By Harry Fuecks

SafeHTML – cleaning form input

By Harry Fuecks

Reading a couple of web-related security books at the moment.

One is Apache Security, by Ivan Ristic (mod_security), who I got to meet again last weekend. Will save a long review for another time (I’m not finished reading yet), suffice to say this is a must read if you’re doing anything around Apache. Particularily PHP developers, who tend to see just their small part of the stack (“Apache is the hosts problem right?”).

Another is PHP-Sicherheit, a German publication, one of the authors being Christopher Kunz, who was at the conference, talking about Hardened PHP.


Also can’t say much about PHP-Sicherheit yet, other than I like what I’ve seen so far. What got me typing though was it’s mention of SafeHTML – an “anti-XSS HTML parser, written in PHP”, by Roman Ivanov, which I hadn’t seen before. In an odd way it’s kind of a product of Sitepointforums, given that it uses XML_HTMLSax, which basically got developed in this thread.

Now SafeHTML is acting as a filter, trying to strip out anything dangerous. The general view on the web is that it’s practically impossible to do this – there’s so many ways to sneak the word “javascript” in as the protocol to a link, for example, and IE is (sadly) very forgiving. I’ve only glanced at the code but so far it looks convincing. For example here’s how he deals with analyzing the link protocol (just the relevant bits of the class)…

    var $blackProtocols = array(
        'about',   'chrome',     'data',       'disk',     'hcp',     
        'help',    'javascript', 'livescript', 'lynxcgi',  'lynxexec', 
        'ms-help', 'ms-its',     'mhtml',      'mocha',    'opera',   
        'res',     'resource',   'shell',      'vbscript', 'view-source', 
        '',          'wysiwyg', 

        // ...

      foreach ($this->blackProtocols as $proto) {
          $preg = "/[sx01-x1F]*";
          for ($i=0; $i<strlen ($proto); $i++) {
              $preg .= $proto{$i} . "[sx01-x1F]*";
          $preg .= ":/i";
          $this->_protoRegexps[] = $preg;

Should match not just “javascript” but also “java script” and many other possible combinations containing ASCII control characters.

It also looks like it’s being smart about UTF-7 – haven’t examined that closely yet. Another good sign (odd as it may seem) is the “bug reports“, which have also been fixed.

Still not entirely convinced though – one thing that puzzles me is it’s taking all the decisions about what HTML get’s stripped for you. Will it cope with a table tag with a large width, that effectively breaks a design, for example (OK – that’s not XSS but…)? Still investigating… Would also be good to see this hosted somewhere like Berlios or Sourceforge.

Otherwise – side note (perhaps to Roman) – Jeff has since improved performance (over HTMLSax) with a new design, found here.

  • Ren

    Yes, heard about SafeHTML from somewhere. When was looking at doing something similar, I used PHP5s DOM loadHTML() and then transformed it with an XSLT which is basically a whitelist of templates of allowed elements and attributes, discarding everything else.

  • Helgi Þormar

    Well it’s “hosted” at pearweb but not in the sense you talked about, it’s not even the most recent version … the maintainer seems a bit too lazy to maintain cvs version and release to pearweb.

    Would be nice if someone could convince him to do that ;D (I had hard enough time to get him to release the inital release after his package was accepted into PEAR)

  • wei

    safeHTML should pass all the XSS examples on

  • Not documented, but really worth a try. Works really good on some websites I know.

  • safeHTML should pass all the XSS examples on

    Playing around with the demo, looks OK. Thanks for the link – that really needs turning into some unit tests, to run against these sort of projects. Not documented, but really worth a try. Works really good on some websites I know.

    Like the first impressions there – nice code. Not sure it’s doing quite the same thing though – seems more focused on stripping particular HTML tags rather than XSS prevention. Will look further.

  • I guess this needs link to as well:

  • Matt Mullenweg

    How does this compare to something like KSES?

  • KSES I had heard of – never looked at it too deeply but, from, seems to be a serious attempt.

    OK – when I get some time will do a comparison.

  • What about Input Filter on

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  • Roman Ivanov

    Helgi Þormar: HTML_Safe is most recent version, such as SafeHTML.

    I update both packages simultaneously.

  • mwmitchell

    Whipped up a little template class based on your idea Harry, of using short tags with htmlentities:

    – matt

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  • psojiakmht
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