, rhymes with camel) is a human-readable data serialization language. It is commonly used for configuration files, but could be used in many applications where data is being stored (e.g. debugging output) or transmitted (e.g. document headers). YAML targets many of the same communications applications as XML, but has taken a more minimal approach which intentionally breaks compatibility with SGML.<ref name=“1.0” /> YAML 1.2 is a superset of JSON, another minimalist data serialization format where braces and brackets are used instead of indentation.<ref name=“YAML Version 1.2”>


Custom data types are allowed, but YAML natively encodes scalars (such as strings, integers, and floats), lists, and associative arrays (also known as hashes or dictionaries). These data types are based on the Perl programming language, though all commonly-used high-level programming languages share very similar concepts. YAML supports both Python-style indentation to indicate nesting, or a more compact format that with [] for lists and {} for hashes.<ref name=“1.0”>

</ref> The colon-centered syntax used to express key-value pairs is inspired by electronic mail headers as defined in RFC 0822, and the document separator “–” is borrowed from MIME (RFC 2045). Escape sequences are reused from C, and whitespace wrapping for multi-line strings is inspired from HTML. Lists and hashes can contain nested lists and hashes, forming a tree structure; arbitrary graphs can be represented using YAML aliases (similar to XML in SOAP).<ref name=“1.0” /> YAML is intended to be read and written in streams, a feature inspired by SAX.<ref name=“1.0” />

Support for reading and writing YAML is available for several programming languages.<ref>yaml.org</ref> Some source code editors such as Emacs<ref>

</ref> and various integrated development environments<ref>



</ref> have features that make editing YAML easier, such as folding up nested structures or automatically highlighting syntax errors.

History and name

YAML was first proposed by Clark Evans in 2001,<ref>

</ref> who designed it together with Ingy döt Net<ref name='yaml_org_about'>

</ref> and Oren Ben-Kiki.<ref name='yaml_org_about'/> Originally YAML was said to mean Yet Another Markup Language,<ref name=“YAML_spec_2001_08_01”>

</ref> referencing its purpose as a markup language with the yet another construct, but it was then repurposed as YAML Ain't Markup Language, a recursive acronym, to distinguish its purpose as data-oriented, rather than document markup.



A compact cheat sheet as well as a full specification are available at the official site.<ref>

</ref> The following is a synopsis of the basic elements.

The YAML language accepts the entirety of the Unicode character set, except for some of the control characters. All of the accepted characters may be used in the YAML document. The YAML document may be encoded in UTF-8, UTF-16 and UTF-32 (though UTF-32 is not mandatory, it is a must if the parser is to have JSON compatibility).<ref>


  • Whitespace indentation is used to denote structure; however tab characters are never allowed as indentation.
  • Comments begin with the number sign (

    ), can start anywhere on a line and continue until the end of the line. Comments must be separated from other tokens by white space characters.<ref>

    </ref> If they appear inside of a string, then they are number sign (


    ) literals.

  • List members are denoted by a leading hyphen (

    ) with one member per line, or enclosed in square brackets (

    [ ]

    ) and separated by comma space (



  • Associative arrays are represented using the colon space (

    ) in the form key: value, either one per line or enclosed in curly braces (

    {  }

    ) and separated by comma space (



    • An associative array key may be prefixed with a question mark (

      ) to allow for liberal multi-word keys to be represented unambiguously.

  • Strings (scalars) are ordinarily unquoted, but may be enclosed in double-quotes (

    ), or single-quotes (



    • Within double-quotes, special characters may be represented with C-style escape sequences starting with a backslash (

      ). According to the documentation the only octal escape supported is



  • Block scalars are delimited with indentation with optional modifiers to preserve (

    ) or fold (


    ) newlines.

  • Multiple documents within a single stream are separated by three hyphens (


    • Three periods (

      ) optionally end a document within a stream.

