11 Updating a JSON Document with JSON Merge Patch

You can use Oracle SQL function json_mergepatch to update specific portions of a JSON document. You pass it a JSON Merge Patch document, which specifies the changes to make to a specified JSON document. JSON Merge Patch is an IETF standard.

You can use json_mergepatch in an UPDATE statement, to update the documents in a JSON column. Example 11-3 illustrates this.

You can use json_mergepatch in a SELECT list, to modify the selected documents. The modified documents can be returned or processed further. Example 11-4 illustrates this.

JSON Merge Patch is suitable for updating JSON documents that primarily use objects for their structure and do not make use of explicit null values. You cannot use it to add, remove, or change array elements (except by explicitly replacing the whole array). And you cannot use it to set the value of a field to null.

JSON Merge Patch acts a bit like a UNIX patch utility: you give it (1) a source document to patch and (2) a patch document that specifies the changes to make, and it returns a copy of the source document updated (patched). The patch document specifies the differences between the source and the result documents. For UNIX patch the differences are in the form of UNIX diff utility output. For JSON Merge Patch both source and patch are JSON documents.

You can think of JSON Merge Patch as merging the contents of the source and the patch. When merging two objects, one from source and one from patch, a member with a field that is in one object but not in the other is kept in the result. An exception is that a patch member with field value is null is ignored when the source object has no such field.

When merging object members that have the same field:
  • If the patch field value is null then the field is dropped from the source — it is not included in the result.

  • Otherwise, the field is kept in the result, but its value is the result of merging the source field value with the patch field value. That is, the merging operation in this case is recursive — it dives down into fields whose values are themselves objects.

A little more precisely, JSON Merge Patch acts as follows:

  • If the patch is not a JSON object then replace the source by the patch.

  • Otherwise (the patch is an object), do the following:

    1. If the source is not an object then act as if it were the empty object ({}).

    2. Iterate over the (p-field:p–value) members of the patch object.

      • If the p-value of the patch member is null then remove the corresponding member from the source.

      • Otherwise, recurse: Replace the value of the corresponding source field with the result of merge-patching that value (as the next source) with the p-value (as the next patch).

If a patch field value of null did not have a special meaning (remove the corresponding source member with that field) then you could use it as a field value to set the corresponding source field value to null. The special removal behavior means you cannot set a source field value to null.


  • Patch member "PONumber":99999 overrides a source member with field PONumber, replacing its value with the patch-specified value, 99999.

    json_mergepatch('{"User":"ABULL", "PONumber":1600}', '{"PONumber":99999}') results in {"User":"ABULL", "PONumber":99999}.

  • Patch member "tracking":123456 overrides a missing source member with field tracking, adding that patch member to the result. And source member "PONumber":1600 overrides a missing patch member with field PONumber — it is kept in the result.

    json_mergepatch('{"PONumber":1600}', '{"tracking":123456}') results in {"PONumber":1600, "tracking":123456}".

  • Patch member "Reference":null overrides a source member with field Reference, removing it from the result.

    json_mergepatch('{"PONumber":1600, "Reference":"ABULL-20140421"}', '{"Reference":null}') results in {"PONumber":1600}.

  • Patch value [1,2,3] overrides the corresponding source value, [4,5,6], replacing it.

    json_mergepatch('{"PONumber":1600, "LineItems":[1, 2, 3]}', '{"LineItems":[4,5,6]}') results in {"PONumber":1600, "LineItems":[4, 5, 6]}.


The merge-patch procedure — in particular the fact that there is no recursive behavior for a non-object patch — means that you cannot add, remove, or replace values of an array individually. To make such a change you must replace the whole array. For example, if the source document has a member Phone:["999-555-1212", "415-555-1234"] then to remove the second phone number you can use a patch whose content has a member "Phone":["999-555-1212"].

See Also:

Example 11-1 A JSON Merge Patch Document

If applied to the document shown in Example 2-1, this JSON Merge Patch document does the following:

  • Adds member "Category" : "Platinum".

  • Removes the member with field ShippingInstructions.

  • Replaces the value of field Special Instructions with the string "Contact User SBELL".

  • Replaces the value of field LineItems with the empty array, []

  • Replaces member "AllowPartialShipment" : null with member "Allow Partial Shipment" : false (in effect renaming the field, since the field value was already false).

{ "Category" : "Platinum",
  "ShippingInstructions" : null,
  "Special Instructions" : "Contact User SBELL",
  "LineItems" : [],
  "AllowPartialShipment" : null,
  "Allow Partial Shipment" : false }

Example 11-2 A Merge-Patched JSON Document

This example shows the document that results from merge-patching the document in Example 2-1 with the patch of Example 11-1.

{ "PONumber" : 1600,
  "Reference" : "ABULL-20140421",
  "Requestor" : "Alexis Bull",
  "User" : "ABULL",
  "CostCenter" : "A50",
  "Special Instructions" : "Contact User SBELL",
  "Allow Partial Shipment" : false,
  "LineItems" : [],
  "Category" : "Platinum" }

Example 11-3 Updating a JSON Column Using JSON Merge Patch

This example updates all documents in j_purchaseorder.po_document, removing field "Special Instructions".

UPDATE j_purchaseorder SET po_document =
  json_mergepatch(po_document, '{"Special Instructions":null}');

Example 11-4 Updating Selected JSON Documents On the Fly

This example selects all documents in j_purchaseorder.po_document, returning pretty-printed, updated copies of them, where field "Special Instructions" has been removed.

SELECT json_mergepatch(po_document, '{"Special Instructions":null}'
                       RETURNING CLOB PRETTY)
  FROM j_purchaseorder;