Comparing JSON vs thrift file formats

The aim of this page is to explain the differences between Thrift and JSON for data interchange. We’re using both at work; but Thrift is used by Snowplow collector, while JSON is mainly by Snowplow loaders.

Pavol Kutaj
3 min readMay 15, 2024



Thrift emerged in the mid-2000s at Facebook to address challenges in seamless data exchange between different programming languages. Back then, data exchange lacked a standardized approach, leading to inefficiencies. Thrift provided a language-independent schema for defining data structures. This allowed developers to write code to read and write data in a Thrift format, regardless of the programming language used, streamlining data exchange across diverse systems. In 2020, Thrift transitioned from an internal Facebook project to an Apache Software Foundation project, signifying its wider adoption.


JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) originated in 2001 as a lightweight data interchange format. Its human-readable text-based structure and ease of parsing made it popular for exchanging data between web applications. While JSON offered flexibility due to its schema-less nature, it lacked features like data validation and performance efficiency for large data transfers. Despite the emergence of formats like Thrift, JSON remains widely used for its simplicity and human-readability, making it a go-to choice for data exchange scenarios that prioritize clarity over strict data structures.


  • Data Format: Thrift is a binary data format, while JSON is a human-readable text-based format.
  • Performance: Thrift offers faster data transfer and processing due to its compact binary encoding. JSON is slower due to its larger text size.
  • Schema Enforcement: Thrift uses a schema language to define data structures, allowing for stricter type checking and data validation. JSON is schema-less, offering flexibility but potentially leading to data integrity issues.
  • Language Neutrality: Thrift’s schema is language-independent, allowing code generation for various programming languages. JSON is widely used but requires specific parsing libraries in each language.
  • Use Cases: Thrift is ideal for efficient data exchange between different systems and applications, prioritizing performance and data integrity. JSON remains popular for its human readability and ease of use in data exchange scenarios where flexibility is preferred.



Question: What is the primary difference between Thrift and JSON in terms of format? Answer: Thrift is binary, JSON is text-based.

Question: Which format is faster for data transfer, Thrift or JSON? Answer: Thrift is faster due to its compact binary encoding.

Question: Does Thrift enforce a schema on the data compared to JSON? Answer: Yes, Thrift uses a schema for stricter data validation. JSON is schema-less.

Question: Which format is more language-neutral, Thrift or JSON? Answer: Thrift’s schema allows for code generation in various languages, while JSON requires specific libraries for each language.

Question: Briefly describe the origin of Thrift. Answer: Thrift emerged in the mid-2000s at Facebook to address challenges in data exchange between programming languages.

Question: Briefly describe the origin of JSON. Answer: JSON originated in 2001 as a lightweight data interchange format for web applications.



Pavol Kutaj

Today I Learnt | Infrastructure Support Engineer at with a passion for cloud infrastructure/terraform/python/docs. More at