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What are the advantages of using YAML over other data formats?

Tarun Telang

YAML is a human-friendly data serialization standard. It is a language-independent specification that enables data interoperability across all programming languages.

YAML is very different from XML and JSON. Like JSON, YAML enables you to describe real-world objects in an easy-to-read format, but it has more capabilities than JSON when it comes to creating complex data structures.

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Advantages of YAML data serialization format

Below are some of the benefits of YAML over other data serialization formats.

YAML has the following characteristics:

  • It is more human-readable. YAML allows you to represent complex data structures in a human-readable format.

  • It is unambiguous. YAML unambiguously specifies the data structures of the serialized data, so there’s no need to rely on comments or documentation. Because the data structures are unambiguous, it is easier to use automated tools (scripts) to read and write YAML. You can build a script that reads the data structure from a file written in YAML and convert it to another format (JSON or XML).

  • It is portable across most programming languages. YAML supports representing sequences as lists and mappings as dictionaries (hashes in some languages) in a language-independent manner.

  • It is friendly to version control. YAML stores plain text; it can easily be added to a version control like Git or Subversion repository.

  • It has strict syntax. The YAML specification has minimal leeway for flexibility, which increases its robustness.

  • It has a simple and clean syntax. YAML is easy to learn and simple to read. It can express a wide variety of different native data structures and allows for custom extensions.

  • It has fast implementations. YAML is fast to load and easy to process in memory.

  • It has secure implementations. Many security issues in programming languages are related to parsing untrusted input (such as JSON). Python, Ruby, Java, JavaScript, PHP, and more make it possible for attackers to exploit these vulnerabilities bypassing unexpected input strings to the parser. YAML is designed to prevent these types of exploits by specifying what type of data each part of the YAML stream must consist of.

  • It is easy to implement and use. It has powerful tools, such as PyYAML.

  • It has strict syntax. The YAML specification has minimal leeway for flexibility, which increases its robustness. YAML is more powerful than JSON when it comes to specifying complex data structures. It’s a superset of JSON, which means that all valid JSON documents are also valid YAML.

  • It matches native data structures of modern programming languages such as Python, Ruby, and JavaScript. There are multiple YAML parsers in different languages, so you can use the same language for generating and parsing YAML.

  • It has a consistent data model to support generic tools.

  • It supports one-pass or one-direction processing. Parsing YAML is linear, and there are no forward or backward pointers to deal with, so there are fewer parsing ambiguities.

  • It is very expressive and extensible. It supports an extensible set of types for scalar values of typed data.

Due to the benefits above, numerous modern tools rely on YAML.

Learn more about the syntax, data types, and various key concepts related to the YAML language through this mini-course: Introduction to YAML.

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