JSON vs YAML: What’s the Difference, and Which One Is Right for Your Enterprise?

5 min read

It’s easy to think that JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is the best data serialization format. It’s widely known and an ideal format for securely transmitting structured data.

But the JSON vs. YAML (YAML Ain’t Markup Language) debate is a bit more complicated. JSON’s popularity is an advantage, yet YAML may be a better fit depending on a number of factors (like data type and whether you need a format for data storage as well as data transfers).

Which one is best for you will depend on what you’re using it for and who’s using the data serialization format.

What Is JSON?

It’s a lightweight data-interchange format for data exchange between different systems. Because it’s a text-based format that uses JavaScript syntax, JSON is fairly easy for humans to read and write, but it’s also easy for machines to parse and generate.

This data serialization format was developed around the same time as YAML. It was first developed in 2001 and took off as a lighter format than XML (Extensible Markup Language), which is an older data format used for storing or transferring data.

JSON is widely seen as the industry standard. It continues to be the most widely used format for data transfers. But it doesn’t work for every situation. JSON is primarily used for serializing and transmitting structured data over a network connection, not data in storage.

It’s a secure data format used for handling numbers, strings, objects, and arrays. If you need to handle other types of data (like nested values or timestamps), you’ll need to look to another data format.

What Is YAML?

YAML is the most human-readable data serialization format. Many developers consider it easier to learn than JSON because it’s written using natural language.

YAML is a superset of JSON. It was developed around the same time to handle more kinds of data and offer a more complex but still readable syntax.

Developers often liken YAML to Python because the syntax is so similar. If your team is already familiar with Python, YAML might be the right fit.

Like JSON, YAML is used for configuration files and applications where data is being transferred. It can also be used for data that’s being stored — it’s a more versatile format than JSON. Additionally, YAML was made to handle a larger variety of data types than JSON. In addition to things like numbers and strings, YAML can handle dates, timestamps, sequences, nested values, null values, and Boolean.

There’s plenty YAML can do that JSON just can’t. But there are also situations where JSON outshines YAML (like in data security), so what’s best for each situation will vary.

JSON vs. YAML: Which Do I Use?

When choosing which data format to use, you’ll need to consider who will be using it and what they’ll be using it for. Your team’s history with syntax and data will play into which format is right for your team. Has the team already learned JavaScript syntax? If so, adopting JSON would be that much easier. But if you need a data format for handling integers, YAML is the way to go.

Learn more about these JSON vs. YAML use cases below so you can pick the best data serialization format for your needs. 

JSON Use Cases

JSON is widely regarded as the gold standard in data formats. It may be a good fit for you and your team if you’re looking for a data serialization format that’s:

  • Easy to learn and adopt — For developers already familiar with JavaScript, JSON is quick to learn because it uses the same syntax. Meanwhile, YAML requires learning a new syntax and can be more complex since it’s applicable to more situations and data types. Many developers are also already familiar with JSON, so the transition to the format is smooth for many teams. 
  • Fast and easy to validate — YAML has a tendency to be fussier about small errors. Because YAML uses space to represent structure, a single extra line break or an extra click of the space bar can throw a wrench in your code.
  • Compact — JSON is more compact than YAML, too, making JSON faster to parse than YAML. This is another reason many developers prefer JSON.
  • Secure — JSON is more secure than YAML. It’s less prone to security vulnerabilities, and in an age when security breaches are common, that’s a big plus.
  • Able to connect with other systems — JSON is more suitable for data interchange between systems than YAML. So, for those who need a popular, lightweight data serialization format ideal for moving data from one place to another, JSON will probably be the right option.

YAML Is Excellent for Both Data in Motion and at Rest

While JSON has a lot of advantages, YAML comes with some tricks up its sleeve too. It may be a good fit for you and your team if you’re looking for a data serialization format that: 

  • Handles a variety of tasks — YAML can handle more tasks than JSON. It’s ideal if you’re working with multiple data types, want to leave comments, and/or need a format for storing as well as transferring data.
  • Works with multiple data types — YAML supports data types like integers and floats, while JSON doesn’t. YAML also supports more complex data structures like lists and associative arrays too, which JSON can’t handle.
  • Allows comments — YAML supports comments, which are not supported at all in JSON.
  • Uses natural language — YAML is written in natural data format, making it quick and easy for beginners to learn the syntax.

If you need your data format to tackle nearly every situation and data type you throw at it, YAML is the answer.

Take Your IT Processes Into the Future With SnapLogic

Both data formats are robust options with plenty of advantages. And regardless of which one is right for your needs, you’ll be able to find data tools that work with both formats.

At SnapLogic, we understand that both are valuable and needed formats for handling data in different scenarios. That’s why no matter which format is right for your project, SnapLogic can handle it. Request a free demo to learn more about what you can do with your data.

SnapLogic is the leader in generative integration.
JSON vs YAML: What's the Difference, and Which One is Right for Your Enterprise?

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