Custom JSON serializer

In Scala there are quite a few frameworks that make the implementation of RESTful JSON services quite straightforward (Play, Scalatra, Akka HTTP are the main ones). They all follow the same general idea: a JSON payload deserialize into a Scala class (usually a case class) and serialize back into JSON. For example a JSON payload like:

{"name": "Paul", "age": 45, "gender": "male"}

Can be easily deserialized into something like:

final case class User(name: String, age: Int, gender: String)

This is pretty standard stuff and works almost out of the box in all the mentioned framework but in some cases you might want to take advantage of the type system for example by defining a type for “age”:

// A value class representing a person's age
final class Age(val age: Int) extends AnyVal

And also constant values for “gender” rather than a generic String type:

sealed trait Gender {
  val sex: String

final case object Male extends Gender {
  val sex = "male"

final case object Female extends Gender {
  val sex = "female"

final case object Other extends Gender {
  val sex = "other"

object GenderHelper {
  private val genders: Set[Gender] = Set(Male, Female, Other)
  def toGender(sex: String): Option[Gender] = genders.find( == sex)

We can now define User in a more robust way as:

final case class User(name: String, age: Age, gender: Gender)

Which looks better but doesn’t work out of the box anymore as, regardless of the JSON scala library we use, there is no way to tell how to serialize/deserialize types like Age or Gender. We need to write our own JSON custom serializer/deserializer. The following example uses Akka HTTP and Json4s (code is available here).

We first need to write two serializer/deserializer. One for Age:

import com.lansalo.model.Age
import org.json4s.CustomSerializer
import org.json4s.JsonAST.JInt

case object AgeSerializer extends CustomSerializer[Age](format => ( {
  case JInt(age) => new Age(age.intValue)
}, {
  case age: Int => JInt(BigInt(age))

And one for Gender:

import com.lansalo.model.{Gender, GenderHelper}
import org.json4s.CustomSerializer
import org.json4s.JsonAST.JString

case object GenderSerializer extends CustomSerializer[Gender](format => ( {
  case JString(gender) => GenderHelper.toGender(gender).get
}, {
  case gender: Gender => JString(

Then we just need to add them to the default json4s formats (in a Trait here):

import com.lansalo.json.serializer.{AgeSerializer, GenderSerializer}
import org.json4s.DefaultFormats

trait JsonSupport {
  implicit val formats = DefaultFormats + GenderSerializer + AgeSerializer

And finally bring the json formats in scope where we need it:

import akka.event.Logging
import akka.http.scaladsl.model.StatusCodes
import akka.http.scaladsl.server.Directives._
import akka.http.scaladsl.server.Route
import akka.http.scaladsl.server.directives.MethodDirectives.{get, post}
import akka.http.scaladsl.server.directives.PathDirectives.path
import akka.http.scaladsl.server.directives.RouteDirectives.complete
import akka.util.Timeout
import com.lansalo.json.JsonSupport
import com.lansalo.model.{Age, Female, User}
import de.heikoseeberger.akkahttpjson4s.Json4sSupport
import org.json4s.jackson

import scala.concurrent.duration._

trait UserRoutes extends JsonSupport {

  implicit def system: ActorSystem

  lazy val log = Logging(system, classOf[UserRoutes])

  implicit lazy val timeout = Timeout(5.seconds)
  import Json4sSupport._

  implicit val serialization = jackson.Serialization // or native.Serialization

  lazy val userRoutes: Route = pathPrefix("users") {
    pathEnd {
      post {
        entity(as[User]) { user =>
"Received user: $user")
          complete((StatusCodes.Created, "OK"))
    } ~
      path(Segment) { name =>
        get {
          complete(User(name, new Age(22), Female))


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