Escape special characters

Arbitrary text placed in an HTML tag often needs to be altered, to ensure that the resulting HTML remains valid.

Problem characters can include:

These characters can be replaced with HTML character entities. For example, < can be replaced with &lt;.

Query strings (Blah=1&Name=Bob) often need to be escaped as well. If the query string contains special characters, it will need to be "URL encoded". (See the javadoc for the URLEncoder class for further information.) This will ensure the query string conforms with valid HTTP.

There's often a second issue, however, with regard to query strings. If a query string is placed in an HREF attribute, then even a URL encoded query string is often not of valid form. This is because URLEncoder produces valid HTTP, but it doesn't in general produce text which is a valid HTML attribute - the ampersand character needs to be replaced by the corresponding character entity &amp;.

Here is an example of a utility class which escapes special characters for HTML, XML, regular expressions, and so on.


package hirondelle.web4j.util;

import java.net.URLEncoder;
import java.io.UnsupportedEncodingException;
import java.text.CharacterIterator;
import java.text.StringCharacterIterator;
import java.util.regex.Pattern;
import java.util.regex.Matcher;

import hirondelle.web4j.security.SafeText;
import hirondelle.web4j.ui.translate.Text;
import hirondelle.web4j.ui.translate.Tooltips;
import hirondelle.web4j.ui.translate.TextFlow;
import hirondelle.web4j.ui.tag.Populate;
import hirondelle.web4j.database.Report;

/**
 Convenience methods for escaping special characters related to HTML, XML, 
 and regular expressions.
 
 <P>To keep you safe by default, WEB4J goes to some effort to escape 
 characters in your data when appropriate, such that you <em>usually</em>
 don't need to think too much about escaping special characters. Thus, you
  shouldn't need to <em>directly</em> use the services of this class very often. 
 
 <P><span class='highlight'>For Model Objects containing free form user input, 
 it is highly recommended that you use {@link SafeText}, not <tt>String</tt></span>.
 Free form user input is open to malicious use, such as
 <a href='http://www.owasp.org/index.php/Cross_Site_Scripting'>Cross Site Scripting</a>
 attacks. 
 Using <tt>SafeText</tt> will protect you from such attacks, by always escaping 
 special characters automatically in its <tt>toString()</tt> method.   
 
 <P>The following WEB4J classes will automatically escape special characters 
 for you, when needed : 
 <ul>
 <li>the {@link SafeText} class, used as a building block class for your 
 application's Model Objects, for modeling all free form user input
 <li>the {@link Populate} tag used with forms
 <li>the {@link Report} class used for creating quick reports
 <li>the {@link Text}, {@link TextFlow}, and {@link Tooltips} custom tags used 
 for translation
 </ul> 
*/
public final class EscapeChars {

  /**
    Escape characters for text appearing in HTML markup.
    
    <P>This method exists as a defence against Cross Site Scripting (XSS) hacks.
    The idea is to neutralize control characters commonly used by scripts, such that
    they will not be executed by the browser. This is done by replacing the control
    characters with their escaped equivalents.  
    See {@link hirondelle.web4j.security.SafeText} as well.
    
    <P>The following characters are replaced with corresponding 
    HTML character entities :
    <table border='1' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='0'>
    <tr><th> Character </th><th>Replacement</th></tr>
    <tr><td> < </td><td> &lt; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> > </td><td> &gt; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> & </td><td> &amp; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> " </td><td> &quot;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> \t </td><td> &#009;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ! </td><td> &#033;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> # </td><td> &#035;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> $ </td><td> &#036;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> % </td><td> &#037;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ' </td><td> &#039;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ( </td><td> &#040;</td></tr> 
    <tr><td> ) </td><td> &#041;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> * </td><td> &#042;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> + </td><td> &#043; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> , </td><td> &#044; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> - </td><td> &#045; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> . </td><td> &#046; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> / </td><td> &#047; </td></tr>
    <tr><td> : </td><td> &#058;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ; </td><td> &#059;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> = </td><td> &#061;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ? </td><td> &#063;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> @ </td><td> &#064;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> [ </td><td> &#091;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> \ </td><td> &#092;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ] </td><td> &#093;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ^ </td><td> &#094;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> _ </td><td> &#095;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ` </td><td> &#096;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> { </td><td> &#123;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> | </td><td> &#124;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> } </td><td> &#125;</td></tr>
    <tr><td> ~ </td><td> &#126;</td></tr>
    </table>
    
