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How to perform HTML entity encoding in Java

Revision as of 02:47, 9 November 2007 by Esheridan (talk | contribs) (modified to avoid a NullPointerException)

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Injection attacks rely on the fact that interpreters take data and execute it as commands. If an attacker can modify the data that's sent to an interpreter, they may be able to make it misbehave. One way to help prevent this from happening is to encode the attacker's data in such a way that the interpreter will not get confused. HTML entity encoding is just such an encoding mechanism for many interpreters.

This is not a guarantee by the way. It's almost certain that someone, probably from the XML/Web Services world, will create an engine that performs HTML entity decoding automatically, thus reintroducing the injection threat. However, for the time being, HTML entity encoding seems to work pretty well to prevent many types of injection.


We're going to implement a simple little method that encodes special characters. The nice .NET folks over at Microsoft had the foresight to build this into their platform, but the Java community seems to resist adding validation to the Java EE environment despite all the security issues that it could solve. View layers such as Java Server Faces, Spring-MVC, WebWork and others automatically perform HTML encoding through custom tags.

The best place for this method is in some kind of ValidationEngine, but since it's a good candidate for being static, it doesn't matter what class it ends up in that much.

Note that this implementation doesn't produce the special characters like & lt; or & gt; - but it's not difficult to implement with a simple lookup table.

   public static String HTMLEntityEncode( String s )
       StringBuffer buf = new StringBuffer();
       int len = (s == null ? -1 : s.length());

       for ( int i = 0; i < len; i++ )
           char c = s.charAt( i );
           if ( c>='a' && c<='z' || c>='A' && c<='Z' || c>='0' && c<='9' )
               buf.append( c );
               buf.append( "&#" + (int)c + ";" );
       return buf.toString();