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1. Overview

In this article, we’ll have a look at working with class hierarchies in Jackson.

Two typical use cases are the inclusion of subtype metadata and ignoring properties inherited from superclasses. We’re going to describe those two scenarios and a couple of circumstances where special treatment of subtypes is needed.

2. Inclusion of Subtype Information

There are two ways to add type information when serializing and deserializing data objects, namely global default typing and per-class annotations.

2.1. Global Default Typing

The following three Java classes will be used to illustrate global inclusion of type metadata.

Vehicle superclass:

public abstract class Vehicle {
    private String make;
    private String model;

    protected Vehicle(String make, String model) {
        this.make = make;
        this.model = model;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

Car subclass:

public class Car extends Vehicle {
    private int seatingCapacity;
    private double topSpeed;

    public Car(String make, String model, int seatingCapacity, double topSpeed) {
        super(make, model);
        this.seatingCapacity = seatingCapacity;
        this.topSpeed = topSpeed;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

Truck subclass:

public class Truck extends Vehicle {
    private double payloadCapacity;

    public Truck(String make, String model, double payloadCapacity) {
        super(make, model);
        this.payloadCapacity = payloadCapacity;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

Global default typing allows type information to be declared just once by enabling it on an ObjectMapper object. That type metadata will then be applied to all designated types. As a result, it is very convenient to use this method for adding type metadata, especially when there are a large number of types involved. The downside is that it uses fully-qualified Java type names as type identifiers, and is thus unsuitable for interactions with non-Java systems, and is only applicable to several pre-defined kinds of types.

The Vehicle structure shown above is used to populate an instance of Fleet class:

public class Fleet {
    private List<Vehicle> vehicles;
    
    // getters and setters
}

To embed type metadata, we need to enable the typing functionality on the ObjectMapper object that will be used for serialization and deserialization of data objects later on:

ObjectMapper.enableDefaultTyping(ObjectMapper.DefaultTyping applicability, JsonTypeInfo.As includeAs)

The applicability parameter determines the types requiring type information, and the includeAs parameter is the mechanism for type metadata inclusion. Additionally, two other variants of the enableDefaultTyping method are provided:

  • ObjectMapper.enableDefaultTyping(ObjectMapper.DefaultTyping applicability): allows the caller to specify the applicability, while using WRAPPER_ARRAY as the default value for includeAs
  • ObjectMapper.enableDefaultTyping(): uses OBJECT_AND_NON_CONCRETE as the default value for applicability and WRAPPER_ARRAY as the default value for includeAs

Let’s see how it works. To begin, we need to create an ObjectMapper object and enable default typing on it:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();
mapper.enableDefaultTyping();

The next step is to instantiate and populate the data structure introduced at the beginning of this sub-section. The code to do it will be re-used later on in the subsequent sub-sections. For the sake of convenience and re-use, we will name it the vehicle instantiation block.

Car car = new Car("Mercedes-Benz", "S500", 5, 250.0);
Truck truck = new Truck("Isuzu", "NQR", 7500.0);

List<Vehicle> vehicles = new ArrayList<>();
vehicles.add(car);
vehicles.add(truck);

Fleet serializedFleet = new Fleet();
serializedFleet.setVehicles(vehicles);

Those populated objects will then be serialized:

String jsonDataString = mapper.writeValueAsString(serializedFleet);

The resulting JSON string:

{
    "vehicles": 
    [
        "java.util.ArrayList",
        [
            [
                "org.baeldung.jackson.inheritance.Car",
                {
                    "make": "Mercedes-Benz",
                    "model": "S500",
                    "seatingCapacity": 5,
                    "topSpeed": 250.0
                }
            ],

            [
                "org.baeldung.jackson.inheritance.Truck",
                {
                    "make": "Isuzu",
                    "model": "NQR",
                    "payloadCapacity": 7500.0
                }
            ]
        ]
    ]
}

During deserialization, objects are recovered from the JSON string with type data preserved:

Fleet deserializedFleet = mapper.readValue(jsonDataString, Fleet.class);

The recreated objects will be the same concrete subtypes as they were before serialization:

assertThat(deserializedFleet.getVehicles().get(0), instanceOf(Car.class));
assertThat(deserializedFleet.getVehicles().get(1), instanceOf(Truck.class));

2.2. Per-Class Annotations

Per-class annotation is a powerful method to include type information and can be very useful for complex use cases where a significant level of customization is necessary. However, this can only be achieved at the expense of complication. Per-class annotations override global default typing if type information is configured in both ways.

