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Anti-XSS Security Filters for EJS and More

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secure-filters is a collection of sanitization functions ("filters") to provide protection against Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and other injection attacks.

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About XSS

XSS is the #3 most critical security flaw affecting web applications for 2013, as determined by a broad consensus among OWASP members.

To effectively combat XSS, you must combine input validation with output sanitization. Using one or the other is not sufficient; you must apply both! This module aims to provide only output sanitization since there are plenty of JavaScript modules out there to do the validation part.

Whichever input validation and output sanitization modules you end up using, please review the code carefully and apply your own professional paranoia. Trust, but verify.

Input Validation

You can roll your own input validation or you can use an existing module. Either way, there are many important rules to follow.

This Stack-Overflow thread lists several input validation options specific to node.js.

One of those options is node-validator (NPM, github). It provides an impressive list of chainable validators. In addition to validation, it gives a set of handy sanitization filters.

Validator has an xss() filter function that can strip-out certain common XSS attack-strings. But, use caution: XSS attacks can be so highly obfuscated that they may be able to bypass Validator's detection algorithm. Validator also has a 3rd party express-validate middleware module for use in the popular Express node.js server.


secure-filters can be used with EJS or as normal functions.


  npm install --save secure-filters

:warning:CAUTION: If the Content-Type HTTP header for your document, or the <meta charset=""> tag (or eqivalent) specifies a non-UTF-8 encoding these filters may not provide adequate protection! Some browsers can treat some characters at Unicode code-points 0x00A0 and above as if they were < if the encoding is not set to UTF-8!

With EJS

To configure EJS, simply wrap your require('ejs') call. This will import the filters using the names pre-defined by this module.

  var ejs = require('secure-filters').configure(require('ejs'));

Then, within an EJS template:

    var config = <%-: config |jsObj%>;
    var userId = parseInt('<%-: userId |js%>',10);
  <a href="/welcome/<%-: userId |uri%>">Welcome <%-: userName |html%></a>
  <a href="javascript:activate('<%-: userId |jsAttr%>')">Click here to activate</a>

Alternative EJS uses.

Rather than importing the pre-defined names we've chosen, here are some other ways to integrate secure-filters with EJS.

Replacing EJS's default escape

As of EJS 0.8.4, you can replace the escape() function during template compilation. This allows <%= %> to be safer than the default.

var escapeHTML = secureFilters.html;
var templateFn = ejs.compile(template, { escape: escapeHTML });


It's possible that the filter names pre-defined by this module interferes with existing filters that you've written. Or, you may wish to import a sub-set of the filters. In which case, you can simply assign properties to the ejs.filters object.

  var secureFilters = require('secure-filters');
  var ejs = require('ejs');
  ejs.filters.secJS = secureFilters.js;
    var myStr = "<%-: myVal | secJS %>";


Or, you can namespace using a parametric style, similar to how EJS' pre-defined get:'prop' filter works:

  var secureFilters = require('secure-filters');
  var ejs = require('ejs');
  ejs.filters.sec = function(val, context) {
    return secureFilters[context](val);
    var myStr = "<%-: myVal | sec:'js' %>";

As Normal Functions

The filter functions are just regular functions and can be used outside of EJS.

  var htmlEscape = require('secure-filters').html;
  var escaped = htmlEscape('"><script>alert(\'pwn\')</script>');


You can simply include the lib/secure-filters.js file itself to get started.

  <script type="text/javascript" src="path/to/secure-filters.js"></script>
  <script type="text/javascript">
    var escaped = secureFilters.html(userInput);

We've also added AMD module definition to secure-filters.js for use in Require.js and other AMD frameworks. We don't pre-define a name, but suggest that you use 'secure-filters'.


By convention in the Contexts below, USERINPUT should be replaced with the output of the filter function.


Sanitizes output for HTML element and attribute contexts using entity-encoding.


  <p>Hello, <span id="name">USERINPUT</span></p>
  <div class="USERINPUT"></div>
  <div class='USERINPUT'></div>

:warning:CAUTION: this is not the correct encoding for embedding the contents of a <script> or <style> block (plus other blocks that cannot have entity-encoded characters).

Any character not matched by /[\t\n\v\f\r ,\.0-9A-Z_a-z\-\u00A0-\uFFFF]/ is replaced with an HTML entity. Additionally, characters matched by /[\x00-\x08\x0B\x0C\x0E-\x1F\x7F-\x9F]/ are converted to spaces to avoid browser quirks that interpret these as non-characters.

A Note About <%= %>

You might be asking "Why provide html(var)? EJS already does HTML escaping!".

Prior to 0.8.5, EJS doesn't escape the ' (apostrophe) character when using the <%= %> syntax. This can lead to XSS accidents! Consider the template:

  <img src='<%= prefs.avatar %>'>

When given user input x' onerror='alert(1), the above gets rendered as:

  <img src='x' onerror='alert(1)'>

Which will cause the onerror javascript to run. Using this module's filter should prevent this.

  <img src='<%-: prefs.avatar |html%>'>

When given user input x' onerror='alert(1), the above gets rendered as:

  <img src='x&#39; onerror&#61;&#39;alert&#40;1&#41;'>

Which will not run the attacking script.


