Max Van Lyl

Using jq for mapping json to csv


Once in a while, when working with vendors, I might need to make some comparisons between what different vendors/ partners offer. Because documentation can sometimes be incomplete or not completely up to date, I find myself often turning to the vendor's API for answers, since even a handful of sandbox API endpoints can often give you most, if not all, the answers.

Let's dive into an example.


I really, really, really like flaky pastries. I don't know why, but I'm not satisfied until the entire table is covered in flakes. We could dig further into this strange flex, but it's pretty irrelevant. Anyway, to maximize my chances of indulging in this preference, I want to know what types of pastries are offered by 3 bakeries that are located closest to my house. Instead of walking over and asking like a normal human being, I decide to find the answer through more devious ways: hitting their baker.... API. ....this problem statement is already falling apart.

Anyway, let's say I curl baker_1's GET /pastries endpoint, and get the following result:

    "data": [
         // irrelevant stuff
        "pastries": [
            "name": "French Croissant",
            "flake_factor": 10
        "bakery_location": {
            "longitude": 6.11499,
            "latitude": 50.76891
         // moar irrelevant stuff

Ideally, if I am making a comparison of multiple bakeries and their pastries, I might want to share that with my fellow pastry-philes (yes, that's a word). Since spreadsheets are cool and all, I want to do that in a CSV file.


This leads me to 2 problems:

  • I need to get this JSON data in a CSV format
  • I need to be able to repeat this process with minimal effort.

Normally, this could potentially take me quite some time to write a script to parse the json data, filter out the fields I care about and write those to a new file (or output them elsewhere). I would need to do this again for each vendor, assuming the response data will look different each time.

JQ to the rescue:

This is where jq comes into play. A "lightweight and flexible command-line JSON processor", it basically lets you slice and dice up JSON data however you want, with the same ease that grep lets you do it on the command line for regular text.

Now that we have our JSON response stored locally somewhere, let's apply jq to it.

Since all I care about for these bakeries is their pastries and their flake-factor, most of the top-level data is irrelevant to me. I need to dig into the pastries array. I can do that with the following command:

jq -r '.data[] | \
{"type": .pastries[].name, "flake": .pastries[].flake_factor}' \
bakery.json > baker_filtered.json

The above command will take the entries from the data array (.data[]) and pass it further down the filter. There, I can construct a new JSON object with whatever keys I want (in this case, my standardized pastry ratings), and have the values be the desired output from the original JSON object (in this case, entries from the pastries array). I then pass this into a new baker_filtered json file.

You can do some very powerful things with these commands. I have mostly used it to filter out stuff from JSON responses that I don't care about, but as you can see in this case, I created a brand new JSON object with it.

For more tutorials and the full manual, check out jq's home page

Sure, I still need to update the command for each vendor with a different response data structure, but that can be done in a matter of seconds once I've sufficiently grokked the jq syntax.

Lastly, I did say I wanted the final output to be CSV. That can be done with a very quick Python script:

import json
import csv

with open('baker_filtered.json') as json_file:
    data = json.load(json_file)

with open('flaky_pastry_list.csv', 'w') as write_file:
    writer = csv.writer(write_file)
    for row in data:

And there you have it. I might put together a more real-world example with some actual useful data instead of this contrived example, but I hope this can illustrate some of the cool stuff jq will let you do.