Objects in jq

4 exercises

About Objects

A JSON object is, to use terminology from other languages, a "hash", "map", or "dictionary".

JSON defines an object as:

An object is an unordered set of name/value pairs. An object begins with { left brace and ends with } right brace. Each name is followed by : colon and the name/value pairs are separated by , comma.

The name must be a string. Another word for name is key.

The value can be of any JSON type. Different values in the same object can be of different types, like this example.

  "name": "Jane",
  "age": 42,
  "pets": ["cat", "fish"],
  "address": {"street": "123 Main St", "city": "Springfield"}

Note that there must not be a comma following the last key-value pair.

Creating objects

Use braces to collect the name/value pairs. Even though the names must be strings, they do not need to be quoted if the names are identifier-like (composed of alphanumeric characters and underscore, and not started with a digit).

{name: "Jane", age: 42}

It is valid to use keys that are not identifier-like. Just quote them.

{"first name": "Jane", "last name": "Lopez", age: 42}

If the name is the result of an expression, the expression must be in parentheses.

$ echo "Jane" | jq -Rc '{.: 42}'
jq: error: syntax error, unexpected '.' (Unix shell quoting issues?) at <top-level>, line 1:
{.: 42}
jq: error: May need parentheses around object key expression at <top-level>, line 1:
{.: 42}
jq: 2 compile errors

$ echo "Jane" | jq -Rc '{(.): 42}'

Short-hand notations

A couple of frequent cases for object construction have short-hand syntax.

  1. Re-using key-value pairs from an input object.

    $ jq -n '$ENV | {USER: .USER, EDITOR: .EDITOR}'
      "USER": "glennj",
      "EDITOR": "vim"

    $ENV is a object holding the name-value pairs of the environment.

    The repetitive key: .key pairs can be written as just key

    $ jq -n '$ENV | {USER, EDITOR}'
      "USER": "glennj",
      "EDITOR": "vim"
  2. Similarly, there's a short-hand when using variables.

    $ jq -cn '"foo" as $a | "bar" as $b | {a: $a, b: $b}'
    $ jq -cn '"foo" as $a | "bar" as $b | {$a, $b}'


Values are retrieved from an object with dot notation.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | .age    # => 42

If you cannot refer to the key as an identifier, use bracket notation.

"name" as $key | {name: "Jane", age: 42} | .$key    # => error
"name" as $key | {name: "Jane", age: 42} | .[$key]  # => "Jane"

If the key is not in the object, the result is null.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | .sport  # => null

Indexing nested values

You will discover that this is an action you need to do again and again when parsing results from API queries.

Given an object that contains array or object values, we can "chain" index expressions together.

  "name": "Jane",
  "age": 42,
  "pets": ["cat", "fish"],
  "address": {"street": "123 Main St", "city": "Springfield"}
| (
  .pets[1],       # => "fish"   # => "Springfield"

Adding or changing key-value pairs

To add a new key-value pair to an array, or to update the value of an existing key, use the = assignment operator, with an index expression on the left-hand side.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | .sport = "tennis" | .age = 21
# => {
#      "name": "Jane",
#      "age": 21,
#      "sport": "tennis"
#    }

The + operator will merge objects.

{Richard: 54} + {Jane: 42}
# => {
#      "Richard": 54,
#      "Jane": 42
#    }

Removing a key

Use the del function to remove a key. It returns the updated object.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | del(.age)   # => {"name": "Jane"}

The parameter to del is an index expression (using dot- or bracket-notation) that resolves to a key in the object. jq calls it a path expression. It is not sufficient to just give a string.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | del(name)        # error: name/0 is not defined
{name: "Jane", age: 42} | del("name")      # error: Invalid path expression with result "name"
{name: "Jane", age: 42} | del(.name)       # OK
{name: "Jane", age: 42} | del(.["name"])   # OK


  • To test if the object has a key, use the has function.

    {name: "Jane", age: 42} as $example
      ($example | has("name")),    # => true
      ($example | has("sport"))    # => false
  • Test if a key is in an object with in.

    {name: "Jane", age: 42} as $example
      ("name"  | in($example)),    # => true
      ("sport" | in($example))     # => false

List the keys or values

Use the keys function to output a list of all the keys.

{name: "Jane", age: 42} | keys   # => ["age", "name"]

Note that keys will sort the keys. To retrieve the keys in the original order, use keys_unsorted.

There is no equivalent function to list all the values. However the .[] filter outputs the object values as a stream, and that stream can be captured with the [...] array constructor.

[{first: "Jane", last: "Lopez", status: "awesome!"} | .[]]
# => ["Jane", "Lopez", "awesome!"]


  • The map_values(filter) function applies the filter to each value in the object.

    {first: "Jane", last: "Lopez", status: "awesome!"}
    | map_values(ascii_upcase)
    # => {"first": "JANE", "last": "LOPEZ", "status": "AWESOME!"}
  • To iterate over an object, we must first convert it to an array of key-value objects. The to_entries function does that.

    {name: "Jane", age: 42} | to_entries
    # => [
    #      {
    #        "key": "name",
    #        "value": "Jane"
    #      },
    #      {
    #        "key": "age",
    #        "value": 42
    #      }
    #    ]

    At this point, we can use array iteration functions, like map.

  • The from_entries function is the inverse: convert an array of key-value objects into an object.

      {"key":"name", "value":"Jane"},
      {"key":"age", "value":42}
    ] | from_entries                  # => {"name": "Jane", "age": 42}
  • To apply a filter to each key-value pair in an object, use the with_entries(filter) function.

    For example, given an object that maps a name to an age, the keys and values can be swapped as follows.

    {"Jane": 42, "Richard": 54}
    | with_entries({key: (.value | tostring), value: .key})


      "42": "Jane",
      "54": "Richard"

    with_entries(filter) is the same as

    to_entries | map(filter) | from_entries
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