A Review of 5 Java JSON Libraries


json.org lists 18 different Java libraries for working with JSON (Flexjson gets a double mention). These provide varying levels of functionality, from the simplest (the default org.json packages), to more comprehensive solutions like XStream and Jackson. Join me on a quick review of some of these, focusing on those which have friendly licenses, and meet my requirements.  If you are lazy, you can fast forward to my summary

My Requirements

  1. Serialises and Deserialises JSON
  2. Lightweight and Simple
  3. runs on Java 1.4
  4. Friendly license

The contendors

  1. org.json
  2. Jackson
  3. XStream
  4. JsonMarshaller
  5. JSON.simple

Serialises and Deserialises JSON

This might sound like an obvious requirement, but I’ve seen at least one library which was completely focused on spitting out JSON, without any support for reading JSON. I’m actually using this as a pre-requisite for inclusion in my comparison. If a library can’t read AND write JSON, I’m not going to consider it.


I’ll begin by stating that my actual usecase is to operate within a plugin for EditLive!. I don’t need a all singing all dancing JSON serialisation/deserialisation library. There are some very cool libraries out there that do awesome stuff, but all I need to do is read and write JSON data.

Coupled with this is that I’ll want to be able to keep the memory footprint pretty low, so want to work with Java Streams without needing to necessarily pull in the whole serialised object if I don’t need it.

Runs on Java 1.4

Yep it’s still out there. Thankfully Java 1.4.2 has reached it’s EOL, but businesses can still request patches, and there are most definitely still Ephox clients running on this JRE, even though more recent JRE’s work so much better. (side note: If you have the option of upgrading your JRE to Java 6, please do it, the children in Africa will be much happier. Everytime someone runs up a 1.4 JRE a puppy dies). 1.4 is in it’s final death throws, but it is still kicking.

Friendly License

For Ephox to make money from the product/component that uses JSON (gotta think about the $$$ at the end of the day), I’ll need to make sure that the license is non-viral and Enterprise friendly. Apache license good. GPL bad. (sorry FSF)


So having run through the requirements, we can now consider the options. For each library, I’ll provide a simple table.

The metrics I’m using to judge the libraries are included in the table. The most crude metric that I’ve got is the number of classes. I’m more than happy to admit that this is a very crude way to measure how lightweight the library is, but it does provide an ok rough heuristic, particularly given that there are order of magnitude differences.


The granddady of them all. This comes pretty close to being a reference implementation. It provides a nice simple API (7 classes), doesn’t try and do any magic, and just makes sense. I’ve used it before when working with small amounts of data. Unfortunately it doesn’t provide any streaming goodness.

url http://www.JSON.org/java/index.html
classes 7
Streaming support No
Friendly License Yes
Java 1.4 Yes


Jackson advertises itself as a fast powerful conformant JSON processor. It provides heaps of features, and looks to be a good tool for reading and writing JSON in a variety of ways (see the Jackson tutorial for more). The drawback of Jackson for my purposes is that it isn’t exactly svette at 250 classes.

url http://jackson.codehaus.org/
classes ~250
Streaming support Yes
Friendly License Yes
Java 1.4 Yes


XStream gets a mention because it’s cool :). I haven’t really considered it because it provides more of a direct object serialisation format, which wasn't quite what I'm looking for. Also, it’s heritage as an xml serialisation format shows, and it likes Java 5 much better. The ability to directly go between Javabeans and JSON java classes is cool, but I don't need this magic or the 200+ classes that come with it.

url http://xstream.codehaus.org/
classes >200
Streaming support Yes
Friendly License Yes
Java 1.4 Yes

Json Marshaller

Json Marshaller sells itself (it almost sounds like a bolierplate project description by now) as “Fast, Lightweight, Easy to Use and Type Safe JSON marshalling library for Java”. It’s been under consistent active development for a number of years, and looks to be headed in the right direction. Unfortunately the current version has 3 deal stopping flaws for my environment at the moment.

  1. It requires Java 5
  2. It has a dependancy on ASM (the developers are looking to remove his dependancy)
  3. While it hasn’t quite piled on the bulk of XStream or Jackson, it still has a couple to many classes for me to consider

These constraints make it not quite fit for my purposes, but like all decisions, it depends on your own situation.

url http://code.google.com/p/jsonmarshaller/
classes ~50
Streaming support Yes
Friendly License Yes
Java 1.4 No


JSON.simple advertises itself as “a simple Java toolkit for JSON”. It provides reading and writing to JSON streams. It’s lightweight and focused on generating JSON from Java code. The critical feature it provides is support for Java IO readers and writers.

url http://code.google.com/p/json-simple/
classes 12
Streaming support Yes
Friendly License Yes
Java 1.4 Yes


For the interested, here’s a table that summarises my findings.

  org.json Jackson XStream Json Marshaller JSON.Simple
classes 7 ~250 >200 ~50 12
Streaming support No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Friendly License Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Java 1.4 Yes Yes Yes No Yes



If you are looking for a simple lightweight Java library that reads and writes JSON, and supports Streams, JSON.simple is probably a good match. It does what it says on the box in 12 classes, and works on legacy (1.4) JREs.

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