Tutorial :Serialize Entity Framework objects into JSON


It seems that serializing Entity Framework objects into JSON is not possible using either WCF's native DataContractJsonSerializer or ASP.NET's native JavaScript serializer. This is due to the reference counting issues both serializers reject. I have also tried Json.NET, which also fails specifically on a Reference Counting issue.

Edit: Json.NET can now serialize and deserialize Entity Framework entities.

My objects are Entity Framework objects, which are overloaded to perform additional business functionality (eg. authentication, etc.) and I do not want to decorate these classes with platform-specific attributes, etc. as I want to present a platform-agnostic API.

I've actually blogged about the individual steps I went though at https://blog.programx.co.uk/2009/03/18/wcf-json-serialization-woes-and-a-solution/

Have I missed something obvious?


The way I do this is by projecting the data I want to serialize into an anonymous type and serializing that. This ensures that only the information I actually want in the JSON is serialized, and I don't inadvertently serialize something further down the object graph. It looks like this:

var records = from entity in context.Entities                select new                 {                    Prop1 = entity.Prop1,                    Prop2 = entity.Prop2,                    ChildProp = entity.Child.Prop                }  return Json(records);  

I find anonymous types just about ideal for this. The JSON, obviously, doesn't care what type was used to produce it. And anonymous types give you complete flexibility as to what properties and structure you put into the JSON.


Microsoft made an error in the way they made EF objects into data contracts. They included the base classes, and the back links.

Your best bet will be to create equivalent Data Transfer Object classes for each of the entities you want to return. These would include only the data, not the behavior, and not the EF-specific parts of an entity. You would also create methods to translate to and from your DTO classes.

Your services would then return the Data Transfer Objects.


My solution was to simply remove the parent reference on my child entities.

So in my model, I selected the relationship and changed the Parent reference to be Internal rather than Public.

May not be an ideal solution for all, but worked for me.


Based off of @Craig Stuntz answer and similar to a DTO, for my solution I have created a partial class of the model (in a separate file) and a return object method with how I want it using only the properties that will be needed.

namespace TestApplication.Models  {      public partial class Employee      {          public object ToObject()          {              return new              {                   EmployeeID = EmployeeID,                   Name = Name,                   Username = Username,                   Office = Office,                   PhoneNumber = PhoneNumber,                   EmailAddress = EmailAddress,                   Title = Title,                   Department = Department,                   Manager = Manager              };          }      }  }  

And then I call it simply in my return:

var employee = dbCtx.Employees.Where(x => x.Name == usersName).Single();  return employee.ToObject();  

I think the accepted answer is more quick and easy, I just use my method to keep all of my returns consistent and DRY.


One more solution if you want to have better code consistency is to use JavaScriptConverter which will handle circular reference dependencies and will not serialize such references.

I've blogged about here:



FYI I found an alternative solution

You can set the parent relationship as private so then the properties are not exposed during the translation removing the infinite property loop


I battled with this problem for days,

Solution. Inside your edmx window. - right click and add code generation item - Select Code tab - select EF 4x.POCOC Entity Generator

If you don't see it, then you will have to install it with nuget, search EF.

The Entity generator will generate all you complex type and entity object into simple classes to serialize into json.


I solved it by getting only object types from System namespace, and then convert them to Dictionary and then add them to list. Works good for me :)

It looks complicated, but this was the only generic solution that worked for me... I'm using this logic for a helper I'm making, so it's for a special use where I need to be able to intercept every object type in entity object, maybe someone could adapt it to his use.

List<Dictionary<string, string>> outputData = new List<Dictionary<string, string>>();    // convert all items to objects  var data = Data.ToArray().Cast<object>().ToArray();    // get info about objects; and get only those we need  // this will remove circular references and other stuff we don't need  PropertyInfo[] objInfos = data[0].GetType().GetProperties();  foreach (PropertyInfo info in objInfos) {      switch (info.PropertyType.Namespace)      {             // all types that are in "System" namespace should be OK            case "System":                propeties.Add(info.Name);                break;       }  }  Dictionary<string, string> rowsData = null;  foreach (object obj in data) {       rowsData = new Dictionary<string, string>();       Type objType = obj.GetType();       foreach (string propertyName in propeties)       {  //if You don't need to intercept every object type You could just call .ToString(), and remove other code           PropertyInfo info = objType.GetProperty(propertyName);           switch(info.PropertyType.FullName)           {                 case "System.String":                      var colData = info.GetValue(obj, null);                      rowsData.Add(propertyName, colData != null ? colData.ToString() : String.Empty);                      break;  //here You can add more variable types if you need so (like int and so on...)             }        }          outputData .Add(rowsData); // add a new row  }  

"outputData " is safe for JSON encode... Hope someone will find this solution helpful. It was fun writing it :)

Note:If u also have question or solution just comment us below or mail us on toontricks1994@gmail.com
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