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Serialization in SAFE

Serialization basics with Thoth

If you are using the standard SAFE Template (V3 +), you do not need to worry about serialization, as this is taken care of for you by Fable Remoting. However, if you are "rolling your own" communication channel or want to create an "open" API for multiple consumers, this article may be relevant for you.

When using basic HTTP communication between the client and server, you'll need to consider how to deserialize data from JSON to F# types.

In order to guarantee that the serialization / deserialization routines between client and server are compatible, you should replace the JSON converter in Giraffe / Saturn with the Thoth library's serializer. This is the same library as that used in Fable for deserialization, and so will work seamlessly together.

let configureSerialization (services:IServiceCollection) =

Approaches to deserialization

The Thoth library makes use of decoders to convert JSON into F# values. There are generally two main approaches to take when doing this: automatic and manual decoders.

Assume the following Customer record for the remaining examples.

type Customer =
    { Id : int
      Name : string }

Automatic Decoders

Automatic decoders are the quickest and easier way to deserialize data. It works by Thoth trying to decode JSON automatically from a raw string to an F# type using automatic mapping rules. In the sample below, we fetch data from the /api/customers endpoint and have Thoth create a strongly-typed Decoder for a Customer array.

fetchAs<Customer []> "/api/customers" (Decode.Auto.generateDecoder()) []

If the serialization fails, Thoth will create an Error (rather than Ok) value for this.

Be aware that automatic decoders are designed to work with primitives, collections, F# records, tuples and discriminated unions but cannot deserialize classes.

Improving efficiency with cached decoders

You can reuse decoders when you know you'll be calling them often:

// let-bound value that exists outside of the update function
let customerDecoder = Decode.Auto.generateDecoder<Customer>()

// inside the update function
Fetch.fetchAs (sprintf "api/customers") (Decode.array customerDecoder [])

Notice how the decoder is bound to a single Customer, and not an array. This way, we can also reuse the decoder on other routes, for example api/customers/1 which would return a single Customer object rather than a collection.

Manual Decoders

Manual decoders give you total control over how you rehydrate an object from JSON. Use them when:

  • The JSON does not directly map 1:1 with your F# types
  • You want flexibility to evolve JSON and F# types independently
  • You are calling an external service and need fine-grained control over the deserialization process
  • You are using F# on the client and another language on the server

You create a manual decoder as follows:

let customerDecoder : Decoder<Customer> =
        (fun get ->
            { Id = get.Required.Field "id"
              Name = get.Optional.Field "customerName" Decode.string |> Option.defaultValue "" })

You can now replace the automatically generated decoder from earlier. You can also "manually" decode JSON to Customers as follows:

Decode.fromString customerDecoder """{ "id": 67, "customerName": "Joe Bloggs" }"""

If decoding fails on any field, an error case will be returned.