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An Analysis of JSON Schema Defects


While teaching back-end programming at Mines Paris, an engineering school which is part of PSL University, we have looked at how JSON data could be validated when transfered from a front-end (eg react-native) to a back-end (eg a REST API with Flask) and to storage (eg a Postgres database).

We have stumbled upon JSON Schema, and our investigation leads to an academic study which analyses many schemas, finds common defects, and proposes changes to the spec which would rule out syntactically most of these defects, at the price of some contraints.

More precisely, the methodology consisted in:

  • reading all versions of the specs (yes, really!),
  • collecting all the public schemas we could find (especially aggregating corpura from prior academic studies),
  • writing several tools to analyze schemas and report definite or probable defects,
  • looking at the reported defects to try to guess why these defects are there (most of the time some type error, some typo, a misplaced }…),
  • thinking about what changes in the spec could rule out these schemas, while still allowing to describe useful JSON data structures.

Overall, the quality of publicly available schemas is… not great: Over 60% of schemas are shown to have some defects, resulting in the worst case in unintended data to be validated, possibly risking system breakage or cybersecurity issues.

The changes we recommend go beyond Last Breaking Change, and somehow change the philosophy of the specification, so can be perceived as controversial. However, they reach their target, which is to turn most defects into errors while keeping the overall syntax look and feel. Although the added restrictions would require to update some existing schemas, we found that a significant number of public schemas already conform to our proposed restrictions.

Common Defects

Defects come mostly from JSON Schema lax independent keywords and loose defaults: With JSON Schema, there is no constraint on where you put valid keywords, and unknown keywords are silently ignored for ensuring upward compatibility. As a result, mistyping, misnaming, misspelling or misplacing a keyword simply results in the keyword being silently ignored, and these unintentional errors tend to stay in schemas without being ever detected as they are legal.

In the worst case, schemas may not be satisfiable at all. Consider this schema extract (line 48,037 of Ansible 2.5), where both allowed values are integers, which mean that it will always fail when checking that they are also strings:

  "type": "string",
  "enum": [ 80, 443 ]

Other defects often manifest themselves as ignored keywords. Consider the following schema extract (line 614 of .NET Template), where uniqueItems applies to a string, thus is always ignored on a validated schema, and should have been attached to the upper level:

  "type": "array",
  "items": {
    "type": "string",
    "uniqueItems": true

Or this extract (line 55 of Azure Device Update Manifest), where propertyNames applies to a string thus is also always ignored, and should also be moved up to be effective.

  "type": "object",
  "additionalProperties": {
    "type": "string",
    "propertyNames": {
      "minLength": 1,
      "maxLength": 32

Or this extract (line 443 of Fly), where the misplaced additionalProperties is taken as a forbidden property name instead of applying to the surrounding object:

  "type": "object",
  "properties": {
    "image": { "type": "string" },
    "additionalProperties": false

We have found many such issues in our corpus of 57,800 distinct schemas. This could be significantly improved with limited although bold changes to the spec.


Based on these evidence, we recommend to tighten the JSON Schema specification by adding restrictions to keyword occurences. The strictest version of these proposed changes are:

  • type declarations, either explicit (type), implicit (enum, const, $ref), or through combinators (allOf, anyOf, oneOf) should be mandatory and appear only once, i.e. these keywords should be exclusive.
  • type declarations should be simple scalars, i.e. union could only be achieved with combinators.
  • type-specific keywords must appear only along their type, at the same level.
  • unknown keywords must be rejected, although there should be some allowance for extensions, eg with prefixed property names such as x-*, or some other mechanism.
  • about 20 seldom-used keywords could be removed, for various reasons: implementation complexity for dynamicRef and dynamicAnchor, understanding complexity for if/then/else/not (which can in most cases be removed), underusage for some others.

Note that other syntactic and semantic changes could help reduce the number of defects by ruling out some cases but allowing others. Our proposal is simple (constraints are in the syntax, all conformant tool would enforce it) and effective (most defects are ruled out).

With these rules, the first three examples above become invalid. We think that such changes result in schema descriptions which are easier to understand and maintain, and that validation could be more efficient.

Although some description tricks are not possible anymore with these restrictions, we believe that they bring a significant overall software engineering benefit by expliciting the expected structure. Moreover, many existing schemas already conform to these restrictive rules and would not need to be changed at all.


This is an academic study, done by people who are fully independent from the JSON Schema community and the companies that support services around it.

From an academic perspective, it is very hard to dismiss some data because it could be interpreted as if we would have kept only data which support some point of view, which would constitute a bias. Thus we collected and analyzed all the schemas we could find. If someone can provide other public sources, we will be very happy to rerun our analysis and update our figures. In particular, we would love to extract schemas from OpenAPI and other specs, but we have not found a simple way to scrap these yet. Support to collect such spec from Postman which holds many thousands of samples would be appreciated.

Note that there is no magic: we can only analyse data that we can access. Maybe the public schemas we found are somehow not representative, and the picture could be different if we could access privately held schemas. Well, we cannot say anything about what we cannot see!

Our study provides a first analysis of the causes of defects, say a typo, a misplacement… which we believe go undetected in projects because they are allowed by the spec, thus we tackle the issue from this perspective. The spec changes we propose to rule these out may possibly break some use cases. However, which would be broken without a possible solution or mitigation is unclear.