I have a column data of type json that holds JSON documents like this:

    "name": "foo",
    "tags": ["foo", "bar"]

I would like to turn the nested tags array into a concatenated string ('foo, bar'). That would be easily possible with the array_to_string() function in theory. However, this function does not accept json input. So I wonder how to turn this JSON array into a Postgres array (type text[])?

  • 1
    @a_horse_with_no_name: The remaining problem: array elements are still quoted for JSON format. Text is not properly extracted ... Dec 2, 2013 at 22:32

5 Answers 5


Postgres 9.4 or newer

Inspired by this post, Postgres 9.4 added the missing functions to unnest JSON arrays.
Thanks to Laurence Rowe for the patch and Andrew Dunstan for committing!

Use array_agg() or an ARRAY constructor to build a Postgres array (type text[]) from the resulting set of text.
Or string_agg() to build a string with a list of values (type text).

Focusing on array output (text[]), not string (text). Important difference: null elements are preserved in actual arrays. This is not possible in a string, which cannot contain null values. The true representation is an array.

Replace 'jsonb' with 'json' for type json in all following SQL code.

TLDR: Use a custom function

Encapsulate the logic in a function for repeated use:

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION jsonb_array_to_text_array(_js jsonb)
  RETURNS text[]
'SELECT ARRAY(SELECT jsonb_array_elements_text(_js))';


SELECT tbl_id, jsonb_array_to_text_array(data->'tags')
FROM   tbl;
  • LANGUAGE sql for the simple function. (Fastest in my latest tests with Postgres 14.)
  • IMMUTABLE (because it is) to avoid repeated evaluation in bigger queries and allow its use in index expressions.
  • PARALLEL SAFE (in Postgres 9.6 or later!) to allow parallel execution in big queries. See:
  • STRICT to return null for null input. Also: faster. The function cannot be inlined anyway because of the ARRAY constructor, so STRICT cannot harm that.

This function with a STRICT modifier is also as true to the original as possible in that it returns null for null input and an empty array for empty array input. Better than all of the below queries.

For completeness: use to_jsonb() for the reverse SQL array → jsonb conversion.

Various solutions, step-by-step

Immediately aggregate per row in a LATERAL or correlated subquery, then original order is preserved and we don't need ORDER BY, GROUP BY or even a unique key in the outer query. See:

Basic query, returns null for empty array or null input:

SELECT t.tbl_id, d.txt_arr
FROM   tbl t
   SELECT array_agg(d.elem) AS txt_arr
   FROM   jsonb_array_elements_text(t.data->'tags') AS d(elem)
   ) AS d;

Short syntax, returns null for empty array or null input:

SELECT t.tbl_id, d.txt_arr
FROM   tbl t, LATERAL (
   SELECT array_agg(value) AS txt_arr
   FROM   jsonb_array_elements_text(t.data->'tags')  -- default name is "value"
   ) d;

Shorter (and faster) with ARRAY constructor, returns empty array for empty array or null input:

SELECT t.tbl_id, t.data->'tags' AS jsonb_arr, d.txt_arr
FROM   tbl t, LATERAL (
   SELECT ARRAY(SELECT jsonb_array_elements_text(t.data->'tags'))
   ) d(txt_arr);

Even shorter (and faster) with correlated subquery, returns empty array for empty array or null input:

SELECT tbl_id, ARRAY(SELECT jsonb_array_elements_text(t.data->'tags')) AS txt_arr
FROM   tbl t;

db<>fiddle here

All of the above preserve original order of elements.

Postgres 9.3 or older

Use the function json_array_elements(). But we get double quoted strings from it.

Alternative query with aggregation in the outer query. CROSS JOIN removes rows with missing or empty arrays. May also be useful for processing elements. We need a unique key to aggregate:

SELECT t.tbl_id, string_agg(d.elem::text, ', ') AS list
FROM   tbl t
CROSS  JOIN LATERAL json_array_elements(t.data->'tags') AS d(elem)
GROUP  BY t.tbl_id;

ARRAY constructor, still with quoted strings:

SELECT tbl_id, ARRAY(SELECT json_array_elements(t.data->'tags')) AS quoted_txt_arr
FROM   tbl t;

Note that null is converted to the text value "null", unlike above. Incorrect, strictly speaking, and potentially ambiguous.

