Reflection for RapidJSON  0.0.6
Reflection for serializing/deserializing with RapidJSON
Reflective RapidJSON

The main goal of this project is to provide a code generator for serializing/deserializing C++ objects to/from JSON using Clang and RapidJSON.

Extending the generator to generate code for other formats or other applications of reflection is possible as well. A serializer/deserializer for a platform independent binary format has already been implemented.

It would also be possible to extend the library/generator to provide generic reflection (not implemented yet).

The following documentation focuses on the JSON (de)serializer. However, most of it is also true for the mentioned binary (de)serializer which works quite similar.

Open for other reflection approaches

The reflection implementation used behind the scenes of this library is exchangeable:

Current state

The basic functionality is implemented, tested and documented:

Planned features and TODOs

There are still things missing which would likely be very useful in practise. The following list contains the open TODOs which are supposed to be most relevant in practise:

For a full list of further ideas, see ./ "".

Supported datatypes

The following table shows the mapping of supported C++ types to supported JSON types:

C++ type JSON type
custom structures/classes object
bool true/false
signed and unsigned integral types number
float and double number
enum and enum class number
std::string string
const char * string
iteratable lists (std::vector, std::list, ...) array
sets (std::set, std::unordered_set, std::multiset, ...) array
std::tuple array
std::unique_ptr, std::shared_ptr depends/null
std::map, std::unordered_map object
JsonSerializable object



This example shows how the library can be used to make a struct serializable:

#include <reflective_rapidjson/json/serializable.h>
// define structures, eg.
struct TestObject : public ReflectiveRapidJSON::JsonSerializable<TestObject> {
    int number;
    double number2;
    vector<int> numbers;
    string text;
    bool boolean;
struct NestingObject : public ReflectiveRapidJSON::JsonSerializable<NestingObject> {
    string name;
    TestObject testObj;
struct NestingArray : public ReflectiveRapidJSON::JsonSerializable<NestingArray> {
    string name;
    vector<TestObject> testObjects;
// serialize to JSON
NestingArray obj{ ... };
cout << "JSON: " << obj.toJson().GetString();
// deserialize from JSON
const auto obj = NestingArray::fromJson(...);
// in exactly one of the project's translation units
#include "reflection/code-defining-structs.h"

Note that the header included at the bottom must be generated by invoking the code generator appropriately, eg.:

reflective_rapidjson_generator \
    --input-file "$srcdir/code-defining-structs.cpp" \
    --output-file "$builddir/reflection/code-defining-structs.h"

There are further arguments available, see:

reflective_rapidjson_generator --help

Binary (de)serialization

It works very similar to the example above. Just use the BinarySerializable class instead (or in addition):

#include <reflective_rapidjson/binary/serializable.h>
struct TestObject : public ReflectiveRapidJSON::BinarySerializable<TestObject>

Invoking code generator with CMake macro

It is possible to use the provided CMake macro to automate the code generator invocation:

# find the package and make macro available
find_package(reflective-rapidjson REQUIRED)
# "link" against reflective_rapidjson
# it is a header-only lib so this will only add the required include paths
# to your target
target_link_libraries(mytarget PRIVATE reflective_rapidjson)
# invoke macro
    INPUT_FILES code-defining-structs.cpp

This will produce the file code-defining-structs.h in the directory reflection in the current build directory. So make sure the current build directory is added to the include directories of your target. The default output directory can also be overridden by passing OUTPUT_DIRECTORY custom/directory to the arguments.

It is possible to specify multiple input files at once. A separate output file is generated for each input. The output files will always have the extension .h, independently of the extension of the input file.

The full paths of the generated files are also appended to the variable LIST_OF_GENERATED_HEADERS which then can be added to the sources of your target. Of course this can be skipped if not required/wanted.

The macro will also automatically pass Clang's resource directory which is detected by invoking clang -print-resource-dir. To adjust that, just set the cache variable REFLECTION_GENERATOR_CLANG_RESOURCE_DIR before including the module.

For an explanation of the CLANG_OPTIONS_FROM_TARGETS argument, read the next section.

Passing Clang options

It is possible to pass additional options to the Clang tool invocation used by the code generator. This can be done using the --clang-opt argument or the CLANG_OPTIONS argument when using the CMake macro.

For example, additional definitions could be added using --clang-opt -DSOME_DEFINE -DANOTHER_DEFINE. But it is actually possible to pass anything from clang --help, including the -X... options.

Specifying Clang's resource directory

In case you get a massive number of errors, ensure Clang's resource directory can be located. Clang documentation:

The default location to look for builtin headers is in a path $(dirname /path/to/tool)/../lib/clang/3.3/include relative to the tool binary.

To adjust the default location, just add eg. --clang-opt -resource-dir /usr/lib/clang/5.0.1 to the arguments.