  • Repeated nodes are initially denoted by an ampersand (

    ) and thereafter referenced with an asterisk (



  • Nodes may be labeled with a type or tag using the exclamation point (

    ) followed by a string, which can be expanded into a URI.

  • YAML documents in a stream may be preceded by 'directives' composed of a percent sign (

    ) followed by a name and space delimited parameters. Two directives are defined in YAML 1.1:

    • The %YAML directive is used to identify the version of YAML in a given document.
    • The %TAG directive is used as a shortcut for URI prefixes. These shortcuts may then be used in node type tags.

YAML requires that colons and commas used as list separators be followed by a space so that scalar values containing embedded punctuation (such as




) can generally be represented without needing to be enclosed in quotes.

Two additional sigil characters are reserved in YAML for possible future standardisation: the at sign (


) and accent grave (



Basic components

YAML offers an “in-line” style for denoting associative arrays and lists. Here is a sample of the components.

Conventional block format uses a hyphen+space to begin a new item in list. <syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>

--- # Favorite movies
- Casablanca
- North by Northwest
- The Man Who Wasn't There

Optional inline format is delimited by comma+space and enclosed in brackets (similar to JSON).<ref>

</ref> <syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>

--- # Shopping list
[milk, pumpkin pie, eggs, juice]

Keys are separated from values by a colon+space. Indented blocks, common in YAML data files, use indentation and new lines to separate the key-value pairs. Inline Blocks, common in YAML data streams, use comma+space to separate the key-value pairs between braces. <syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>

--- # Indented Block
  name: John Smith
  age: 33
--- # Inline Block
{name: John Smith, age: 33}

Strings do not require quotation. There are two ways to write multi-line strings, one preserving newlines (using the


character) and one that folds the newlines (using the


character), both followed by a newline character.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”> data: |

  There once was a short man from Ealing
  Who got on a bus to Darjeeling
      It said on the door
      "Please don't spit on the floor"
  So he carefully spat on the ceiling

By default, the leading indent (of the first line) and trailing white space is stripped, though other behavior can be explicitly specified.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”> data: >

  Wrapped text
  will be folded
  into a single
  Blank lines denote
  paragraph breaks
</syntaxhighlight> Folded text converts newlines to spaces and removes leading whitespace.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”> - {name: John Smith, age: 33} - name: Mary Smith

 age: 27

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”> men: [John Smith, Bill Jones] women:

 - Mary Smith
 - Susan Williams

Advanced components

Two features that distinguish YAML from the capabilities of other data serialization languages are structures<ref name=yaml_structures>

</ref> and data typing.

YAML structures enable storage of multiple documents within single file, usage of references for repeated nodes, and usage of arbitrary nodes as keys.<ref name=“yaml_structures”/>

For clarity, compactness, and avoiding data entry errors, YAML provides node anchors (using


) and references (using


). References to the anchor work for all data types (see the ship-to reference in the example above).

Below is an example of a queue in an instrument sequencer in which two steps are reused repeatedly without being fully described each time.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”># sequencer protocols for Laser eye surgery — - step: &id001 # defines anchor label &id001

   instrument:      Lasik 2000
   pulseEnergy:     5.4
   pulseDuration:   12
   repetition:      1000
   spotSize:        1mm

- step: &id002

   instrument:      Lasik 2000
   pulseEnergy:     5.0
   pulseDuration:   10
   repetition:      500
   spotSize:        2mm
- step: *id001 # refers to the first step (with anchor &id001) - step: *id002 # refers to the second step - step:
   <<: *id001
   spotSize: 2mm                # redefines just this key, refers rest from &id001
- step: *id002 </syntaxhighlight>

Explicit data typing is seldom seen in the majority of YAML documents since YAML autodetects simple types. Data types can be divided into three categories: core, defined, and user-defined. Core are ones expected to exist in any parser (e.g. floats, ints, strings, lists, maps, …). Many more advanced data types, such as binary data, are defined in the YAML specification but not supported in all implementations. Finally YAML defines a way to extend the data type definitions locally to accommodate user-defined classes, structures or primitives (e.g. quad-precision floats).