Poor man's unquoting with trim():

SELECT t.tbl_id, string_agg(trim(d.elem::text, '"'), ', ') AS list
FROM   tbl t, json_array_elements(t.data->'tags') d(elem)

Retrieve a single row from tbl:

SELECT string_agg(trim(d.elem::text, '"'), ', ') AS list
FROM   tbl t, json_array_elements(t.data->'tags') d(elem)
WHERE  t.tbl_id = 1;

Strings form correlated subquery:

SELECT tbl_id, (SELECT string_agg(trim(value::text, '"'), ', ')
                FROM   json_array_elements(t.data->'tags')) AS list
FROM   tbl t;

ARRAY constructor:

SELECT tbl_id, ARRAY(SELECT trim(value::text, '"')
                     FROM   json_array_elements(t.data->'tags')) AS txt_arr
FROM   tbl t;

db<>fiddle here
Old sqlfiddle


Original notes (outdated since pg 9.4)

We would need a json_array_elements_text(json), the twin of json_array_elements(json) to return proper text values from a JSON array. But that seems to be missing from the provided arsenal of JSON functions. Or some other function to extract a text value from a scalar json value. I seem to be missing that one, too.
So I improvised with trim(), but that will fail for non-trivial cases ...

  • Good post like always, but with your knowledge of the internals why isn't the cast from array->jsonb there. I can understand not implementing the other cast because the sql-array is more strongly typed. Is it just because PostgreSQL is averse to auto generating code to cast (int[], bigint[], text[]) etc. Jan 17, 2017 at 19:02
  • 3
    @Evan: You'd use to_jsonb() for array->jsonb conversion. Jan 19, 2017 at 2:12
  • Does SELECT ARRAY(SELECT json_array_elements_text(_js)) really guarantee that the ordering of the array is preserved? Isn't the optimizer allowed to theoretically alter the order of the rows coming out of json_array_elements_text? Aug 29, 2019 at 8:48
  • @Felix: there is no formal guarantee in the SQL standard. (then again, set returning functions aren't even allowed in the SELECT list in standard SQL to begin with.) but there is an informal assertion in the Postgres manual. see: dba.stackexchange.com/a/185862/3684 To be explicit - at the cost of a minor perfomance penalty - see: dba.stackexchange.com/a/27287/3684. Personally, I am 100 % sure this particular expression works as expected in every present and future version of Postgres since 9.4. Aug 29, 2019 at 9:52
  • @ErwinBrandstetter thank you so much for confirming this! I'm currently doing some research for an article that summarizes the formal and informal guarantees ordering guarantees provided by PostgreSQL and your answers have been incredibly helpful! If you'd be interested to review the article let me know, but no worries if not. I'm incredibly grateful for your StackOverflow contributions and learned a lot from you over the years! Aug 29, 2019 at 11:36

PG 9.4+

The accepted answer is definitely what you need, but for the sake of simplicity here is a helper I use for this:

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION jsonb_array_to_text_array(p_input jsonb)
 RETURNS text[]
AS $function$

SELECT array_agg(ary)::text[] FROM jsonb_array_elements_text(p_input) AS ary;


Then just do:

SELECT jsonb_array_to_text_array('["a", "b", "c"]'::jsonb);

Updated 2/23/2020 in response to comments: Comments are correct that this could be more efficient. At the time I posted there was no modularized solution offered so I offered one in earnest, if non-optimal. Since then Erwin has updated his answer with a simple and efficient function so I never updated mine. Updating it now since there is still attention coming to this answer

One more update, because this just bit me: The above function will return null if there are no values. This may not be desirable depending on your situation. Here's a function which returns an empty array if the value is not null, but still returns null if the input is null.

