different ways. For example, if you prefer the ISO-8601 output, you would be able to tell it to use the IsoDateTimeConverter. When I went to update the test project, the latest version of Json.NET (4.5 Release 1) now defaults to ISO-8601. Since I don’t want to risk break an existing API, I tweaked the DateFormatHandling to make the output match the old default. Examples are hard to find since this is such a new release, so I slapped one together and submitted it to the Json.NET docs (now on GitHub).

Newtonsoft.Json.JsonSerializerSettings settingsWithMicrosoftDateFormat = new Newtonsoft.Json.JsonSerializerSettings() { DateFormatHandling = Newtonsoft.Json.DateFormatHandling.MicrosoftDateFormat };
string jsonOfTest = Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert.SerializeObject(test, settingsWithMicrosoftDateFormat);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"1333640263042-0600"}

Unfortunately, even Json.NET 4.5 is appending a timezone offset to the DateTime serialization that isn’t found in the .NET implementation. I’ll look into a custom implementation of DateTimeConverterBase and I have posted this as a question on StackOverflow.

Additional Notes

I haven’t played much with what problems may arise with the various representations of DateTime objects on the consumption side, but they definitely all handled it differently here.

Source Code

To get all the code in an ASP.NET MVC project (download, load solution, hit F5 [I hope]), check out the bitbucket.org repository for this post.

About Adam Patridge

patridgedev.com is my writing outlet for all things nerdy. You can read more on the About Me page.
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3 Responses to Getting dynamic ExpandoObject to serialize to JSON as expected

  1. Charles Egan says:

    This was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks so much!

  2. Jon Canning says:

    Hi Adam, I threw this together since I wanted to quickly test some APIs with dynamics and would appreciate your feedback:

    http://nuget.org/packages/cerealbox https://github.com/JonCanning/CerealBox

  3. Will says:

    Try this: public override IDictionary Serialize(object obj, JavaScriptSerializer serializer) { return (obj as IDictionary).ToDictionary(kvp => kvp.Key, kvp => kvp.Value); }

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