Unwrapping JSON to SQL Server Tables

If you know the structure and contents of a JSON document, then it is possible to turn this into one or more relational tables, but even then I dare to you claim that it is easy to tap in a good OpenJSON SELECT statement to do it. If you don’t know what’s in that JSON file, then you’re faced with sweating over a text editor trying to work it all out. You long to just get the contents into a relational table and take it on from there. Even then, You’ve got several struggles before that table appears in the result pane. You must get the path to the tabular data correct, you have to work out the SQL Datatypes, and you need to list the full panoply of keys. Let’s face it: it is a chore. Hopefully, all that is in the past with these helper functions.

What about being able to do this, for example …


…and getting this?

Or if there is more than one table somewhere there…


You may not want table results straight out of your JSON: I’m really just showing off, but I’m going to describe some routines that are useful to me for dealing with JSON import. Your requirements may be more subtle.

The first stage is to get a good representation of a json document so you can work on it in SQL. I do this with a multi-statement table-valued function, but you’ll see that it is a mostly pretty simple unwrapping of the json document. Built into it is a way of gauging the most appropriate SQL Datatype for each value. Unless you adopt JSON Schema, there is no onus on being consistent in assigning values to keys, so you have to test every simple value (i.e. everything other than arrays or objects)


Now, you have the document as a table. You can now unpick this in several ways, but we want to get all the tables that are embedded in the json. These are generally represented as arrays of objects, each of these objects representing a ‘document’ or ‘row’. In JSON, you can, of course, have an object or array as a value for one of the keys within the object; equivalent to storing xml or json in a relational column- but we’re after the simple columns.

Because we are looking for the tables, we can get a quick listing of them. (in reality, you’d probably only want a sample of each if you’re just browsing)

First we place the output of dbo.unwrapJSON into a temporary table. I’ve chosen #jsonObject. Now we can see the rows, if there are any table structures within the JSON.


Well, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. What I want is the OpenJSON query that I can execute to get the actual result.

Here is an inline table function that does just that, using the expression I’ve just shown you.

So we try it out with some JSON that has two table in it.


From this we get the result …

Which are the following queries…

Well, those look suspiciously-executable; so we’ll do just that, in the following procedure


And voila! Two results.

So there we have it. I have to admit that the TablesFromJSON procedure isn’t quite so practical as I’d like because it is impossible to get more than one result from a stored procedure within SQL (no problem from an application, of course). It turned out to be very useful in testing all the code out, though.

I use all three routines. I hope that they’re useful to you. If you spot a bug, then let me know in the comments.

These are stored with my JSON/SQL Server routines here Phil-Factor/JSONSQLServerRoutines