Preferred method to store PHP arrays (json_encode vs serialize)


Question

I need to store a multi-dimensional associative array of data in a flat file for caching purposes. I might occasionally come across the need to convert it to JSON for use in my web app but the vast majority of the time I will be using the array directly in PHP.

Would it be more efficient to store the array as JSON or as a PHP serialized array in this text file? I've looked around and it seems that in the newest versions of PHP (5.3), json_decode is actually faster than unserialize.

I'm currently leaning towards storing the array as JSON as I feel its easier to read by a human if necessary, it can be used in both PHP and JavaScript with very little effort, and from what I've read, it might even be faster to decode (not sure about encoding, though).

Does anyone know of any pitfalls? Anyone have good benchmarks to show the performance benefits of either method?

1
583
3/6/2015 10:58:23 PM

Accepted Answer

Depends on your priorities.

If performance is your absolute driving characteristic, then by all means use the fastest one. Just make sure you have a full understanding of the differences before you make a choice

  • Unlike serialize() you need to add extra parameter to keep UTF-8 characters untouched: json_encode($array, JSON_UNESCAPED_UNICODE) (otherwise it converts UTF-8 characters to Unicode escape sequences).
  • JSON will have no memory of what the object's original class was (they are always restored as instances of stdClass).
  • You can't leverage __sleep() and __wakeup() with JSON
  • By default, only public properties are serialized with JSON. (in PHP>=5.4 you can implement JsonSerializable to change this behavior).
  • JSON is more portable

And there's probably a few other differences I can't think of at the moment.

A simple speed test to compare the two

<?php

ini_set('display_errors', 1);
error_reporting(E_ALL);

// Make a big, honkin test array
// You may need to adjust this depth to avoid memory limit errors
$testArray = fillArray(0, 5);

// Time json encoding
$start = microtime(true);
json_encode($testArray);
$jsonTime = microtime(true) - $start;
echo "JSON encoded in $jsonTime seconds\n";

// Time serialization
$start = microtime(true);
serialize($testArray);
$serializeTime = microtime(true) - $start;
echo "PHP serialized in $serializeTime seconds\n";

// Compare them
if ($jsonTime < $serializeTime) {
    printf("json_encode() was roughly %01.2f%% faster than serialize()\n", ($serializeTime / $jsonTime - 1) * 100);
}
else if ($serializeTime < $jsonTime ) {
    printf("serialize() was roughly %01.2f%% faster than json_encode()\n", ($jsonTime / $serializeTime - 1) * 100);
} else {
    echo "Impossible!\n";
}

function fillArray( $depth, $max ) {
    static $seed;
    if (is_null($seed)) {
        $seed = array('a', 2, 'c', 4, 'e', 6, 'g', 8, 'i', 10);
    }
    if ($depth < $max) {
        $node = array();
        foreach ($seed as $key) {
            $node[$key] = fillArray($depth + 1, $max);
        }
        return $node;
    }
    return 'empty';
}
544
4/16/2018 8:24:17 AM

JSON is simpler and faster than PHP's serialization format and should be used unless:

  • You're storing deeply nested arrays: json_decode(): "This function will return false if the JSON encoded data is deeper than 127 elements."
  • You're storing objects that need to be unserialized as the correct class
  • You're interacting with old PHP versions that don't support json_decode

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