    <P>Note that JSTL's {@code <c:out>} escapes <em>only the first 
    five</em> of the above characters.
   */
   public static String forHTML(String aText){
     final StringBuilder result = new StringBuilder();
     final StringCharacterIterator iterator = new StringCharacterIterator(aText);
     char character =  iterator.current();
     while (character != CharacterIterator.DONE ){
       if (character == '<') {
         result.append("&lt;");
       }
       else if (character == '>') {
         result.append("&gt;");
       }
       else if (character == '&') {
         result.append("&amp;");
      }
       else if (character == '\"') {
         result.append("&quot;");
       }
       else if (character == '\t') {
         addCharEntity(9, result);
       }
       else if (character == '!') {
         addCharEntity(33, result);
       }
       else if (character == '#') {
         addCharEntity(35, result);
       }
       else if (character == '$') {
         addCharEntity(36, result);
       }
       else if (character == '%') {
         addCharEntity(37, result);
       }
       else if (character == '\'') {
         addCharEntity(39, result);
       }
       else if (character == '(') {
         addCharEntity(40, result);
       }
       else if (character == ')') {
         addCharEntity(41, result);
       }
       else if (character == '*') {
         addCharEntity(42, result);
       }
       else if (character == '+') {
         addCharEntity(43, result);
       }
       else if (character == ',') {
         addCharEntity(44, result);
       }
       else if (character == '-') {
         addCharEntity(45, result);
       }
       else if (character == '.') {
         addCharEntity(46, result);
       }
       else if (character == '/') {
         addCharEntity(47, result);
       }
       else if (character == ':') {
         addCharEntity(58, result);
       }
       else if (character == ';') {
         addCharEntity(59, result);
       }
       else if (character == '=') {
         addCharEntity(61, result);
       }
       else if (character == '?') {
         addCharEntity(63, result);
       }
       else if (character == '@') {
         addCharEntity(64, result);
       }
       else if (character == '[') {
         addCharEntity(91, result);
       }
       else if (character == '\\') {
         addCharEntity(92, result);
       }
       else if (character == ']') {
         addCharEntity(93, result);
       }
       else if (character == '^') {
         addCharEntity(94, result);
       }
       else if (character == '_') {
         addCharEntity(95, result);
       }
       else if (character == '`') {
         addCharEntity(96, result);
       }
       else if (character == '{') {
         addCharEntity(123, result);
       }
       else if (character == '|') {
         addCharEntity(124, result);
       }
       else if (character == '}') {
         addCharEntity(125, result);
       }
       else if (character == '~') {
         addCharEntity(126, result);
       }
       else {
         //the char is not a special one
         //add it to the result as is
         result.append(character);
       }
       character = iterator.next();
     }
     return result.toString();
  }
  

  /**
   Escape all ampersand characters in a URL. 
    
   <P>Replaces all <tt>'&'</tt> characters with <tt>'&amp;'</tt>.
   
  <P>An ampersand character may appear in the query string of a URL.
   The ampersand character is indeed valid in a URL.
   <em>However, URLs usually appear as an <tt>HREF</tt> attribute, and 
   such attributes have the additional constraint that ampersands 
   must be escaped.</em>
   
   <P>The JSTL <c:url> tag does indeed perform proper URL encoding of 
   query parameters. But it does not, in general, produce text which 
   is valid as an <tt>HREF</tt> attribute, simply because it does 
   not escape the ampersand character. This is a nuisance when 
   multiple query parameters appear in the URL, since it requires a little 
   extra work.
  */
  public static String forHrefAmpersand(String aURL){
    return aURL.replace("&", "&amp;");
  }
   
  /**
    Synonym for <tt>URLEncoder.encode(String, "UTF-8")</tt>.
   
    <P>Used to ensure that HTTP query strings are in proper form, by escaping
    special characters such as spaces.
   
