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Origins of JSON

JSON has become one of the most important and fundamental technologies in computing over the past two decades, despite its simple and straightforward nature. As a cross-platform data format, JSON powers the transmission of data between servers, applications, and services across the modern software ecosystem.

The origins of JSON date back to the early 2000s when Douglas Crockford first developed the format at State Software. Although initially created to meet the specific data transfer needs for a virtual card game, JSON’s cleaner approach compared to XML quickly led it to become widely adopted.

Over the years, JSON has proven to be a versatile technology for enabling communication between all types of systems and programming languages. Its gradual standardization, starting in 2006 and ultimately resulting in an international ISO standard in 2017, has helped fuel broad adoption. JSON also serves as a great case study example of how even with basic functionality, standards can allow simple technologies to have an outsized impact.

Douglas Crockford first created JSON while working at State Software in the early 2000s. The company had developed an online virtual card game called Cartoon Orbit which allowed users to trade cards and stickers. The game dynamics involved transactions between the client, or user‘s web browser, and State Software‘s servers.

At the time, XML was the most common format used for data transmission and storage. However, Crockford found it frustrating to work with for the card game, especially on less powerful client devices.

He decided to develop a simpler data format which became JSON, short for JavaScript Object Notation. This reflected JSON‘s basis in the syntax for creating object literals in JavaScript. However, Crockford specifically designed JSON to be usable by many programming languages, not just JavaScript.

Crockford formally released JSON in 2001. The format immediately attracted interest among web developers due to its intended purpose for enabling data transmission, especially in the early days of Ajax web applications. JSON proved far simpler to parse than bloated XML code, yet was flexible enough to handle nested objects and array data when needed.

A key milestone in JSON‘s history was its standardization, which lent further credibility and helped encourage broad adoption across the software industry. This process of standardization occurred across several years:

2006 – RFC 4627

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), released RFC 4627 formally describing JSON‘s capabilities and encoding for the first time in 2006.

2013 – ECMA-404 1st Edition

International standards body ECMA published the first official specification of JSON syntax in October 2013 as standard ECMA-404.

2017 – ECMA-404 2nd Edition

An update to the ECMA JSON standard was released in December 2017 with small refinements but preserving full backwards compatibility.

2017 – ISO/IEC 21778:2017

Perhaps most significantly, JSON was granted status as an international ISO standard in 2017 as ISO/IEC 21778:2017. This milestone demonstrated the maturity and ubiquity JSON had achieved.

The ISO standard helped fuel further adoption by removing uncertainty about whether JSON could be relied upon across systems or might change suddenly. The strict backwards compatibility requirements also provided stability for existing usage.

While XML and JSON fulfill similar needs for transmitting data in textual format, JSON has some advantages stemming from its simpler syntax.


The most direct comparison is JSON vs XML. In XML‘s favor is broader support for data schemas and namespaces allowing more structure. However, JSON‘s more compact size and easier parsing made it better suited for many modern, performance-sensitive web and mobile applications.


YAML is another popular human-friendly data format that competes with JSON. Unlike JSON it can support comments and allows more flexible handling of complex objects. However, JSON‘s constraints also serve to prevent misuse which has helped drive its popularity. YAML also requires more specialized parser support.

Today, JSON serves as the lingua franca for data exchange in the software world. It has been described as ubiquitous, with usage spanning across the full stack from applications to databases to web services. JSON appears in configuration files, REST API payloads, mobile apps, and practically everywhere that data needs to be moved between systems.

Both the ECMA and ISO/IEC standards for JSON remain active and define the current official version of the JSON data format. These standards strictly require backwards compatibility. As a result, the core syntax remains unchanged from what Douglas Crockford originally specified. Additional functionality is unlikely to be added unless a very clear use case requiring it emerges.

However, this also provides JSON stability as a well-understood foundational technology that is unlikely to change suddenly. JavaScript parsing implementations and JSON-specific tools have also helped improve processing efficiency over time. Support for JSON is built into every major programming language and platform.

For these reasons, JSON seems poised to continue in its role as a simple, flexible, language independent format for Developer to Developer and Machine to Machine communication into the future.