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J2EE Bad Practices: JSP Expressions

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#REDIRECT Failure to follow guideline/specification

Last revision (mm/dd/yy): 05/27/2009


JSP 2.0 introduced a new capability allowing one to use JSP Expressions directly within the template text (i.e. outside of tag libraries or tag files) of a web page. However, improper use of the expressions will leave an application open to XSS Attacks.


  • Failing to use JSP Expressions properly will leave an application open to XSS Attacks.

Exposure period This vulnerability has existed since servlet containers and application servers began implementing the [JSP 2.0 standard]


  • Languages: Java/JSP

Severity High

Likelihood of exploit If a developer uses JSP Expressions to write unsanitized, user-entered data to a page, the likelihood of exploit is very high.

Risk Factors



JSP 2.0 expressions allow developers to expose data and objects stored in application, session, request, or page scope using an Ant-style syntax. It allows you to replace this

    <c:forEach var="book" items="${books}">
            <td><c:out value="${book.title}"/></td>
            <td><c:out value="${}"/></td>
            <td><c:out value="${book.isbn}"/></td>

with this

    <c:forEach var="book" items="${books}">

As you can see, the syntax in the second example is more succinct. However, it may also expose a Cross Site Scripting XSS vulnerability. The problem that few tutorials (including Sun's Java EE 5 Tutorial) mention is that the expression syntax does not escape HTML characters. Therefore, any web application using JSP Expressions to output unsanitized, user-entered data will be vulnerable to Cross Site Scripting (XSS) attacks.

Related Attacks

Related Vulnerabilities

Related Controls

The safest cure for this XSS vulnerability leads one right back to the first example. As section 2.2.2 of the JSP 2.0 Specification reads, “In cases where escaping is desired (for example, to help prevent cross-site scripting attacks), the JSTL core tag c:out can be used.”

To be sure your code is not vulnerable to the potential XSS vulnerability described herein, use JSP Expressions only as tag library attribute values and stick to using JSTL‘s c:out tag for writing text to a page. Deciding which instances of template text expression usage are safe and which are not is error prone and the consequences of a mistake are grave.

Related Technical Impacts


Note: A reference to related CWE or CAPEC article should be added when exists. Eg: