Fix Python – How to JSON serialize sets?


Asked By – DeaconDesperado

I have a Python set that contains objects with __hash__ and __eq__ methods in order to make certain no duplicates are included in the collection.

I need to json encode this result set, but passing even an empty set to the json.dumps method raises a TypeError.

  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/json/", line 201, in encode
    chunks = self.iterencode(o, _one_shot=True)
  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/json/", line 264, in iterencode
    return _iterencode(o, 0)
  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/json/", line 178, in default
    raise TypeError(repr(o) + " is not JSON serializable")
TypeError: set([]) is not JSON serializable

I know I can create an extension to the json.JSONEncoder class that has a custom default method, but I’m not even sure where to begin in converting over the set. Should I create a dictionary out of the set values within the default method, and then return the encoding on that? Ideally, I’d like to make the default method able to handle all the datatypes that the original encoder chokes on (I’m using Mongo as a data source so dates seem to raise this error too)

Any hint in the right direction would be appreciated.


Thanks for the answer! Perhaps I should have been more precise.

I utilized (and upvoted) the answers here to get around the limitations of the set being translated, but there are internal keys that are an issue as well.

The objects in the set are complex objects that translate to __dict__, but they themselves can also contain values for their properties that could be ineligible for the basic types in the json encoder.

There’s a lot of different types coming into this set, and the hash basically calculates a unique id for the entity, but in the true spirit of NoSQL there’s no telling exactly what the child object contains.

One object might contain a date value for starts, whereas another may have some other schema that includes no keys containing “non-primitive” objects.

That is why the only solution I could think of was to extend the JSONEncoder to replace the default method to turn on different cases – but I’m not sure how to go about this and the documentation is ambiguous. In nested objects, does the value returned from default go by key, or is it just a generic include/discard that looks at the whole object? How does that method accommodate nested values? I’ve looked through previous questions and can’t seem to find the best approach to case-specific encoding (which unfortunately seems like what I’m going to need to do here).

Now we will see solution for issue: How to JSON serialize sets?


JSON notation has only a handful of native datatypes (objects, arrays, strings, numbers, booleans, and null), so anything serialized in JSON needs to be expressed as one of these types.

As shown in the json module docs, this conversion can be done automatically by a JSONEncoder and JSONDecoder, but then you would be giving up some other structure you might need (if you convert sets to a list, then you lose the ability to recover regular lists; if you convert sets to a dictionary using dict.fromkeys(s) then you lose the ability to recover dictionaries).

A more sophisticated solution is to build-out a custom type that can coexist with other native JSON types. This lets you store nested structures that include lists, sets, dicts, decimals, datetime objects, etc.:

from json import dumps, loads, JSONEncoder, JSONDecoder
import pickle

class PythonObjectEncoder(JSONEncoder):
    def default(self, obj):
            return {'_python_object': pickle.dumps(obj).decode('latin-1')}
        except pickle.PickleError:
            return super().default(obj)

def as_python_object(dct):
    if '_python_object' in dct:
        return pickle.loads(dct['_python_object'].encode('latin-1'))
    return dct

Here is a sample session showing that it can handle lists, dicts, and sets:

>>> data = [1,2,3, set(['knights', 'who', 'say', 'ni']), {'key':'value'}, Decimal('3.14')]

>>> j = dumps(data, cls=PythonObjectEncoder)

>>> loads(j, object_hook=as_python_object)
[1, 2, 3, set(['knights', 'say', 'who', 'ni']), {'key': 'value'}, Decimal('3.14')]

Alternatively, it may be useful to use a more general purpose serialization technique such as YAML, Twisted Jelly, or Python’s pickle module. These each support a much greater range of datatypes.

This question is answered By – Raymond Hettinger

This answer is collected from stackoverflow and reviewed by FixPython community admins, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0