Serializing to JSON in jQuery


When working with web applications, it's common to need to send or receive data from a server. This data is often in the form of a JSON object. In this Byte, we'll explore how to serialize data to JSON format using jQuery, a popular JavaScript library.

Why Serialize for AJAX?

We can send and receive data asynchronously (in the background), web applications using AJAX, which can interact with a server after the page has loaded and thus update it dynamically without reloading the whole page.

To send data to the server, AJAX needs it in a format it can understand. This is why we need to serialize our data. Serialization is when we convert a JS object into a string, which we can then use later to be restored. JSON is a lightweight data-interchange format that is easy for us to read and write and easy for machines to parse and generate. Thanks to this, it's one of the most popular formats to exchange data on the web.

How to Serialize to JSON

Serializing to JSON is straightforward thanks to the JSON.stringify() function. This function takes a JavaScript value, typically an object or array, and transforms it into a JSON string.

Here's a basic example:

let employee = {
    name: "John Doe",
    age: 30,
    department: "HR"

let jsonStr = JSON.stringify(employee);


    type: "POST",
    url: "/api/employee",
    data: jsonStr,
    // ...

This will output:

'{"name":"John Doe","age":30,"department":"HR"}'

As you can see, JSON.stringify() has converted our JavaScript object into a JSON string. We can then send that string to the server via the .ajax() call.

Example: Serializing Simple Data

Let's take a look at a simple example of serializing data for an AJAX request using jQuery. Suppose we have a form in our HTML:

<form id="myForm">
    <input type="text" name="firstName" value="John">
    <input type="text" name="lastName" value="Doe">

We can serialize the form data to a JSON string using jQuery's serializeArray() function combined with JSON.stringify():

let formData = $('#myForm').serializeArray();
let jsonData = JSON.stringify(formData);


    type: "POST",
    url: "/api/form",
    data: jsonData,
    // ...

This will output:

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You'll notice that $('#myForm').serializeArray() creates an array of objects (name and value pairs) for every input field in the form. Then, JSON.stringify() converts the array into a JSON string. This string can now be sent to a server using an AJAX request.

Example: Serializing Complex Data

You'd think that serializing complex data is at least a bit more intricate than simple data, but it's still pretty straightforward. Let's take an example of a JavaScript object that contains nested objects and arrays.

var complexData = {
    name: "John Doe",
    age: 30,
    cars: [
        { brand: "Ford", models: ["Fiesta", "Focus", "Mustang"] },
        { brand: "BMW", models: ["320", "X3", "X5"] },
        { brand: "Fiat", models: ["500", "Panda"] }

Just like with simple data, we can use JSON.stringify() to serialize this complex data.

var jsonString = JSON.stringify(complexData);

This will output a JSON string that represents the original JavaScript object.

{"name":"John Doe","age":30,"cars":[{"brand":"Ford","models":["Fiesta","Focus","Mustang"]},{"brand":"BMW","models":["320","X3","X5"]},{"brand":"Fiat","models":["500","Panda"]}]}

So as you can see, it's the same process as before, at least in terms of doing the serialization. JSON.stringify can handle just about any JS object, even those with nested objects.

Common Issues and How to Fix Them

While serializing to JSON in jQuery is generally straightforward, you might encounter some issues. Let's discuss some of the common ones and how to fix them.

Note: These solutions are not exhaustive, and some problems might require a deeper understanding of the specific context.

  1. Cyclic Object Value Error: This error occurs when there are circular references in your data. For example, if an object's property refers to the object itself, you'll encounter this issue. There are several ways to fix this, but a common approach is to use a replacer function in JSON.stringify() that ignores the property that causes the problems.

  2. Data Loss: When serializing, some data types, like functions or undefined, are not preserved. If you need to maintain these, you should consider using a library like json5 that supports undefined, NaN, positive/negative infinity, etc.

  3. Large Data Sets: If you're serializing large data sets, you might run into performance issues. In such cases, consider serializing and sending data in chunks, or using a streaming JSON encoder.

Advanced Topics in JSON Serialization

There are a few advanced topics in JSON serialization that can come in handy in certain situations.

  1. Custom Serialization: You can control how your objects are serialized by defining a toJSON() method in your object. This method should return a value that JSON.stringify() will serialize.

  2. Pretty Printing: To make your JSON output more readable, you can use the space argument in JSON.stringify(). This argument defines the number of spaces used for indentation.

var jsonString = JSON.stringify(myData, null, 2);
// {
//     "name": "John",
//     "age": 30,
//     "isActive": true,
//     "skills": [
//       "Java",
//       "JavaScript"
//     ]
//   }
  1. Using Replacer Function: The replacer function can be used to filter-out values before serialization. This function, if provided, will be called for each item and can be used to transform the JSON string output.


In this Byte, we've covered how to serialize complex data to JSON in jQuery, some common issues you might encounter and their solutions, and a few advanced topics in JSON serialization. Understanding these concepts will help you handle data more effectively in your AJAX calls.

Last Updated: August 30th, 2023
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