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION jsonb_array_to_text_array_strict(p_input jsonb)
 RETURNS text[]
AS $function$

    WHEN p_input IS null 
    THEN null 
    ELSE coalesce(ary_out, ARRAY[]::text[]) 
  SELECT array_agg(ary)::text[] AS ary_out
  FROM jsonb_array_elements_text(p_input) AS ary
) AS extracted;

  • I added some faster expressions to my answer and a simpler function. This can be substantially cheaper. Oct 6, 2015 at 2:46
  • 8
    This function should be pure SQL so that the optimizer can peek into it. No need to use pgplsql here.
    – Divide
    Apr 18, 2016 at 10:00
  • 3
    ... and it should be IMMUTABLE not VOLATILE, since it does not touch the database and any given input will always generate the same output.
    – user9645
    Feb 19, 2020 at 17:55

This question was asked on the PostgreSQL mailing lists and I came up with this hackish way of converting JSON text to PostgreSQL text type via the JSON field extraction operator:

AS $$ SELECT ('['||$1||']')::json->>0 $$;

db=# select json_text(json_array_elements('["hello",1.3,"\u2603"]'));

Basically it converts the value into a single-element array and then asks for the first element.

Another approach would be to use this operator to extract all fields one-by-one. But for large arrays this is likely slower, as it needs to parse the whole JSON string for each array element, leading to O(n^2) complexity.

CREATE FUNCTION json_array_elements_text(json) RETURNS SETOF text IMMUTABLE LANGUAGE sql
AS $$ SELECT $1->>i FROM generate_series(0, json_array_length($1)-1) AS i $$;

db=# select json_array_elements_text('["hello",1.3,"\u2603"]');

I've tested a few options. Here is my favorite query. Suppose we have a table containing id and json field. The json field contains array, which we want to turn into pg array.

FROM   test 
WHERE  TRANSLATE(jsonb::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::INT[] 
       && ARRAY[1,2,3];

It is working anywhere and faster than others, but looks crutchy)

Firstly json array is casted as text, and then we just change square brackets to parenthesis. Finally the text is being casted as array of required type.

SELECT TRANSLATE('[1]'::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::INT[];

and if you prefer text[] arrays

SELECT TRANSLATE('[1]'::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::TEXT[];
  • 2
    SELECT TRANSLATE('{"name": "foo", "tags": ["foo", "bar"]}'::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::INT[]; ERROR: malformed array literal: "{"name": "foo", "tags": {"foo", "bar"}}" I think you have to add some explanation about how this is supposed to work.
    – dezso
    Dec 5, 2016 at 9:20
  • The question is how to turn JSON array(!) into pg array. Suppose I have the table containing id and jsonb columns. JSONb column contains json array. Then Dec 5, 2016 at 19:12
  • TRANSLATE(jsonb::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::INT[] converts json array to pg array. Dec 5, 2016 at 19:20
  • SELECT translate('["foo", "bar"]'::jsonb::text, '[]','{}')::INT[]; ERROR: invalid input syntax for integer: "foo" It's not so bomb-proof...
    – dezso
    Dec 6, 2016 at 10:31
  • Consider using text[] for these arrays Dec 6, 2016 at 11:27

These few functions, taken from answers to this question, are what I'm using and they're working great

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION json_array_casttext(json) RETURNS text[] AS $f$
    SELECT array_agg(x) || ARRAY[]::text[] FROM json_array_elements_text($1) t(x);

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION jsonb_array_casttext(jsonb) RETURNS text[] AS $f$
    SELECT array_agg(x) || ARRAY[]::text[] FROM jsonb_array_elements_text($1) t(x);

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION json_array_castint(json) RETURNS int[] AS $f$
    SELECT array_agg(x)::int[] || ARRAY[]::int[] FROM json_array_elements_text($1) t(x);

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION jsonb_array_castint(jsonb) RETURNS int[] AS $f$
    SELECT array_agg(x)::int[] || ARRAY[]::int[] FROM jsonb_array_elements_text($1) t(x);

In each of them, by concatenating with an empty array, they handle a case that had me racking my brain for a bit, in that if you try and cast an empty array from json/jsonb without it you'll get nothing returned, instead of an empty array ({}) as you would expect. I'm certain there's some optimization for them, but they're left as is for simplicity in explaining the concept.

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