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Array.isTemplateObject explainer (stage 2)

Authors: @mikesamuel, @koto Champion: @koto Reviewers: @erights, @jridgewell

Provides a way for template tag functions to tell whether they were called with a template string bundle.

Table of Contents

Use cases & Prior Discussions

Distinguishing strings from a trusted developer from strings that may be attacker controlled

Issue WICG/trusted-types#96 describes a scenario where a template tag assumes that the literal strings were authored by a trusted developer but that the interpolated values may not be.

result = sensitiveOperation`trusted0 ${ untrusted } trusted1`
// Authored by dev          ^^^^^^^^                ^^^^^^^^
// May come from outside                ^^^^^^^^^

This proposal would provide enough context to warn or error out when this is not the case.

function (trustedStrings, ...untrustedArguments) {
  if (Array.isTemplateObject(trustedStrings)
      // instanceof provides a same-Realm guarantee for early frozen objects.
      && trustedStrings instanceof Array) {
    // Proceed knowing that trustedStrings come from
    // the JavaScript module's authors.
  } else {
    // Do not trust trustedStrings
  }
}

This assumes that an attacker cannot get a string to eval or new Function as in

const attackerControlledString = '((x) => x)`evil string`';

// Naive code
let x = eval(attackerControlledString)

console.log(Array.isTemplateObject(x));

Many other security assumptions break if an attacker can execute arbitrary code, so this check is still useful.

An Example

Here's an example of how isTemplateObject lets a tag function wisely use a sensitive operation, namely Create a Trusted Type. The sensitive operation is not directly accessible to the tag function's callers since it's in a local scope. This assumes that TT's first-come-first-serve name restrictions solve provisioning, letting only authorized callers access the sensitive operation.

const { Array, TypeError } = globalThis;
const { createPolicy } = trustedTypes;
const { isTemplateObject } = Array;
const { error: consoleErr } = console;

/**
 * A tag function that produces *TrustedHTML* or null if the
 * policy name "trustedHTMLTagFunction" is not available.
 */
export trustedHTML = (() => {
  // We use TrustedType's first-come-first-serve policy name restrictions
  // to provision this scope with sensitiveOperation.
  const policyName = 'trustedHTMLTagFunction';
  let policy;
  try {
    policy = createPolicy(
        'trustedHTMLTagFunction',
        { createHTML(s) { return s } }
    );
  } catch (ex) {
    consoleErr(`${policyName} is not an allowed trustedTypes policy name`);
    return null;
  }

  // This is the sensitive operation.
  const { createHTML } = policy;

  // This tag function uses isTemplateObject to reject strings that
  // do not appear in user code in the same realm.
  //
  // With a reliable isTemplateObject check, the attack surface is
  // <= |set of template applications in trusted code|.
  //
  // That set is finite.
  //
  // Without a reliable isTemplateObject check, the attack surface is
  // <= |set of attacker controlled strings|.  That is, in practice,
  // unbounded.
  //
  // This assumes no attacker has eval.
  const trustedHTMLTagFunction = (strings) => {
    if (isTemplateObject(strings) && strings instanceof Array) {
      return createHTML(strings.raw[0]);
    }
    throw new TypeError("Expected template object");
  };

  // With the check it's safe to export this tag function that closes
  // over a sensitive operation to anyone.
  return trustedHTMLTagFunction;
})()

Without isArrayTemplate, this can be bypassed:

// A naive, but non-malicious function.
function f(x) {
  // People trust trustedHTMLTagFunction.
  // Our HTML is trustworthy because <bad argument> so we'll just
  // piggyback off that by using a value that looks like a template object.
  // What could possibly go wrong?
  const s = dodgyMarkdownToHTMLConverter(x);
  const pseudoTemplateObject = [s];
  pseudoTemplateObject.raw = Object.freeze([s]);
  return trustedHTML(Object.freeze(pseudoTemplateObject));
}

// An attacker controlled string reaches f().
const payload = '<img onerror=alert(document.origin) src=x>';
console.log(`f(${ JSON.stringify(payload) }) = ${ f(payload) }`);

The threat model here involves three actors:

  • A team of first-party developers (in conjunction with security specialists) decides to trust the tag function.
  • A malicious attacker controls a string in the variable payload.
  • Non-malicious but confusable third-party library tries to provide a higher level of service by forging a template object. It assumes its clients are comfortable with trusting dodgyMarkdownToHTMLConverter to produce HTML for the current origin.

We've addressed this threat model when the first-party developers can be less tolerant of risk than the most risk tolerant third party dependency w.r.t. HTML injection.

This simple implementation doesn't deal with interpolations. A more thorough implementation could do contextual autoescaping.

What this is not

This is not an attempt to determine whether the current function was called as a template literal. See the linked issue as to why that is untenable. Especially the discussion around threat models, eval and tail-call optimizations that weighed against alternate approaches.

Possible Spec Language

You can browse the ecmarkup output or browse the source.

Polyfill

An es-shim API compatible polyfill available at npm.

A polyfill is available in the core-js library. You can find it in the ECMAScript proposals section.

Tests

The test262 draft tests which would be added under test/built-ins/Array

Related Work

If the literals proposal were to advance, this proposal would be unnecessary since they both cover the use cases from this document.