Sanitizes output for JavaScript string contexts using backslash-encoding.

    var singleQuote = 'USERINPUT';
    var doubleQuote = "USERINPUT";
    var anInt = parseInt('USERINPUT', 10);
    var aFloat = parseFloat('USERINPUT');
    var aBool = ('USERINPUT' === 'true');

:warning:CAUTION: you need to always put quotes around the embedded value; don't assume that it's a bare int/float/boolean constant!

:warning:CAUTION: this is not the correct encoding for the entire contents of a <script> block! You need to sanitize each variable in-turn.

Any character not matched by /[,\-\.0-9A-Z_a-z]/ is escaped as \xHH or \uHHHH where H is a hexidecimal digit. The shorter \x form is used for charaters in the 7-bit ASCII range (i.e. code point <= 0x7F).


Sanitizes output for a JavaScript literal in an HTML script context.

    var config = USERINPUT;

This function encodes the object with JSON.stringify(), then escapes certain characters. Any character not matched by /[",\-\.0-9:A-Z\[\\\]_a-z{}]/ is escaped consistent with the js(value) escaping above. Additionally, the sub-string ]]> is encoded as \x5D\x5D\x3E to prevent breaking out of CDATA context.

Because < and > are not matched characters, they get encoded as \x3C and \x3E, respectively. This prevents breaking out of a surrounding HTML <script> context.

For example, with a literal object like {username:'Albert </script><script>alert("Pwnerton")'}, jsObj() gives output:

    var config = {"username":"\x3C\x2Fscript\x3E\x3Cscript\x3Ealert\x28\"Pwnerton\"\x29"};

JSON is not a subset of JavaScript

Article: JSON isn't a JavaScript Subset.

JSON is almost a subset of JavaScript, but for two characters: LINE SEPARATOR U+2028 and PARAGRAPH SEPARATOR U+2029. These two characters can't legally appear in JavaScript strings and must be escaped. Due to the ambiguity of these and other Unicode whitespace characters, secure-filters will backslash encode U+2028 as \u2028, U+2029 as \u2029, etc.


Sanitizes output for embedded HTML scripting attributes using a special combination of backslash- and entity-encoding.

  <a href="javascript:doActivate('USERINPUT')">click to activate</a>
  <button onclick="display('USERINPUT')">Click To Display</button>

The string <ha>, 'ha', "ha" is escaped to &lt;ha&gt;, \&#39;ha\&#39;, \&quot;ha\&quot;. Note the backslashes before the apostrophe and quote entities.


Sanitizes output in URI component contexts by using percent-encoding.

  <a href="">
  <a href="">

The ranges 0-9, A-Z, a-z, plus hypen, dot and underscore (-._) are preserved. Every other character is converted to UTF-8, then output as %XX percent-encoded octets, where X is an uppercase hexidecimal digit.

Note that if composing a URL, the entire result should ideally be HTML-escaped before insertion into HTML. However, since Percent-encoding is also HTML-safe, it may be sufficient to just URI-encode the untrusted components if you know the rest is application-supplied.


Sanitizes output in CSS contexts by using backslash encoding.

  <style type="text/css">
    #user-USERINPUT {
      background-color: #USERINPUT;

:warning:CAUTION this is not the correct filter for a style="" attribute; use the style(value) filter instead!

:warning:CAUTION even though this module prevents breaking out of CSS context, it is still somewhat risky to allow user-controlled input into CSS and <style> blocks. Be sure to combine CSS escaping with whitelist-based input sanitization! Here's a small sampling of what's possible:

The ranges a-z, A-Z, 0-9 plus Unicode U+10000 and higher are preserved. All other characters are encoded as \h, where h is one one or more lowercase hexadecimal digits, including the trailing space.

Confusingly, CSS allows NO-BREAK SPACE U+00A0 to be used in an identifier. Because of this confusion, it's possible browsers treat it as whitespace, and so secure-filters escapes it.

Since the behaviour of NUL in CSS2.1 is undefined, it is replaced with \fffd, REPLACEMENT CHARACTER U+FFFD.

For example, the string <wow> becomes \3c wow\3e (note the trailing space).


Encodes values for safe embedding in HTML style attribute context.

USAGE: all instances of USERINPUT should be sanitized by this function

  <div style="background-color: #USERINPUT;"></div>

:warning:CAUTION even though this module prevents breaking out of style-attribute context, it is still somewhat risky to allow user-controlled input (see caveats on css above). Be sure to combine with whitelist-based input sanitization!

Encodes the value first as in the css() filter, then HTML entity-encodes the result.

For example, the string <wow> becomes &#92;3c wow&#92;3e.


If you'd like to contribute to or modify secure-filters, here's a quick guide to get you started.

Development Dependencies


Download via GitHub and install npm dependencies:

git clone
cd secure-filters

npm install


Testing is with the mocha framework. Tests are located in the tests/ directory.

The unit tests are run twice: once under node.js and once under PhantomJS. PhantomJS test files are located in the static/ directory.

To run the tests:

npm test


  1. npm version patch (increments x in z.y.x, then makes a commit for package.json, tags that commit)
  2. git push --tags origin master
  3. npm publish

Go to and verify it published (can take several minutes)


Email GoInstant Support or stop by #goinstant on freenode.

For responsible disclosures, email GoInstant Security.

To file a bug or propose a patch, please use github directly.


© 2013 GoInstant Inc., a company

Licensed under the BSD 3-clause license.