    <P>It is important to note that if a query string appears in an <tt>HREF</tt>
    attribute, then there are two issues - ensuring the query string is valid HTTP
    (it is URL-encoded), and ensuring it is valid HTML (ensuring the 
    ampersand is escaped).
   */
   public static String forURL(String aURLFragment){
     String result = null;
     try {
       result = URLEncoder.encode(aURLFragment, "UTF-8");
     }
     catch (UnsupportedEncodingException ex){
       throw new RuntimeException("UTF-8 not supported", ex);
     }
     return result;
   }

  /**
   Escape characters for text appearing as XML data, between tags.
   
   <P>The following characters are replaced with corresponding character entities :
   <table border='1' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='0'>
   <tr><th> Character </th><th> Encoding </th></tr>
   <tr><td> < </td><td> &lt; </td></tr>
   <tr><td> > </td><td> &gt; </td></tr>
   <tr><td> & </td><td> &amp; </td></tr>
   <tr><td> " </td><td> &quot;</td></tr>
   <tr><td> ' </td><td> &#039;</td></tr>
   </table>
   
   <P>Note that JSTL's {@code <c:out>} escapes the exact same set of 
   characters as this method. <span class='highlight'>That is, {@code <c:out>}
    is good for escaping to produce valid XML, but not for producing safe 
    HTML.</span>
  */
  public static String forXML(String aText){
    final StringBuilder result = new StringBuilder();
    final StringCharacterIterator iterator = new StringCharacterIterator(aText);
    char character =  iterator.current();
    while (character != CharacterIterator.DONE ){
      if (character == '<') {
        result.append("&lt;");
      }
      else if (character == '>') {
        result.append("&gt;");
      }
      else if (character == '\"') {
        result.append("&quot;");
      }
      else if (character == '\'') {
        result.append("&#039;");
      }
      else if (character == '&') {
         result.append("&amp;");
      }
      else {
        //the char is not a special one
        //add it to the result as is
        result.append(character);
      }
      character = iterator.next();
    }
    return result.toString();
  }
  
  /**
   Escapes characters for text appearing as data in the 
   <a href='http://www.json.org/'>Javascript Object Notation</a>
   (JSON) data interchange format.
   
   <P>The following commonly used control characters are escaped :
   <table border='1' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='0'>
   <tr><th> Character </th><th> Escaped As </th></tr>
   <tr><td> " </td><td> \" </td></tr>
   <tr><td> \ </td><td> \\ </td></tr>
   <tr><td> / </td><td> \/ </td></tr>
   <tr><td> back space </td><td> \b </td></tr> 
   <tr><td> form feed </td><td> \f </td></tr>
   <tr><td> line feed </td><td> \n </td></tr>
   <tr><td> carriage return </td><td> \r </td></tr>
   <tr><td> tab </td><td> \t </td></tr>
   </table>
   
   <P>See <a href='http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc4627.txt'>RFC 4627</a> for more information.
  */
  public static String forJSON(String aText){
    final StringBuilder result = new StringBuilder();
    StringCharacterIterator iterator = new StringCharacterIterator(aText);
    char character = iterator.current();
    while (character != StringCharacterIterator.DONE){
      if( character == '\"' ){
        result.append("\\\"");
      }
      else if(character == '\\'){
        result.append("\\\\");
      }
      else if(character == '/'){
        result.append("\\/");
      }
      else if(character == '\b'){
        result.append("\\b");
      }
      else if(character == '\f'){
        result.append("\\f");
      }
      else if(character == '\n'){
        result.append("\\n");
      }
      else if(character == '\r'){
        result.append("\\r");
      }
      else if(character == '\t'){
        result.append("\\t");
      }
      else {
        //the char is not a special one
        //add it to the result as is
        result.append(character);
      }
      character = iterator.next();
    }
    return result.toString();    
  }

  /**
   Return <tt>aText</tt> with all <tt>'<'</tt> and <tt>'>'</tt> characters
   replaced by their escaped equivalents.
  */
  public static String toDisableTags(String aText){
    final StringBuilder result = new StringBuilder();
    final StringCharacterIterator iterator = new StringCharacterIterator(aText);
    char character =  iterator.current();
    while (character != CharacterIterator.DONE ){
      if (character == '<') {
        result.append("&lt;");
      }
      else if (character == '>') {
        result.append("&gt;");
      }
      else {
        //the char is not a special one
        //add it to the result as is
        result.append(character);
      }
      character = iterator.next();
    }
    return result.toString();
  }
  

  /**
   Replace characters having special meaning in regular expressions
   with their escaped equivalents, preceded by a '\' character.
  