To make use of this method, the supertype should be annotated with @JsonTypeInfo and several other relevant annotations. This subsection will use a data model similar to the Vehicle structure in the previous example to illustrate per-class annotations. The only change is the addition of annotations on Vehicle abstract class, as shown below:

@JsonTypeInfo(
  use = JsonTypeInfo.Id.NAME, 
  include = JsonTypeInfo.As.PROPERTY, 
  property = "type")
@JsonSubTypes({ 
  @Type(value = Car.class, name = "car"), 
  @Type(value = Truck.class, name = "truck") 
})
public abstract class Vehicle {
    // fields, constructors, getters and setters
}

Data objects are created using the vehicle instantiation block introduced in the previous subsection, and then serialized:

String jsonDataString = mapper.writeValueAsString(serializedFleet);

The serialization produces the following JSON structure:

{
    "vehicles": 
    [
        {
            "type": "car",
            "make": "Mercedes-Benz",
            "model": "S500",
            "seatingCapacity": 5,
            "topSpeed": 250.0
        },

        {
            "type": "truck",
            "make": "Isuzu",
            "model": "NQR",
            "payloadCapacity": 7500.0
        }
    ]
}

That string is used to re-create data objects:

Fleet deserializedFleet = mapper.readValue(jsonDataString, Fleet.class);

Finally, the whole progress is validated:

assertThat(deserializedFleet.getVehicles().get(0), instanceOf(Car.class));
assertThat(deserializedFleet.getVehicles().get(1), instanceOf(Truck.class));

3. Ignoring Properties from a Supertype

Sometimes, some properties inherited from superclasses need to be ignored during serialization or deserialization. This can be achieved by one of three methods: annotations, mix-ins and annotation introspection.

3.1. Annotations

There are two commonly used Jackson annotations to ignore properties, which are @JsonIgnore and @JsonIgnoreProperties. The former is directly applied to type members, telling Jackson to ignore the corresponding property when serializing or deserializing. The latter is used at any level, including type and type member, to list properties that should be ignored.

@JsonIgnoreProperties is more powerful than the other since it allows us to ignore properties inherited from supertypes that we do not have control of, such as types in an external library. In addition, this annotation allows us to ignore many properties at once, which can lead to more understandable code in some cases.

The following class structure is used to demonstrate annotation usage:

public abstract class Vehicle {
    private String make;
    private String model;

    protected Vehicle(String make, String model) {
        this.make = make;
        this.model = model;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

@JsonIgnoreProperties({ "model", "seatingCapacity" })
public abstract class Car extends Vehicle {
    private int seatingCapacity;
    
    @JsonIgnore
    private double topSpeed;

    protected Car(String make, String model, int seatingCapacity, double topSpeed) {
        super(make, model);
        this.seatingCapacity = seatingCapacity;
        this.topSpeed = topSpeed;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

public class Sedan extends Car {
    public Sedan(String make, String model, int seatingCapacity, double topSpeed) {
        super(make, model, seatingCapacity, topSpeed);
    }

    // no-arg constructor
}

public class Crossover extends Car {
    private double towingCapacity;

    public Crossover(String make, String model, int seatingCapacity, 
      double topSpeed, double towingCapacity) {
        super(make, model, seatingCapacity, topSpeed);
        this.towingCapacity = towingCapacity;
    }

    // no-arg constructor, getters and setters
}

As you can see, @JsonIgnore tells Jackson to ignore Car.topSpeed property, while @JsonIgnoreProperties ignores the Vehicle.model and Car.seatingCapacity ones.

