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Aliased Files and Symbolic links

Good Security Practise
Alias detection
Serving Aliases and Symbolic Links

Web applications will often serve static content from the file system provided by the operating system running underneath the JVM. However, because file systems often implement multiple aliased names for the same file, then security constraints and other servlet URI space mappings may inadvertently be bypassed by aliases.

A key example of this is case insensitivity and 8.3 filenames implemented by the Windows file system. If a file within a web application called /mysecretfile.txt is protected by a security constraint on the URI /mysecretfile.txt, then a request to /MySecretFile.TXT will not match the URI constraint because URIs are case sensitive, but the Windows file system will report that a file does exist at that name and it will be served despite the security constraint. Less well known than case insensitivity is that Windows files systems also support 8.3 filenames for compatibility with legacy programs. Thus a request to a URI like /MYSECR~1.TXT will again not match the security constraint, but will be reported as an existing file by the file system and served.

There are many examples of aliases, not just on Windows:

In addition, it is not just URI security constraints that can be bypassed. For example the mapping of the URI pattern *.jsp to the JSP Servlet may be bypassed by an a request to an alias like /foobar.jsp%00, thus rather than execute the JSP, the source code of the JSP is returned by the file system.

Good Security Practise

Part of the problem with aliases is that the standard web application security model is to allow all requests except the ones that are specifically denied by security constraints. A best practice for security is to deny all requests and to permit only those that are specifically identified as allowable. While it is possible to design web application security constraints in this style, it can be difficult in all circumstances and it is not the default. T hus it is important for Jetty to be able to detect and deny requests to aliased static content.

Alias detection

It is impossible for Jetty to know of all the aliases that may be implemented by the file system running beneath it, thus it does not attempt to make any specific checks for any know aliases. Instead Jetty detects aliases by using the canonical path of a file. If a file resource handled by jetty has a canonical name that differs from the name used to request the resource, then Jetty determines that the resource is an aliased request and it will not be returned by the ServletContext.getResource(String) method (or similar) and thus will not be served as static content nor used as the basis of a JSP.

This if Jetty is running on a Windows operating system, then a file called /MySecret.TXT will have a canonical name that exactly matches that case. So while a request to /mysecret.txt or /MYSECR~1.TXT will result in a File Resource that matches the file, the different canonical name will indicate that those requests are aliases and they will not be served as static content and instead a 404 response returned.

Unfortunately this approach denies all aliases, including symbolic links, which can be useful in assembling complex web applications.

Serving Aliases and Symbolic Links

Not all aliases are bad nor should be seen as attempts to subvert security constraints. Specifically, symbolic links can be very useful when assembling complex web applications. As such, Jetty contexts support an extensible AliasCheck mechanism to allow aliases resources to be inspected and conditionally served. In this way, "good" aliases can be detected and served. Jetty provides several utility implementations of the AliasCheck interface as nested classes with ContextHandler:

Approve all aliases (Use with caution!).
Approve Aliases using the java-7 Files.readSymbolicLink(path) and Path.toRealPath(...) APIs to check that aliases are valid symbolic links.


By default, Jetty serves aliased files for implementations running on UNIX as Contexts are created with both the AllowSymLinkAliasChecker and ApproveNonExistentDirectoryAliases alias checkers.

An application is free to implement its own Alias checking. Alias Checkers can be installed in a context via the following XML used in a context deployer file or WEB-INF/jetty-web.xml:

  <!-- Allow symbolic links  -->
  <Call name="addAliasCheck">
    <Arg><New class="org.eclipse.jetty.server.handler.AllowSymLinkAliasChecker"/></Arg>

See an error or something missing? Contribute to this documentation at Github!(Generated: 2020-01-17)