Ryan Bigg

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Validating nested JSON data with ex_json_schema

24 Nov 2016

I've been working on an Elixir service which reads events from a JSON API and then processes those events. The code to deserialize the events runs a little like this:

defmodule MyApp.Event do
  def deserialize(event_module, data) do
    %{"id" => id, "type" => type, "body" => body} = data
    %__MODULE__{
      id: id,
      type: type,
      body: body |> event_module.deserialize,
    }
  end
end

It's invoked like Event.deserialize(Response, data), where data looks something like:

%{
  "id" => "1",
  "type" => "response",
  "body" => %{
    "survey_id" => "123456",
    "answers" => [
      %{
        "comment" => "Some text goes here"
      }
    ]
  }
}

I've come across an issue where sometimes the event's data is either malformed, or entirely missing and so I want to validate it as it arrives in the service. The way that I've chosen to do this is to use ex_json_schema, which allows you to validate that an Elixir Map matches a JSON Schema specification, which is also defined as an Elixir Map.

In the case of the above data, I want to make sure that the data definitely contains the survey_id, and answers properties, and that every answer has a comment property. If these conditions aren't met, then the data should be declared invalid and the event should not be processed.

To do this, I first declare a schema in the Response module:

defmodule MyApp.Response do
  def schema do
    %{
      "definitions" => %{
        "answer" => %{
          "type" => "object",
          "required" => ["comment"],
          "properties" => %{
            "comment" => %{
              "type" => "string"
            },
          }
        }
      },
      "type" => "object",
      "required" => ["survey_id", "answers"],
      "properties" => %{
        "survey_id" => %{
          "type" => "string"
        },
        "answers" => %{
          "type" => "array",
          "items" => %{
            "$ref" => "#/definitions/answer"
          }
        },
      }
    } |> ExJsonSchema.Schema.resolve
  end
end

This schema defines that the survey_id and answers properties within the "root" of the Map that I'm providing are present, and also validates that all the items within answers have a comment property. Not only this, but it also validates the type of the data that's incoming too. The survey_id and comment properties should always be strings. If they aren't, then the data will be invalid according to this schema.

To use this schema, we first have to resolve it. The ex_json_schema documentation suggests resolving the schema only once:

You should only resolve a schema once to avoid the overhead of resolving it in every validation call.

In order to follow that instruction, I pass the schema to the deserialize function:

defmodule MyApp.Event do
  def deserialize(event_module, data, schema) do
    ...
  end
end

To validate that the data matches the schema, I'm doing this:

defmodule MyApp.Event do
  def process(event_module, event, schema) do
    validate(event, schema)
    |> deserialize(event_module)
  end

  defp validate(event, schema) do
    %{"id" => id, "body" => body} = event

    case ExJsonSchema.Validator.validate(schema, body) do
      :ok -> {:ok, event}
      {:error, errors} -> {:error, id, errors}
    end
  end

  defp deserialize({:ok, event_module, event}, event_module) do
    %{"id" => id, "type" => type, "body" => body} = event
    {:ok, %__MODULE__{
      id: id,
      type: type,
      body: body |> event_module.deserialize,
    }}
  end

  defp deserialize({:error, id, errors}, _), do: {:error, id, errors}
end

There's now two new functions in this Event module: process and validate. The process function serves as the new entrypoint for this module, and it validates and deserializes the data. The validate function uses the schema to validate the data. If the data is valid, it returns {:ok, data}, and if it's not, then it returns {:error, errors, id}. That return value is then passed to deserialize, which will then deserialize a valid event, and pass through the errors if the data was not valid.

This Event.process/3 function can then be invoked like this:

defmodule MyApp.EventProcessor do
  def process_events(event_module, events) do
    schema = event_module.schema # schema may be resolved earlier than this
    Enum.map(events, fn (event) ->
      process_event(event_module, event, schema)
    end)
  end

  def process_event(event_module, event, schema) do
    case Event.process(event_module, event, schema) do
      {:ok, event} -> process_event(event)
      {:error, id, errors} -> handle_error(id, errors)
    end
  end
end

If, for example, a blank event was sent to Event.process/3, it would return the {:error, id, errors} tuple with some errors, which are very readable:

{"Required property survey_id was not present.", "#"},
{"Required property comment was not present.", "#/answer/0"},

It's clear from this output that the event wasn't processed because the survey_id is missing, and the comment is missing from the first answer.

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