The behavior of both annotations is validated by the following test. First, we need to instantiate ObjectMapper and data classes, then use that ObjectMapper instance to serialize data objects:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();

Sedan sedan = new Sedan("Mercedes-Benz", "S500", 5, 250.0);
Crossover crossover = new Crossover("BMW", "X6", 5, 250.0, 6000.0);

List<Vehicle> vehicles = new ArrayList<>();
vehicles.add(sedan);
vehicles.add(crossover);

String jsonDataString = mapper.writeValueAsString(vehicles);

jsonDataString contains the following JSON array:

[
    {
        "make": "Mercedes-Benz"
    },
    {
        "make": "BMW",
        "towingCapacity": 6000.0
    }
]

Finally, we will prove the presence or absence of various property names in the resulting JSON string:

assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("make"));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("model")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("seatingCapacity")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("topSpeed")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("towingCapacity"));

3.2. Mix-ins

Mix-ins allow us to apply behavior (such as ignoring properties when serializing and deserializing) without the need to directly apply annotations to a class. This is especially useful when dealing with third-party classes, in which we cannot modify the code directly.

This sub-section reuses the class inheritance chain introduced in the previous one, except that the @JsonIgnore and @JsonIgnoreProperties annotations on the Car class have been removed:

public abstract class Car extends Vehicle {
    private int seatingCapacity;
    private double topSpeed;
        
    // fields, constructors, getters and setters
}

In order to demonstrate operations of mix-ins, we will ignore Vehicle.make and Car.topSpeed properties, then use a test to make sure everything works as expected.

The first step is to declare a mix-in type:

private abstract class CarMixIn {
    @JsonIgnore
    public String make;
    @JsonIgnore
    public String topSpeed;
}

Next, the mix-in is bound to a data class through an ObjectMapper object:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();
mapper.addMixIn(Car.class, CarMixIn.class);

After that, we instantiate data objects and serialize them into a string:

Sedan sedan = new Sedan("Mercedes-Benz", "S500", 5, 250.0);
Crossover crossover = new Crossover("BMW", "X6", 5, 250.0, 6000.0);

List<Vehicle> vehicles = new ArrayList<>();
vehicles.add(sedan);
vehicles.add(crossover);

String jsonDataString = mapper.writeValueAsString(vehicles);

jsonDataString now contains the following JSON:

[
    {
        "model": "S500",
        "seatingCapacity": 5
    },
    {
        "model": "X6",
        "seatingCapacity": 5,
        "towingCapacity": 6000.0
    }
]

Finally, let’s verify the result:

assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("make")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("model"));
assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("seatingCapacity"));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("topSpeed")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("towingCapacity"));

3.3. Annotation Introspection

Annotation introspection is the most powerful method to ignore supertype properties since it allows for detailed customization using the AnnotationIntrospector.hasIgnoreMarker API.

This sub-section makes use of the same class hierarchy as the preceding one. In this use case, we will ask Jackson to ignore Vehicle.model, Crossover.towingCapacity and all properties declared in the Car class. Let’s start with the declaration of a class that extends the JacksonAnnotationIntrospector interface:

class IgnoranceIntrospector extends JacksonAnnotationIntrospector {
    public boolean hasIgnoreMarker(AnnotatedMember m) {
        return m.getDeclaringClass() == Vehicle.class && m.getName() == "model" 
          || m.getDeclaringClass() == Car.class 
          || m.getName() == "towingCapacity" 
          || super.hasIgnoreMarker(m);
    }
}

The introspector will ignore any properties (that is, it will treat them as if they were marked as ignored via one of the other methods) that match the set of conditions defined in the method.

