JSON-AD: The Atomic Data serialization format

Although you can use various serialization formats for Atomic Data, JSON-AD is the default and only required serialization format. It is what the current Rust and Typescript / React implementations use to communicate. It is designed to feel familiar to developers and to be easy and performant to parse and serialize. It is inspired by JSON-LD.

It uses JSON, but has some additional constraints:

  • Every single Object is a Resource.
  • Every Key is a Property URL. Other keys are invalid. Each Property URL must resolve to an online Atomic Data Property.
  • The @id field is special: it defines the Subject of the Resource. If you send an HTTP GET request there with an content-type: application/ad+json header, you should get the full JSON-AD resource.
  • JSON arrays are mapped to Resource Arrays
  • Numbers can be Integers, Timestamps or Floats.
  • JSON booleans map to Booleans.
  • JSON strings can be many datatypes, including String, Markdown, Date or other.
  • Nested JSON Objects are Nested Resources. A Nested Resource can either be Anonymous (without an @id subject) or a Named Nested Resource (with an @id subject). Everywhere a Subject URL can be used as a value (i.e. all properties with the datatype atomicURL), a Nested Resource can be used instead. This also means that an item in an ResourceArray can be a Nested Resource.
  • The root data structure must either be a Named Resource (with an @id), or an Array containing Named Resources. When you want to describe multiple Resources in one JSON-AD document, use an array as the root item.

Let's look at an example JSON-AD Resource:

  "@id": "https://atomicdata.dev/properties/description",
  "https://atomicdata.dev/properties/datatype": "https://atomicdata.dev/datatypes/markdown",
  "https://atomicdata.dev/properties/description": "A textual description of something. When making a description, make sure that the first few words tell the most important part. Give examples. Since the text supports markdown, you're free to use links and more.",
  "https://atomicdata.dev/properties/isA": [
  "https://atomicdata.dev/properties/shortname": "description"

The mime type (for HTTP content negotiation) is application/ad+json (registration ongoing).

Nested, Anonymous and Named resources

In JSON-AD, a Resource can be respresented in multiple ways:

  • Subject: A URL string, such as https://atomicdata.dev/classes/Class.
  • Named Resource: A JSON Object with an @id field containing the Subject.
  • Anonymous Nested Resource A JSON Object without an @id field. This is only possible if it is a Nested Resource, which means that it has a parent Resource.

Note that this is also valid for ResourceArrays, which usually only contain Subjects, but are allowed to contain Nested Resources.

In the following JSON-AD example, the address is a nested resource:

  "@id": "https://example.com/arnold",
  "https://example.com/properties/address": {
    "https://example.com/properties/firstLine": "Longstreet 22",
    "https://example.com/properties/city": "Watertown",
    "https://example.com/properties/country": "the Netherlands",

Nested Resources can be named or anonymous. An Anonymous Nested Resource does not have it's own @id field. It does have its own unique path, which can be used as its identifier. The path of the anonymous resource in the example above is https://example.com/arnold https://example.com/properties/address.

JSON-AD Parsers, serializers and other libraries

  • Typescript / Javacript: @tomic/lib JSON-AD parser + in-memory store. Works with @tomic/react for rendering Atomic Data in React.
  • Rust: atomic_lib has a JSON-AD parser / serializer (and does a lot more).

Canonicalized JSON-AD

When you need deterministic serialization of Atomic Data (e.g. when calculating a cryptographic hash or signature, used in Atomic Commits), you can use the following procedure:

  1. Serialize your Resource to JSON-AD
  2. Do not include empty objects, empty arrays or null values.
  3. All keys are sorted alphabetically (lexicographically) - both in the root object, as in any nested objects.
  4. The JSON-AD is minified: no newlines, no spaces.

The last two steps of this process is more formally defined by the JSON Canonicalization Scheme (JCS, rfc8785).

Interoperability with JSON and JSON-LD

Read more about this subject.