Jan-Hendrik Ewers Logo

Serialization Of Pydantic Data Models With JSON Whilst Preserving Type Data

March 8, 2022    pydantic python

I recently encountered an issue where I was relying on Pydantic to know what model I wanted it to select based on the parameters alone. This was fine until I started using models with the same parameters. Hopefully this short guide will quickly cover how to deal with this.

The Problem

Let’s quickly define the problem. We have a base-class Base which A and B inherits all their attributes from and does not add anything themselves. We then create another class C which houses either A or B in C.baz.

class Base(pydantic.BaseModel):
    foo: float
    bar: float

class A(Base):

class B(Base):
class C(pydantic.BaseModel):
    baz: Union[A,B]

If we were then to serialize and deserialize an instance of C with baz holding a B object, the resultant C class would actually be holding a A object at baz after all is said and done. This is because json doesn’t hold type information by design which forces Pydantic to pick either A or B based on order listed in the type definition.

c = C(baz=B(foo=0.1, bar=0.2))

print(c.json()) # {"baz": {"foo": 0.1, "bar": 0.2}}

#                              The problem
#                                  \/ 
print(C.parse_raw(d.json())) # baz=A(foo=0.1, bar=0.2)

The Solution

We need to define custom en- and de-coders to store type data along the actual data. Pydantic sadly does not handle this very elegantly so extra care needs to be take when using these methods within your codebase.

First, let’s define the encoder that will store the class name as under _type.

custom_encoder = lambda obj:  dict(_type=type(obj).__name__, **obj.dict())

We then add the json_encoders configuration to the model.

class C(pydantic.BaseModel):
    baz: Base

    class Config:
        json_encoders = {
            Base: custom_encoder

c = C(baz=B(foo=0.1, bar=0.2))
print(c.json(models_as_dict=False)) # '{"baz": {"_type": "B", "foo": 0.1, "bar": 0.2}}'

The next stage is the decoder. For this we turn to json.JSONDecoder and create a custom hook.

class CustomDecoder(json.JSONDecoder):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        json.JSONDecoder.__init__(self, object_hook=self.object_hook, *args, **kwargs)
    def object_hook(self, obj):
        _type = obj.get('_type')
        if _type is None:
            return obj
        del obj['_type'] # Delete the `_type` key as it isn't used in the models
        mapping = {f.__name__:f for f in [A, B]} # Create a look-up object to avoid an if-else chain
        return mapping[_type].parse_obj(obj)

Then finally add it to the C model using functools.partial.

class C(pydantic.BaseModel):
    baz: Base
    class Config:
        json_encoders = {
            Base: custom_encoder
        json_loads = functools.partial(json.loads, cls=CustomDecoder)

The Result

Finally we have a suitable method for serializing and de-serializing a custom object in a way that retains type data!

Below is a quick demonstration which shows how to use this method along with the models_as_dict=False parameter.

c = C(baz=B(foo=0.1, bar=0.2))
c_json = c.json(models_as_dict=False) # models_as_dict=False is VERY important! Excluding it will invalidate all of this.

#                              It works!
#                                \/ 
print(C.parse_raw(c_json)) # baz=B(foo=0.1, bar=0.2)

Problems You Might Encounter

  1. This won’t work if the field uses a Union type. I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t. That is why I have set baz: Base rather than baz: Union[A,B], where the latter is more readable in my opinion.
  2. The output is less “pretty”