The following page simulates XSS attacks and successfully (?) prevents them. I want to know if I've missed any other major attack vectors (or small ones) and/or if anyone has suggestions as to improving my escaping methods.

There are three contexts in which I attack:

  • direct PHP echo into an HTML tag
    • Attack: an HTML element with an onclick
    • Solution: convert everything inside the tag into its HTML entity code
  • inside a JavaScript string
    • Attack: closing script tag followed by arbitrary code
    • Solution: escape quotes as well as forward slashes
  • setting innerHTML with JavaScript
    • Attack: an HTML element with an onclick
    • Solution: convert to HTML entities when setting innerHTML (unless it's supposed to be an element)
  • inside an onclick attribute
    • Attack: closing quote and adding another bit of code
    • Solution: convert into HTML entities

To implement the solutions detailed above, I made three functions (2 in PHP, 1 in JS):

  • escapeForJSString: escapes anything that would break out of the string, as well as forward slashes, to prevent closing script tags
  • escapeHTMLSpecialChars: a wrapper around htmlspecialchars that escapes single quotes
  • escapeForInnerHTML: basically does what htmlspecialchars does in PHP but in JS


    require_once "xss-attack-prevention-helpers.php";
    $userInput1 = "</script><script>alert('y0uv3b33nh4ck3d');</script><script>\"";
    $userInput2 = "<div onclick=\"alert('such l33t!')\"></div>";
    $userInput3 = "\"); alert(\"pwn3d!\\\")";
<!DOCTYPE html>
<meta charset='utf-8'>
<title>XSS Attack Prevention</title>
<script type="text/javascript" src="xss-attack-prevention-helpers.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
var n00bz = "<?= escapeForJSString($userInput1) ?>";
var l33t = "<?= escapeForJSString($userInput2) ?>";
<div id='div1'><?= escapeHTMLSpecialChars($userInput1) ?></div>
<div id='div2' 
    onclick='alert("<?= escapeHTMLSpecialChars(escapeForJSString($userInput3)) ?>")'
>Click me to see a message!</div>
<div id='div3' style='border: 1px solid black;'></div>
<script type="text/javascript">
document.getElementById('div3').innerHTML = "Click me and nothing will happen!" 
    + escapeForInnerHTML(l33t);


// returns false if $var is not a string
// otherwise, returns a string with \n, ', ", \, \0, / (to prevent XSS) escaped
function escapeForJSString($var) {
    if(!is_string($var)) return false;
    return str_replace(
        "/" // escape forward slash to prevent XSS
        , "\\/"
        , str_replace(
            "\n" // escape newline
            , "\\n"
            , addslashes($var) // escape sq, dq, backslash, and null byte

// wrapper for htmlspecialchars so we escape single and double quotes
function escapeHTMLSpecialChars($text="") {
    return htmlspecialchars($text, ENT_QUOTES | ENT_HTML5, 'UTF-8', true);


function getType(val) { return Object.prototype.toString.call(val).slice(8, -1).toLowerCase(); }
function isString(val) { return getType(val) === "string"; }
function isArray(val) { return getType(val) === "array"; }
// returns false on unexpected input
// input must be
// - text : a string
// - replacements : an array of arrays, where each subarray contains 2 strings
function replaceAll(text, reps) {
    if(!isString(text) || !isArray(reps)) return false;
    for(var i = 0; i < reps.length; i++) {
        if(!isArray(reps[i]) || reps[i].length !== 2 || !isString(reps[i][0])
            || !isString(reps[i][1])
        ) return false;         
        text = text.split(reps[i][0]).join(reps[i][1]);
    return text;

function escapeForInnerHTML(text) {
    if(!isString(text)) return false;
    return replaceAll(text, [["&", "&amp;"], ["<", "&lt;"], 
        [">", "&gt;"], ["/", "&#47;"], ["\"", "&quot;"], ["'", "&#39;"]]
  • \$\begingroup\$ For JavaScript you should: Except for alphanumeric characters, escape all characters less than 256 with the \xHH format to prevent switching out of the data value into the script context or into another attribute. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 9:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, be very careful of onclicks - even if the data is properly escaped you are still vulnerable. See the bit in my link where it says EVEN IF YOU ESCAPE UNTRUSTED DATA YOU ARE XSSED HERE for more info. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 9:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SilverlightFox Thanks for the links. The way you're quoting it is a little misleading though. That refers to passing a string to window.setInterval - an outdated syntax in the first place. The bit about escaping all characters less than \xHH seems like overkill to me unless there is a good reason for it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ setInterval can take a string that will be evaluated, much like onclick so the same rule applies. Hex entity escaping (\xHH) is necessary and there are very good reasons for doing so. This will stop the context being changed back to HTML by ending a script tag with </script>, for example. It can also stop items such as CDATA closing tags changing the context. You mentioned just escaping forward slashes (it is back slashes that are more important), but if you don't encode properly an attacker will find a way round. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ If your escapting method doesn't handle everything listed here then your site could be vulnerable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


There are already native functions to escape for HTML and JS strings: htmlspecialchars() and json_encode(). See this related question on Stack Overflow

As for innerHTML, simply don't use it. Use textContent instead. If you wish to allow for formatting (for example, in comments or posts), I recommend Markdown

  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding htmlspecialchars, you'll see in my code that it's simply a wrapper for htmlspecialchars, setting the ENT_QUOTES option so I don't forget. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 15:19

My other answer explains the general best practice, let's go over your code.

  • You can pass an array to str_replace() so that it replaces every occurence of matching substrings with their replacement array counterparts with the same index:

    return str_replace(["/", "\n"], ["\\/", "\\n"], $subject)
  • You aren't escaping ; for JavaScript strings, that can be used to break out of the context.

  • You shouldn't really care about JavaScript replacement. Data comes from the server, that's where all escaping should be.

  • ES5 has the Array.isArray() static method to check if a given parameter is an array. For strings, typeof str will return string. So your getType function is a bit redundant:

    function isString(str) { return typeof str === 'string'; }
    function isArray(arr) { return Array.isArray(arr); }
  • Also, ES5 has Array.prototype.forEach for iterating over an array, and is considered a better alternative to for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a couple questions. You aren't escaping ; for JavaScript strings, that can be used to break out of the context. Can you give an example of this? I don't see how that's true. So your getType function is a bit redundant Won't the Array.isArray fail on inner frames? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ var variable = <?= jsEscape($valueFromPHP); ?>; In this instance, ; followed by JS code will allow you to execute any JS code you want. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ But not when there are quotes around it, right? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 17:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @AmadeusDrZaius correct, with quotes the only thing that can break through is the ending quote or </script>. If you have both escaped, you're clear. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 17:45

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