YAML autodetects the datatype of the entity. Sometimes one wants to cast the datatype explicitly. The most common situation is where a single-word string that looks like a number, boolean or tag requires disambiguation by surrounding it with quotes or using an explicit datatype tag.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>— a: 123 # an integer b: “123”

  1. a string, disambiguated by quotes

c: 123.0 # a float d: !!float 123 # also a float via explicit data type prefixed by (!!) e: !!str 123 # a string, disambiguated by explicit type f: !!str Yes # a string via explicit type g: Yes # a boolean True (yaml1.1), string “Yes” (yaml1.2) h: Yes we have No bananas # a string, “Yes” and “No” disambiguated by context.</syntaxhighlight>

Not every implementation of YAML has every specification-defined data type. These built-in types use a double exclamation sigil prefix (


). Particularly interesting ones not shown here are sets, ordered maps, timestamps, and hexadecimal. Here's an example of base64 encoded binary data.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>

picture: !!binary |

Many implementations of YAML can support user-defined data types for object serialization. Local data types are not universal data types but are defined in the application using the YAML parser library. Local data types use a single exclamation mark (



<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”> — myObject: !myClass { name: Joe, age: 15 } </syntaxhighlight>


Data structure hierarchy is maintained by outline indentation.

<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>— receipt: Oz-Ware Purchase Invoice date: 2012-08-06 customer:

   first_name:   Dorothy
   family_name:  Gale


   - part_no:   A4786
     descrip:   Water Bucket (Filled)
     price:     1.47
     quantity:  4
   - part_no:   E1628
     descrip:   High Heeled "Ruby" Slippers
     size:      8
     price:     133.7
     quantity:  1

bill-to: &id001

   street: |
           123 Tornado Alley
           Suite 16
   city:   East Centerville
   state:  KS

ship-to: *id001

specialDelivery: >

   Follow the Yellow Brick
   Road to the Emerald City.
   Pay no attention to the
   man behind the curtain.

Notice that strings do not require enclosure in quotations. The specific number of spaces in the indentation is unimportant as long as parallel elements have the same left justification and the hierarchically nested elements are indented further. This sample document defines an associative array with 7 top level keys: one of the keys, “items”, contains a 2-element list, each element of which is itself an associative array with differing keys. Relational data and redundancy removal are displayed: the “ship-to” associative array content is copied from the “bill-to” associative array's content as indicated by the anchor (


) and reference (


) labels. Optional blank lines can be added for readability. Multiple documents can exist in a single file/stream and are separated by


. An optional


can be used at the end of a file (useful for signaling an end in streamed communications without closing the pipe).


Indented delimiting

Because YAML primarily relies on outline indentation for structure, it is especially resistant to delimiter collision. YAML's insensitivity to quotes and braces in scalar values means one may embed XML, JSON or even YAML documents inside a YAML document by simply indenting it in a block literal (using





<syntaxhighlight lang=“yaml”>— example: >

       HTML goes into YAML without modification
message: |

"Three is always greater than two, even for large values of two"

--Author Unknown

date: 2007-06-01</syntaxhighlight>

YAML may be placed in JSON by quoting and escaping all interior quotes. YAML may be placed in XML by escaping reserved characters (










) and converting whitespace, or by placing it in a CDATA section.

Non-hierarchical data models

Unlike JSON, which can only represent data in a hierarchical model with each child node having a single parent, YAML also offers a simple relational scheme that allows repeats of identical data to be referenced from two or more points in the tree rather than entered redundantly at those points. This is similar to the facility IDREF built into XML.<ref>

</ref> The YAML parser then expands these references into the fully populated data structures they imply when read in, so whatever program is using the parser does not have to be aware of a relational encoding model, unlike XML processors, which do not expand references. This expansion can enhance readability while reducing data entry errors in configuration files or processing protocols where many parameters remain the same in a sequential series of records while only a few vary. An example being that “ship-to” and “bill-to” records in an invoice are nearly always the same data.

