Blog post

pg_jsonschema: JSON Schema support for Postgres

2022-08-19

6 minute read

pg_jsonschema: JSON Schema support for Postgres

Released on the Supabase platform today, pg_jsonschema is a Postgres extension which adds JSON Schema validation support for json and jsonb data types.

The use-case for JSON validation

Despite Supabase being an SQL shop, even our most zealous relational data model advocates (begrudgingly) recognize some advantages to the document data model. Mainly, if some complex data will always be consumed together, a document data type can be a good fit.

For Example:

If our application receives data via a webhook:

{
  "status_code": 200,
  "checksum": "89b623f6332d2b9b42b4e17eaf1bcc60"
  "headers": {
    "Content-Type": "application/json",
    "Last-Modified": "Tue, 09 Aug 2022 09:14:10 GMT"
  },
  "payload": {
    {
      "success": true,
      "content": {
        "account_id": "d928b484-16bd-4f10-a827-3eb959b4cc14",
        "event": "SUBSCRIBED",
        "subscriptions": [
          {"subscription_id": 481, "exp": 1660050940},
          {"subscription_id": 121, "exp": 1660041852},
        ]
      }
    }
  }
}

A reasonable swing at normalizing that data into tables might look like this:

pg_jsonschema_erd.png

That's a lot of architecting! Moreover, the query to recover the original input requires 5 joins!

A solution that aligns better with our intent would be to persist whatever we receive from the external service so long as it meets a minimum set of requirements. With Postgres' json data type we can achieve half of that goal.

pg_jsonschema_erd2.png

Treating the webhook contents as a json document simplifies our data model. It is also robust to changing payloads and more efficient to query, update, and delete.

Now what about this part?

so long as it meets a minimum set of requirements

Challenges

The flexibility of document types also comes with some downsides.

The schema of the json payload from the previous example is a little intense for a blog post, so let's instead say we intend for a table's json column to hold objects with a string attribute named foo and no additional attributes.

Without constraints, the setup would be:

create table some_table (
  id serial primary key,
  metadata json not null
);

insert into some_table (metadata)
values (<SQL Input>);

But the resulting schema is much more permissive than our intent. When inserting a mix of correct and incorrect values:

Check constraints

Only 2 of our 8 test cases were handled appropriately by our data model.

A core strength of SQL databases is their ability to constrain data's types, nullability, referential integrity, uniqueness, and even arbitrary developer-defined rules. Those constraints are a lot to sacrifice to gain the convenience of document types.

Fortunately, the challenge of validating json documents isn't specific to SQL databases. NoSQL/Document databases, like MongoDB, optionally enforce data constraints so there's plenty of prior art for us to draw from.

JSON Schema

JSON Schema is a specification for validating the shape and contents of json documents. It can describe constraints for documents similar to those applied by relational databases.

Translating our constraints from the previous example into a JSON Schema we get:

// objects with a string attribute
// named foo and no additional attributes
{
  "type": "object",
  "properties": {
    "foo": {
      "type": "string"
    }
  },
  "required": ["foo"],
  "additionalProperties": false
}

Which is a formal and human-readable description of our intent. A tutorial on the JSON Schema language is out-of-scope for this article but you can find a full introduction in their guide.

So now we have:

✅ flexible document data type → json

✅ a language to describe constraints on json documents → JSON Schema

❌ a way to enforce JSON Schema constraints on json documents in Postgres

pg_jsonschema

pg_jsonschema is a Postgres extension that can validate json and jsonb data types against a JSON Schema. The extension offers two functions:

-- Validates a json *instance* against a JSON Schema *schema*
json_matches_schema(schema json, instance json) returns bool

-- Validates a jsonb *instance* against a JSON Schema *schema*
jsonb_matches_schema(schema json, instance jsonb) returns bool

We can use those functions in combination with a check constraint to more completely describe our data model.

create table some_table(
  id serial primary key,
  metadata json not null,

  check (
    json_matches_schema(
      schema :='{
         "type": "object",
         "properties": {
          "foo": {
           "type": "string"
          }
         },
         "required": ["foo"],
         "additionalProperties": false
      }',
      instance := metadata
    )
  )
);

insert into some_table(metadata)
values
  (<SQL input>);

With that check constraint in place, we re-run the same test cases:

Check constraints 2

Now all 8 tests are handled correctly. In cases where records failed to insert, Postgres throws an error referencing the failing constraint.

ERROR: new row for relation "some_table" violates check constraint "some_table_metadata_check"

DETAIL: Failing row contains (1, null).

SQL state: 23514

With these tools you can wield the flexibility of json/jsonb data types without sacrificing the guarantees of a well specified data model!

To get started with pg_jsonschema, fire up a new supabase project and enable the extension with

create extension pg_jsonschema;

or follow the Docker Compose instructions in the repo's README.

Share this article

Last post

PostgREST v10: EXPLAIN and Improved Relationship Detection

19 August 2022

Next post

One more thing

19 August 2022

Related articles

ChatGPT plugins now support Postgres & Supabase

Building ChatGPT Plugins with Supabase Edge Runtime

Flutter Hackathon

Supabase Beta April 2023

Securing your Flutter apps with Multi-Factor Authentication

Build in a weekend, scale to millions