In Postgres, JSONB fields are very useful for storing semi-structured data. But sometimes the flexibility it offers can be a little bit scary. Imagine you want to store the result of some sort of inspection, which can lead to 2 different outputs, “create” or “update”. Along with other logs. You expect your JSON field values to look like this:

    "action": "create",
    "some_useful_log_info": ...


    "action": "update",
    "reason": ...

Your code expects the key action to exist, and the corresponding value to be create or update. Anything else will lead to problems.

Of course, you can test your code and make sure nothing else is saved in the database. But we know unexpected things happen. Manual modification of the database, a script to backfill some information, some holes in the test coverage, etc.

A database-level constraint is more reassuring.

And luckily for us, it is very easy to add a constraint on the database, making sure our semi-structured JSON looks like how we expect it.

Let’s start with a simple constraint and make sure the key action exists in the JSON field result.

ALTER TABLE jsontable 
ADD CONSTRAINT action_must_exist 
CHECK (result ? 'action');

We can also make sure the field is either empty or contains the action key:

ALTER TABLE jsontable 
ADD CONSTRAINT action_must_exist 
CHECK (result = '"{}"' or result ? 'action');

But we can also be even more specific and ensure the result field is either empty or contains a key action, and in that case, the corresponding value must be createor update:

ALTER TABLE jsontable 
ADD CONSTRAINT action_must_exist_and_be_correct 
CHECK (result = '"{}"' or 
(result->>'action'=ANY ('{create,update}'::text[])) is true

Note that you cannot only write result->>'action'=ANY ('{create,update}'::text[]), because if the key action doesn’t exist, result->>'action' is null and thus result->>'action'=ANY ('{create,update}'::text[]) is also null. That’s why you need the full (result->>'action'=ANY ('{create,update}'::text[])) is true.

With that constraint, you know that no matter how the data is updated, any unexpected value won’t be saved in your table.