Practical considerations

YAML is line-oriented and thus it is often simple to convert the unstructured output of existing programs into YAML format while having them retain much of the look of the original document. Because there are no closing tags, braces, or quotation marks to balance, it is generally easy to generate well-formed YAML directly from distributed print statements within unsophisticated programs. Likewise, the whitespace delimiters facilitate quick-and-dirty filtering of YAML files using the line-oriented commands in grep, awk, perl, ruby, and python.

In particular, unlike mark-up languages, chunks of consecutive YAML lines tend to be well-formed YAML documents themselves. This makes it very easy to write parsers that do not have to process a document in its entirety (e.g. balancing opening and closing tags and navigating quoted and escaped characters) before they begin extracting specific records within. This property is particularly expedient when iterating in a single, stateless pass, over records in a file whose entire data structure is too large to hold in memory, or for which reconstituting the entire structure to extract one item would be prohibitively expensive.

Counterintuitively, although its indented delimiting might seem to complicate deeply nested hierarchies, YAML handles indents as small as a single space, and this may achieve better compression than markup languages. Additionally, extremely deep indentation can be avoided entirely by either: 1) reverting to “inline style” (i.e. JSON-like format) without the indentation; or 2) using relational anchors to unwind the hierarchy to a flat form that the YAML parser will transparently reconstitute into the full data structure.


YAML is purely a data representation language and thus has no executable commands.<ref>A proposed “yield” tag will allow for simple arithmetic calculation.</ref> This means that parsers will be (or at least should be) safe to apply to tainted data without fear of a latent command-injection security hole. For example, because JSON is native JavaScript, it is tempting to use the JavaScript interpreter itself to evaluate the data structure into existence, leading to command-injection holes when inadequately verified. While validation and safe parsing is inherently possible in any data language, implementation is such a notorious pitfall that YAML's lack of an associated command language may be a relative security benefit.

However, YAML allows language-specific tags so that arbitrary local objects can be created by a parser that supports those tags. Any YAML parser that allows sophisticated object instantiation to be executed opens the potential for an injection attack. Perl parsers that allow loading of objects of arbitrary class create so-called “blessed” values. Using these values may trigger unexpected behavior, e.g. if the class uses overloaded operators. This may lead to execution of arbitrary Perl code.

The situation is similar for Python parsers. According to the PyYAML documentation:<ref>


<blockquote> Note that the ability to construct an arbitrary Python object may be dangerous if you receive a YAML document from an untrusted source such as the Internet. The function yaml.safe_load limits this ability to simple Python objects like integers or lists. </blockquote>

Data processing and representation

The XML<ref name=“XML 1.0”>

</ref><ref name=“XML 1.1”>

</ref> and YAML specifications<ref name=“YAML_spec”>

</ref> provide very different logical models for data node representation, processing, and storage.

The primary logical structures in an XML instance document are element and attribute.<ref>

</ref> For these primary logical structures, the base XML specification does not define constraints regarding such factors as duplication of elements or the order in which they are allowed to appear. Note, however, that the XML specification does define an “Element Content Model” for XML instance documents that include validity constraints. Validity constraints are user-defined and not mandatory for a well-formed XML instance document. http://www.w3.org/TR/xml11/#sec-element-content. In the case of duplicate Element attribute declarations, the first declaration is binding and later declarations are ignored.<ref>

</ref> In defining conformance for XML processors, the XML specification generalizes them into two types: validating and non-validating.<ref>

</ref> The XML specification asserts no detailed definitions for an API, processing model, or data representation model, although several are defined in separate specifications that a user or specification implementer may choose independently. These include the Document Object Model and XQuery.

A richer model for defining valid XML content is the W3C XML Schema standard.<ref>

</ref> This allows for full specification of valid XML content and is supported by a wide range of open-source, free and commercial processors and libraries.