Pass options from regular targets

It makes most sense to specify the same options for the code generator as during the actual compilation. This way the code generator uses the same flags, defines and include directories as the compiler and hence behaves like the compiler.
When using the CMake macro, it is possible to automatically pass all compile flags, compile definitions and include directories from certain targets to the code generator. Those targets can be specified using the Macro's CLANG_OPTIONS_FROM_TARGETS argument.

Notes regarding cross-compilation

Using Boost.Hana instead of the code generator

The same example as above. However, this time Boost.Hana is used - so it doesn't require invoking the generator.

#include "<reflective_rapidjson/json/serializable-boosthana.h>
// define structures using BOOST_HANA_DEFINE_STRUCT, eg.
struct TestObject : public JsonSerializable<TestObject> {
        (int, number),
        (double, number2),
        (vector<int>, numbers),
        (string, text),
        (bool, boolean)
struct NestingObject : public JsonSerializable<NestingObject> {
        (string, name),
        (TestObject, testObj)
struct NestingArray : public JsonSerializable<NestingArray> {
        (string, name),
        (vector<TestObject>, testObjects)
// serialize to JSON
NestingArray obj{ ... };
cout << "JSON: " << obj.toJson().GetString();
// deserialize from JSON
const auto obj = NestingArray::fromJson(...);

So beside the BOOST_HANA_DEFINE_STRUCT macro, the usage remains the same.


Enable reflection for 3rd party classes/structs

It is obvious that the previously shown examples do not work for classes defined in 3rd party header files as it requires adding an additional base class.

To work around this issue, one can use the REFLECTIVE_RAPIDJSON_MAKE_JSON_SERIALIZABLE macro. It will enable the toJson and fromJson methods for the specified class in the ReflectiveRapidJSON::JsonReflector namespace:

// somewhere in included header
struct ThridPartyStruct
{ ... };
// somewhere in own header or source file
// (de)serialization

The code generator will emit the code in the same way as if JsonSerializable was used.

By the way, the functions in the ReflectiveRapidJSON::JsonReflector namespace can also be used when inheriting from JsonSerializable (instead of the member functions).

(De)serializing private members

By default, private members are not considered for (de)serialization. However, it is possible to enable this by adding friend methods for the helper functions of Reflective RapidJSON.

To make things easier, there's a macro provided:

struct SomeStruct : public JsonSerializable<SomeStruct> {
    std::string publicMember = "will be (de)serialized anyways";
    std::string privateMember = "will be (de)serialized with the help of REFLECTIVE_RAPIDJSON_ENABLE_PRIVATE_MEMBERS macro";


Custom (de)serialization

Sometimes it is appropriate to implement custom (de)serialization. For instance, a custom object representing a time value should likey be serialized as a string rather than an object containing the internal structure.

An example for such custom (de)serialization can be found in the file json/reflector-chronoutilities.h. It provides (de)serialization of DateTime and TimeSpan objects from the C++ utilities library mentioned under dependencies.


Further examples


The following diagram gives an overview about the architecture of the code generator and wrapper library around RapidJSON:

Install instructions


The following dependencies are required at build time. Note that Reflective RapidJSON itself and none of these dependencies are required at runtime by an application which makes use of Reflective RapidJSON.



How to build

1. Install dependencies

Install all required dependencies. Under a typical GNU/Linux system most of these dependencies can be installed via the package manager. Otherwise follow the links in the "Dependencies" section above.

C++ utilities is likely not available as package. However, it is possible to build C++ utilities together with reflective-rapidjson to simplify the build process. The following build script makes use of this. (To use system C++ utilities, just skip any lines with "`c++utilities`" in the following examples.)

2. Make dependencies available

When installing (some) of the dependencies at custom locations, it is likely neccassary to tell CMake where to find them. If you installed everything using packages provided by the system, you can skip this step of course.

To specify custom locations, just set some environment variables before invoking CMake. This can likely be done in your IDE settings and of course at command line. Here is a Bash example:


There are also a lot of useful variables that can be specified as CMake arguments. It is also possible to create a toolchain file.

#### 3. Get sources, eg. using Git:

git clone c++utilities
git clone

If you don't want to build the development version, just checkout the desired version tag.

4. Run the build script

Here is an example for building with GNU Make:

# generate Makefile
cmake \
 -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX:PATH="/final/install/prefix" \
# build library and generators
# build and run tests (optional, requires CppUnit)
make check
# build tests but do not run them (optional, requires CppUnit)
make tests
# generate API documentation (optional, reqquires Doxygen)
make apidoc
# install header files, libraries and generator
make install DESTDIR="/temporary/install/location"

Add eg. -j to make arguments for using all cores.


These packages shows the required dependencies and commands to build in a plain way. So they might be useful for making Reflective RapidJSON available under other platforms, too.