The next step is to register an instance of the IgnoranceIntrospector class with an ObjectMapper object:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();
mapper.setAnnotationIntrospector(new IgnoranceIntrospector());

Now we create and serialize data objects in the same way as in section 3.2. The contents of the newly produced string are:

[
    {
        "make": "Mercedes-Benz"
    },
    {
        "make": "BMW"
    }
]

Finally, we’ll verify that the introspector worked as intended:

assertThat(jsonDataString, containsString("make"));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("model")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("seatingCapacity")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("topSpeed")));
assertThat(jsonDataString, not(containsString("towingCapacity")));

4. Subtype Handling Scenarios

This section will deal with two interesting scenarios relevant to subclass handling.

4.1. Conversion Between Subtypes

Jackson allows an object to be converted to a type other than the original one. In fact, this conversion may happen among any compatible types, but it is most helpful when used between two subtypes of the same interface or class to secure values and functionality.

In order to demonstrate conversion of a type to another one, we will reuse the Vehicle hierarchy taken from section 2, with the addition of the @JsonIgnore annotation on properties in Car and Truck to avoid incompatibility.

public class Car extends Vehicle {
    @JsonIgnore
    private int seatingCapacity;

    @JsonIgnore
    private double topSpeed;

    // constructors, getters and setters
}

public class Truck extends Vehicle {
    @JsonIgnore
    private double payloadCapacity;

    // constructors, getters and setters
}

The following code will verify that a conversion is successful and that the new object preserves data values from the old one:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();

Car car = new Car("Mercedes-Benz", "S500", 5, 250.0);
Truck truck = mapper.convertValue(car, Truck.class);

assertEquals("Mercedes-Benz", truck.getMake());
assertEquals("S500", truck.getModel());

4.2. Deserialization Without No-arg Constructors

By default, Jackson recreates data objects by using no-arg constructors. This is inconvenient in some cases, such as when a class has non-default constructors and users have to write no-arg ones just to satisfy Jackson’s requirements. It is even more troublesome in a class hierarchy where a no-arg constructor must be added to a class and all those higher in the inheritance chain. In these cases, creator methods come to the rescue.

This section will use an object structure similar to the one in section 2, with some changes to constructors. Specifically, all no-arg constructors are dropped, and constructors of concrete subtypes are annotated with @JsonCreator and @JsonProperty to make them creator methods.

public class Car extends Vehicle {

    @JsonCreator
    public Car(
      @JsonProperty("make") String make, 
      @JsonProperty("model") String model, 
      @JsonProperty("seating") int seatingCapacity, 
      @JsonProperty("topSpeed") double topSpeed) {
        super(make, model);
        this.seatingCapacity = seatingCapacity;
            this.topSpeed = topSpeed;
    }

    // fields, getters and setters
}

public class Truck extends Vehicle {

    @JsonCreator
    public Truck(
      @JsonProperty("make") String make, 
      @JsonProperty("model") String model, 
      @JsonProperty("payload") double payloadCapacity) {
        super(make, model);
        this.payloadCapacity = payloadCapacity;
    }

    // fields, getters and setters
}

A test will verify that Jackson can deal with objects that lack no-arg constructors:

ObjectMapper mapper = new ObjectMapper();
mapper.enableDefaultTyping();
        
Car car = new Car("Mercedes-Benz", "S500", 5, 250.0);
Truck truck = new Truck("Isuzu", "NQR", 7500.0);

List<Vehicle> vehicles = new ArrayList<>();
vehicles.add(car);
vehicles.add(truck);

Fleet serializedFleet = new Fleet();
serializedFleet.setVehicles(vehicles);

String jsonDataString = mapper.writeValueAsString(serializedFleet);
mapper.readValue(jsonDataString, Fleet.class);

5. Conclusion

This tutorial has covered several interesting use cases to demonstrate Jackson’s support for type inheritance, with a focus on polymorphism and ignorance of supertype properties.

The implementation of all these examples and code snippets can be found in a GitHub project.

I just announced the new Spring 5 modules in REST With Spring:

>> CHECK OUT THE LESSONS