The YAML specification identifies an instance document as a “Presentation” or “character stream”.<ref>

</ref> The primary logical structures in a YAML instance document are scalar, sequence, and mapping.<ref name=“TypesRepos”>Additional, optional-use, logical structures are enumerated in the YAML types repository.

The tagged types in the YAML types repository are optional and therefore not essential for conformant YAML processors. “The use of these tags is not mandatory.”</ref> The YAML specification also indicates some basic constraints that apply to these primary logical structures. For example, according to the specification, mapping keys do not have an order. In every case where node order is significant, a sequence must be used.<ref>


Moreover, in defining conformance for YAML processors, the YAML specification defines two primary operations: dump and load. All YAML-compliant processors must provide at least one of these operations, and may optionally provide both.<ref>

</ref> Finally, the YAML specification defines an information model or “representation graph”, which must be created during processing for both dump and load operations, although this representation need not be made available to the user through an API.<ref>


Comparison with JSON

JSON syntax is a basis of YAML version 1.2, which was promulgated with the express purpose of bringing YAML “into compliance with JSON as an official subset”.<ref>

</ref> Though prior versions of YAML were not strictly compatible,<ref>The incompatibilities were as follows: JSON allows extended character sets like UTF-32 and had incompatible unicode character escape syntax relative to YAML; YAML required a space after separators like comma, equals, and colon while JSON does not. Some non-standard implementations of JSON extend the grammar to include Javascript's


comments. Handling such edge cases may require light pre-processing of the JSON before parsing as in-line YAML. See also s://metacpan.org/module/JSON::XS#JSON-and-YAML.</ref> the discrepancies were rarely noticeable, and most JSON documents can be parsed by some YAML parsers such as Syck.<ref>Parsing JSON with SYCK. Note that e.g. Symfony's YAML parser does not support line breaks inside [] or {} structures, which is a major incompatibility with JSON.</ref> This is because JSON's semantic structure is equivalent to the optional “inline-style” of writing YAML. While extended hierarchies can be written in inline-style like JSON, this is not a recommended YAML style except when it aids clarity.

YAML has many additional features lacking in JSON, including comments, extensible data types, relational anchors, strings without quotation marks, and mapping types preserving key order.

Comparison with XML

YAML lacks the notion of tag attributes that are found in XML. Instead YAML has extensible type declarations (including class types for objects).

YAML itself does not have XML's language-defined document schema descriptors that allow, for example, a document to self-validate. However, there are several externally defined schema descriptor languages for YAML (e.g. Doctrine, Kwalify and Rx) that fulfill that role. Moreover, the semantics provided by YAML's language-defined type declarations in the YAML document itself frequently relaxes the need for a validator in simple, common situations. Additionally, YAXML, which represents YAML data structures in XML, allows XML schema importers and output mechanisms like XSLT to be applied to YAML.

Implementation idiosyncrasies

Some implementations of YAML, such as Perl's YAML.pm, will load an entire file (stream) and parse it en-masse. Conversely, YAML::Tiny only reads the first document in the stream and stops. Other implementations like PyYaml are lazy and iterate over the next document only upon request. For very large files in which one plans to handle the documents independently, instantiating the entire file before processing may be prohibitive. Thus in YAML.pm, occasionally one must chunk a file into documents and parse those individually. Fortunately, YAML makes this easy since this simply requires splitting on the document separator, which is m/^—$/ (once whitespace is stripped) as a regular expression in Perl.

Simple YAML files (e.g. key value pairs) are readily parsed with regular expressions without resort to a formal YAML parser. YAML emitters and parsers for many popular languages written in the pure native language itself exist, making it portable in a self-contained manner. Bindings to C-libraries also exist when speed is needed.

See also


yaml.txt · Last modified: 2016/12/09 23:06 by Cloud Monk Losang Jinpa PhD MCSE MCT Microsoft Cloud Ecosystem DevOps Engineer