Supporting Keypaths - JSON Parsing

Can we handle key paths (like the ones we’re used to in NSDictionary) while parsing JSON? That would be cool right? So, why wait, let’s implement it.

Posts in this series:
// JSON we want to parse
  "status": 200,
  "response": {
    "request_id": 1386,
    "result": {
      "department_name": "National Savings",
      "members": [
          "member_id": 0,
          "name": "Essie Ferrell"
          "member_id": 1,
          "name": "Jaclyn Oneill"
          "member_id": 2,
          "name": "Forbes Tillman"
          "member_id": 3,
          "name": "Fry Odonnell"
          "member_id": 4,
          "name": "Ball Frazier"
// Model
struct Member {
    let memberID: Int
    let name: String

// Curried initializer
func makeMember(memberID: Int) -> (name: String) -> Member {
    return { name in
        return Member(memberID: memberID, name: name)

// Parser
// Nothing fancy, just pass a dictionary and 
// if it can, returns a Member, else a nil
func parseMember(data: [String: AnyObject]) -> Member? {
    return makeMember <*> get(data, key: "member_id")
                      <*> get(data, key: "name")

We defined a method, parseMember, method takes a Dictionary, parses it and returns a Member. This method can’t deal with whole JSON response that we can see above. It can only handle dictionary objects under members key.

So, the question now is, how do we extract only the value of members key?

Using key paths.

Currently, there is no support for it in Swift Dictionaries. Our only option is to cast the Swift Dictionary to NSDictionary and use its valueForKeyPath method.

func keyPath<T>(box: [String: AnyObject], path: String) -> T? {
    return (box as NSDictionary).valueForKeyPath(path) as? T

Because values in box are of type AnyObject we used generics to cast the value property when returning.

Where do we use this method?

The ideal place to use this keyPath function is during transformations ie., while using <~~ or <<~, depending on whether we are talking about a single dictionary or array of dictionaries.

The problem is, keyPath function that we wrote above is not compatible with any of those transformation operators.


If you look at the definition of <~~ operator, the function f (keyPath in our case now) is of type A -> B?. But our keyPath is of type ([String: AnyObject], String) -> T? which is wrong. It should be [String: AnyObject] -> T?, because that is what we get from get method.

That means, our keyPath method should only take one parameter, [String: AnyObject], to be compatible with our operators.

Then how can we pass the


func keyPath<T>(path: String) -> (box: [String: AnyObject]) -> T? {
    return { box in
        return (box as NSDictionary).valueForKeyPath(path) as? T

Saw what I did there? We can invoke keyPath("our.key.path") which returns us a partially applied function that takes a parameter of type [String: AnyObect]. Exactly what we need.

For testing, let’s try to extract the department_name value:

let department: String? = get(json) <~~ keyPath("response.result.department_name")

The above code should print the value Optional("National Savings"). Sweet…

Let’s start the parsing:

let members = get(json) <~~ keyPath("response.result.members") <<~ parseMember

First <~~ is used to get the json as [String: AnyObject] and passed to keyPath which extracts the value of key path. This extracted value is then casted to an array of [String: AnyObject] and each dictionary is passed to parseMember, results are collected and returned.

There you go, we’ve successfully retrieved values through key path and parsed it. Woohoh..!

You can find the whole source code as Gist on GitHub