   <P>The escaped characters include :
  <ul>
  <li>.
  <li>\
  <li>?, * , and +
  <li>&
  <li>:
  <li>{ and }
  <li>[ and ]
  <li>( and )
  <li>^ and $
  </ul>
  */
  public static String forRegex(String aRegexFragment){
    final StringBuilder result = new StringBuilder();

    final StringCharacterIterator iterator = 
      new StringCharacterIterator(aRegexFragment)
    ;
    char character =  iterator.current();
    while (character != CharacterIterator.DONE ){
      /*
       All literals need to have backslashes doubled.
      */
      if (character == '.') {
        result.append("\\.");
      }
      else if (character == '\\') {
        result.append("\\\\");
      }
      else if (character == '?') {
        result.append("\\?");
      }
      else if (character == '*') {
        result.append("\\*");
      }
      else if (character == '+') {
        result.append("\\+");
      }
      else if (character == '&') {
        result.append("\\&");
      }
      else if (character == ':') {
        result.append("\\:");
      }
      else if (character == '{') {
        result.append("\\{");
      }
      else if (character == '}') {
        result.append("\\}");
      }
      else if (character == '[') {
        result.append("\\[");
      }
      else if (character == ']') {
        result.append("\\]");
      }
      else if (character == '(') {
        result.append("\\(");
      }
      else if (character == ')') {
        result.append("\\)");
      }
      else if (character == '^') {
        result.append("\\^");
      }
      else if (character == '$') {
        result.append("\\$");
      }
      else {
        //the char is not a special one
        //add it to the result as is
        result.append(character);
      }
      character = iterator.next();
    }
    return result.toString();
  }
  
  /**
   Escape <tt>'$'</tt> and <tt>'\'</tt> characters in replacement strings.
   
   <P>Synonym for <tt>Matcher.quoteReplacement(String)</tt>.
   
   <P>The following methods use replacement strings which treat 
   <tt>'$'</tt> and <tt>'\'</tt> as special characters:
   <ul>
   <li><tt>String.replaceAll(String, String)</tt>
   <li><tt>String.replaceFirst(String, String)</tt>
   <li><tt>Matcher.appendReplacement(StringBuffer, String)</tt>
   </ul>
   
   <P>If replacement text can contain arbitrary characters, then you 
   will usually need to escape that text, to ensure special characters 
   are interpreted literally.
  */
  public static String forReplacementString(String aInput){
    return Matcher.quoteReplacement(aInput);
  }
  
  /**
   Disable all <tt><SCRIPT></tt> tags in <tt>aText</tt>.
   
   <P>Insensitive to case.
  */  
  public static String forScriptTagsOnly(String aText){
    String result = null;
    Matcher matcher = SCRIPT.matcher(aText);
    result = matcher.replaceAll("&lt;SCRIPT>");
    matcher = SCRIPT_END.matcher(result);
    result = matcher.replaceAll("&lt;/SCRIPT>");
    return result;
  }
  
  // PRIVATE //
  
  private EscapeChars(){
    //empty - prevent construction
  }
  
  private static final Pattern SCRIPT = Pattern.compile(
    "<SCRIPT>", Pattern.CASE_INSENSITIVE
   );
  private static final Pattern SCRIPT_END = Pattern.compile(
    "</SCRIPT>", Pattern.CASE_INSENSITIVE
  );
  
  private static void addCharEntity(Integer aIdx, StringBuilder aBuilder){
    String padding = "";
    if( aIdx <= 9 ){
       padding = "00";
    }
    else if( aIdx <= 99 ){
      padding = "0";
    }
    else {
      //no prefix
    }
    String number = padding + aIdx.toString();
    aBuilder.append("&#" + number + ";");
  }
}
 



See Also :
Replace a substring
Beware of doubly escaped ampersands
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