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JMESPath is a mature syntax for traversing and manipulating JSON objects. The syntax is also supported with multiple language implementations available through GitHub (and other implementations exist). As a result, it has been very widely adopted; just a few examples include:

  • Azure CLI
  • AWS CLI and Lambda
  • Oracle Cloud WAF
  • Splunk

As the syntax is very flexible and recursive in its use following the documented notation can be a little tricky to start with. So following the syntax can be rather tricky. The complete definition runs to 97 lines, of which 32 lines focus on the syntactical structure. The others describe the base types such as numbers, characters, accepted escaped characters, and so on. Nothing wrong with this, as the exhaustive definition is necessary to build parsers. But for the majority of the time it is those 32 lines that we need to understand.

As the expression goes – ‘a picture says a thousand words’, there might not be a thousand words, but there is enough to suggest a visual representation will help. Even if the visual only helps us traverse the use of the detailed syntax. So we’ve use our favoured visual representation – the railroad diagram and the tool produced by Tab Akins to create the representation. We’ve put the code and created images for the syntax in my GitHub repository here, continuing the pattern previously adopted.

Here is the resulting diagram …

To make it easy to trace back to the original syntax document we’ve included groupings on the diagram that have names from the original speciofication.

Parts of the diagram make the expressions look rather simple, but you’ll note that it is possible for the sections to be iterative which allows for the expression to traverse a JSON object of undefined depth. But what can be really challenging is that an in many areas it is possible to nest expressions within expressions. Visually there is no simple way to represent the expression possibilities of this in a linear manner. Other than be clear about where the nesting can take place.