In this tutorial, we create a program that fetches the latest commits of a repository in GitHub over the web. One of the response formats supported by GitHub API is JSON, so the result can be parsed using Jansson.

To stick to the the scope of this tutorial, we will only cover the the parts of the program related to handling JSON data. For the best user experience, the full source code is available: github_commits.c. To compile it (on Unix-like systems with gcc), use the following command:

gcc -o github_commits github_commits.c -ljansson -lcurl

libcurl is used to communicate over the web, so it is required to compile the program.

The command line syntax is:

github_commits USER REPOSITORY

USER is a GitHub user ID and REPOSITORY is the repository name. Please note that the GitHub API is rate limited, so if you run the program too many times within a short period of time, the sever starts to respond with an error.

The GitHub Commits API

The GitHub commits API is used by sending HTTP requests to URLs starting with http://github.com/api/v2/json/commits/. Our program only lists the latest commits, so the rest of the URL is list/USER/REPOSITORY/BRANCH, where USER, REPOSITORY and BRANCH are the GitHub user ID, the name of the repository, and the name of the branch whose commits are to be listed, respectively.

GitHub responds with a JSON object of the following form:

    "commits": [
            "id": "<the commit ID>",
            "message": "<the commit message>",
            <more fields, not important to this tutorial>
            "id": "<the commit ID>",
            "message": "<the commit message>",
            <more fields, not important to this tutorial>
        <more commits...>

In our program, the HTTP request is sent using the following function:

static char *request(const char *url);

It takes the URL as a parameter, preforms a HTTP GET request, and returns a newly allocated string that contains the response body. If the request fails, an error message is printed to stderr and the return value is NULL. For full details, refer to the code, as the actual implementation is not important here.

The Program

First the includes:

#include <string.h>
#include <jansson.h>

Like all the programs using Jansson, we need to include jansson.h.

The following definitions are used to build the GitHub commits API request URL:

#define URL_FORMAT   "http://github.com/api/v2/json/commits/list/%s/%s/master"
#define URL_SIZE     256

The following function is used when formatting the result to find the first newline in the commit message:

/* Return the offset of the first newline in text or the length of
   text if there's no newline */
static int newline_offset(const char *text)
    const char *newline = strchr(text, '\n');
        return strlen(text);
        return (int)(newline - text);

The main function follows. In the beginning, we first declare a bunch of variables and check the command line parameters:

size_t i;
char *text;
char url[URL_SIZE];

json_t *root;
json_error_t error;
json_t *commits;

if(argc != 3)
    fprintf(stderr, "usage: %s USER REPOSITORY\n\n", argv[0]);
    fprintf(stderr, "List commits at USER's REPOSITORY.\n\n");
    return 2;

Then we build the request URL using the user and repository names given as command line parameters:

snprintf(url, URL_SIZE, URL_FORMAT, argv[1], argv[2]);

This uses the URL_SIZE and URL_FORMAT constants defined above. Now we’re ready to actually request the JSON data over the web:

text = request(url);
    return 1;

If an error occurs, our function request prints the error and returns NULL, so it’s enough to just return 1 from the main function.

Next we’ll call json_loads() to decode the JSON text we got as a response:

root = json_loads(text, 0, &error);

    fprintf(stderr, "error: on line %d: %s\n", error.line, error.text);
    return 1;

We don’t need the JSON text anymore, so we can free the text variable right after decoding it. If json_loads() fails, it returns NULL and sets error information to the json_error_t structure given as the second parameter. In this case, our program prints the error information out and returns 1 from the main function.

Now we’re ready to extract the data out of the decoded JSON response. The structure of the response JSON was explained in section The GitHub Commits API.

First, we’ll extract the commits array from the JSON response:

commits = json_object_get(root, "commits");
    fprintf(stderr, "error: commits is not an array\n");
    return 1;

This is the array that contains objects describing latest commits in the repository. We check that the returned value really is an array. If the key commits doesn’t exist, json_object_get() returns NULL, but json_is_array() handles this case, too.

Then we proceed to loop over all the commits in the array:

for(i = 0; i < json_array_size(commits); i++)
    json_t *commit, *id, *message;
    const char *message_text;

    commit = json_array_get(commits, i);
        fprintf(stderr, "error: commit %d is not an object\n", i + 1);
        return 1;

The function json_array_size() returns the size of a JSON array. First, we again declare some variables and then extract the i’th element of the commits array using json_array_get(). We also check that the resulting value is a JSON object.

Next we’ll extract the commit ID and commit message, and check that they both are JSON strings:

    id = json_object_get(commit, "id");
        fprintf(stderr, "error: commit %d: id is not a string\n", i + 1);
        return 1;

    message = json_object_get(commit, "message");
        fprintf(stderr, "error: commit %d: message is not a string\n", i + 1);
        return 1;

And finally, we’ll print the first 8 characters of the commit ID and the first line of the commit message. A C-style string is extracted from a JSON string using json_string_value():

    message_text = json_string_value(message);
    printf("%.8s %.*s\n",

After sending the HTTP request, we decoded the JSON text using json_loads(), remember? It returns a new reference to the JSON value it decodes. When we’re finished with the value, we’ll need to decrease the reference count using json_decref(). This way Jansson can release the resources:

return 0;

For a detailed explanation of reference counting in Jansson, see Reference Count in API Reference.

The program’s ready, let’s test it and view the latest commits in Jansson’s repository:

$ ./github_commits akheron jansson
86dc1d62 Fix indentation
b67e130f json_dumpf: Document the output shortage on error
4cd77771 Enhance handling of circular references
79009e62 json_dumps: Close the strbuffer if dumping fails
76999799 doc: Fix a small typo in apiref
22af193a doc/Makefile.am: Remove *.pyc in clean
951d091f Make integer, real and string mutable
185e107d Don't use non-portable asprintf()
ca7703fb Merge branch '1.0'
12cd4e8c jansson 1.0.4


In this tutorial, we implemented a program that fetches the latest commits of a GitHub repository using the GitHub commits API. Jansson was used to decode the JSON response and to extract the commit data.

This tutorial only covered a small part of Jansson. For example, we did not create or manipulate JSON values at all. Proceed to API Reference to explore all features of Jansson.

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