PHP Decoding a JSON string


Example

The json_decode() function takes a JSON-encoded string as its first parameter and parses it into a PHP variable.

Normally, json_decode() will return an object of \stdClass if the top level item in the JSON object is a dictionary or an indexed array if the JSON object is an array. It will also return scalar values or NULL for certain scalar values, such as simple strings, "true", "false", and "null". It also returns NULL on any error.

// Returns an object (The top level item in the JSON string is a JSON dictionary)
$json_string = '{"name": "Jeff", "age": 20, "active": true, "colors": ["red", "blue"]}';
$object = json_decode($json_string);
printf('Hello %s, You are %s years old.', $object->name, $object->age);
#> Hello Jeff, You are 20 years old.

// Returns an array (The top level item in the JSON string is a JSON array)
$json_string = '["Jeff", 20, true, ["red", "blue"]]';
$array = json_decode($json_string);
printf('Hello %s, You are %s years old.', $array[0], $array[1]);

Use var_dump() to view the types and values of each property on the object we decoded above.

// Dump our above $object to view how it was decoded
var_dump($object);

Output (note the variable types):

class stdClass#2 (4) {
 ["name"] => string(4) "Jeff"
 ["age"] => int(20)
 ["active"] => bool(true)
 ["colors"] =>
   array(2) {
     [0] => string(3) "red"
     [1] => string(4) "blue"
   }
}

Note: The variable types in JSON were converted to their PHP equivalent.


To return an associative array for JSON objects instead of returning an object, pass true as the second parameter to json_decode().

$json_string = '{"name": "Jeff", "age": 20, "active": true, "colors": ["red", "blue"]}';
$array = json_decode($json_string, true); // Note the second parameter
var_dump($array);

Output (note the array associative structure):

array(4) {
  ["name"] => string(4) "Jeff"
  ["age"] => int(20)
  ["active"] => bool(true)
  ["colors"] =>
  array(2) {
    [0] => string(3) "red"
    [1] => string(4) "blue"
  }
}

The second parameter ($assoc) has no effect if the variable to be returned is not an object.

Note: If you use the $assoc parameter, you will lose the distinction between an empty array and an empty object. This means that running json_encode() on your decoded output again, will result in a different JSON structure.

If the JSON string has a "depth" more than 512 elements (20 elements in versions older than 5.2.3, or 128 in version 5.2.3) in recursion, the function json_decode() returns NULL. In versions 5.3 or later, this limit can be controlled using the third parameter ($depth), as discussed below.


According to the manual:

PHP implements a superset of JSON as specified in the original » RFC 4627 - it will also encode and decode scalar types and NULL. RFC 4627 only supports these values when they are nested inside an array or an object. Although this superset is consistent with the expanded definition of "JSON text" in the newer » RFC 7159 (which aims to supersede RFC 4627) and » ECMA-404, this may cause interoperability issues with older JSON parsers that adhere strictly to RFC 4627 when encoding a single scalar value.

This means, that, for example, a simple string will be considered to be a valid JSON object in PHP:

$json = json_decode('"some string"', true);
var_dump($json, json_last_error_msg());

Output:

string(11) "some string"
string(8) "No error"

But simple strings, not in an array or object, are not part of the RFC 4627 standard. As a result, such online checkers as JSLint, JSON Formatter & Validator (in RFC 4627 mode) will give you an error.

There is a third $depth parameter for the depth of recursion (the default value is 512), which means the amount of nested objects inside the original object to be decoded.

There is a fourth $options parameter. It currently accepts only one value, JSON_BIGINT_AS_STRING. The default behavior (which leaves off this option) is to cast large integers to floats instead of strings.

Invalid non-lowercased variants of the true, false and null literals are no longer accepted as valid input.

So this example:

var_dump(json_decode('tRue'), json_last_error_msg());
var_dump(json_decode('tRUe'), json_last_error_msg());
var_dump(json_decode('tRUE'), json_last_error_msg());
var_dump(json_decode('TRUe'), json_last_error_msg());
var_dump(json_decode('TRUE'), json_last_error_msg());
var_dump(json_decode('true'), json_last_error_msg());

Before PHP 5.6:

bool(true)
string(8) "No error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"

And after:

NULL
string(12) "Syntax error"
NULL
string(12) "Syntax error"
NULL
string(12) "Syntax error"
NULL
string(12) "Syntax error"
NULL
string(12) "Syntax error"
bool(true)
string(8) "No error"

Similar behavior occurs for false and null.

Note that json_decode() will return NULL if the string cannot be converted.

$json = "{'name': 'Jeff', 'age': 20 }" ;  // invalid json 

$person = json_decode($json);
echo $person->name;    //  Notice: Trying to get property of non-object: returns null
echo json_last_error();     
#  4 (JSON_ERROR_SYNTAX)
echo json_last_error_msg(); 
#  unexpected character 

It is not safe to rely only on the return value being NULL to detect errors. For example, if the JSON string contains nothing but "null", json_decode() will return null, even though no error occurred.