Optics are a powerful tool for traversing and modifying JSON documents. They can reduce boilerplate considerably, especially if you are working with deeply nested JSON.

circe provides support for optics by integrating with Monocle. To use them, add a dependency on circe-optics to your build:

libraryDependencies += "io.circe" %% "circe-optics" % circeVersion

Note that this will require your project to depend on both Scalaz and cats.

Traversing JSON

Let´s try a few examples using this JSON document:

val json: Json = parse("""
"order": {
 "customer": {
   "name": "Custy McCustomer",
   "contactDetails": {
      "address": "1 Fake Street, London, England",
      "phone": "0123-456-789"
"items": [{
  "id": 123,
    "description": "banana",
   "quantity": 1
}, {
   "id": 456,
    "description": "apple",
   "quantity": 2
"total": 123.45

If we wanted to get the customer’s phone number, we could do it using a cursor as follows:

val phoneNum: Option[String] = json.hcursor.downField("order").
// phoneNum: Option[String] = Some(0123-456-789)

This works, but we could do it in a simpler way using optics like this:

In this example we will take the customer´s address.

import io.circe.optics.JsonPath._
// import io.circe.optics.JsonPath._

val _address = root.order.customer.contactDetails.address.string

val address: Option[String] = _address.getOption(json)

Now is your turn, let´s try your answer:

val address: Option[String] = _address.getOption(json)
address should be(res0)

Note the difference between cursors and optics. With cursors, we start with a JSON document, get a cursor from it, and then use that cursor to traverse the document. With optics, on the other hand, we first define the traversal we want to make, then apply it to a JSON document.

In other words, optics provide a way to separate the description of a JSON traversal from its execution. Consequently we can reuse the same traversal against many different documents, compose traversals together, and so on.

Let’s look at a more complex example. This time we want to get the descriptions of all the items in the order. Using a cursor it might look like this:

val items: Vector[Json] = json.hcursor.

val descriptions: Vector[String] =
// descriptions: Vector[String] = Vector("banana", "apple")

And with optics:

val items: List[String] = root.order.items.each.description.string.getAll(json)

items should be(res0)

Modifying JSON

Optics can also be used for making modifications to JSON.

In this example we will try modifiying the quantities. Let´s try your answer, modifiedQuantities would be...

val doubleQuantities: Json => Json = root.order.items.each.quantity.int.modify(_ * 2)

val modifiedJson = doubleQuantities(json)

val modifiedQuantities: List[Int] = root.order.items.each.quantity.int.getAll(modifiedJson)
modifiedQuantities should be(res0)


JsonPath relies on a feature of Scala called Dynamic. Using Dynamic you can call methods that don´t actually exist. When you do so, the selectDynamic method is called, and the name of the method you wanted to call is passed as an argument.

The use of Dynamic means that your code is not "typo-safe". So be careful when you are typing

val doubleQuantities: Json => Json =
  root.order.itemss.each.quantity.int.modify(_ * 2) // Note the "itemss" typo

val modifiedJson = doubleQuantities(json)

Let´s see the result for the last affirmation

val modifiedQuantitiesDynamic: List[Int] =

modifiedQuantitiesDynamic == List(2, 4) should be(res0)