Comparing XML and JSON (Part 1)

Introduction to XML and JSON

When data needs to be exchanged between different languages, servers or computers, you need to use a standardized format. For the longest time, XML was the only real choice for data interchange; however, another player came onto the scene in the 2000s. This new competitor was JSON, and the format has been gaining popularity ever since. In this article, we’ll be comparing XML and JSON and providing a brief overview of each standardized format.

Brief Overview of XML

XML, whose name is an acronym for Extensible Markup Language, is a machine- and human-readable markup language that is quite similar to HTML. It can store a variety of different data types, and its markup syntax allows you to apply data attributes to its fields and values. XML can even store and convert data for audio, video, and images using the XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) library.

Brief Overview of JSON

JSON, which is short for JavaScript Object Notation, is considered more of a data type or file format than it is a “language”. It was derived from JavaScript in the early 2000s to provide a stateless protocol for communicating and exchanging data between APIs and servers. The term “stateless” means that the protocol has no previous interaction states stored within it. JSON supports a wide variety of data types, including strings, integers and even objects with name-value pairs.

Similarities between JSON and XML

JSON and XML are both fairly readable to the human eye and work well for interchanges involving nested and complex data structures. They both boast near-universal language support, including Unicode support. Both formats also come with readily-available APIs for most programming languages. XML and JSON also support complex, nested data and can be fetched with an XMLHttpRequest.

It’s clear that JSON and XML have a few characteristics in common, but the similarities end there. JSON is shorter, easier to parse, and doesn’t have end tags like HTML and XML. Instead, it uses curly braces, commas, parentheses and square brackets to delimit data.

Some Advantages of XML over JSON

JSON has grown in favor in recent years, and XML has fallen somewhat in decline; however, there are still a few advantages to using XML:

  • Depending on the use case, it is sometimes more readable than JSON.
  • It’s often shorter in length, although it takes up more storage space.
  • XML is useful for storing data on a server.
  • You can use markup, as you do in HTML, to add properties or additional information to data in XML.
  • Because it’s a markup language, XML is more flexible than JSON. Adding properties to JSON data can require more work.

Disadvantages of XML Compared to JSON

JSON has experienced a tremendous growth in popularity over the year, and it has surpassed XML as far as adoption and usability.

The following list presents some reasons to consider JSON over XML:

  • JSON uses less bandwidth, storage and memory than XML
  • XML is more complex and verbose, especially when storing multiple data fields. In comparison, JSON key-value pairs are less complex and take up less space.
  • JSON is more lightweight, which makes it more suitable for exchanging data between a server and browsers.
  • JSON is generally less vulnerable to attacks.
  • XML is more difficult to learn.
  • XML currently has a lower adoption rate and less overall support than JSON.
  • JSON can be more readable when multi-dimensional nested data is involved.
  • Many NoSQL databases, such as MongoDB, have more native support for JSON and will even store their documents in a JSON or JSON-like format.
  • Most modern-day programming languages have native support for JSON or JSON-like objects; on the other hand, XML support typically requires third-party packages and libraries

Using XML for Complex Data

JSON has gained a lot of traction over XML because of its readability and ease of use. In addition, its almost universal compatibility with coding languages makes it a language-agnostic data interchange format. However, XML is very useful for complex data, both in readability and in its ability to mark up data.


If you’re unsure what format to use for data interchange, it can be helpful to list the features and benefits of each one. In this article, we’ve been comparing XML and JSON to highlight the similarities and differences between the two formats. With this comparison to guide you, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which format will work best for your organization’s data and meet your specific requirements.

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