Secure Coding Guidelines

This document contains descriptions and guidelines for addressing security vulnerabilities commonly identified in the GitLab codebase. They are intended to help developers identify potential security vulnerabilities early, with the goal of reducing the number of vulnerabilities released over time.


If you would like to contribute to one of the existing documents, or add guidelines for a new vulnerability type, please open an MR! Please try to include links to examples of the vulnerability found, and link to any resources used in defined mitigations. If you have questions or when ready for a review, please ping gitlab-com/gl-security/appsec.



Application permissions are used to determine who can access what and what actions they can perform. For more information about the permission model at GitLab, please see the GitLab permissions guide or the EE docs on permissions.


Improper permission handling can have significant impacts on the security of an application. Some situations may reveal sensitive data or allow a malicious actor to perform harmful actions. The overall impact depends heavily on what resources can be accessed or modified improperly.

A common vulnerability when permission checks are missing is called IDOR for Insecure Direct Object References.

When to Consider

Each time you implement a new feature/endpoint, whether it is at UI, API or GraphQL level.


Start by writing tests around permissions: unit and feature specs should both include tests based around permissions

  • Fine-grained, nitty-gritty specs for permissions are good: it is ok to be verbose here
    • Make assertions based on the actors and objects involved: can a user or group or XYZ perform this action on this object?
    • Consider defining them upfront with stakeholders, particularly for the edge cases
  • Do not forget abuse cases: write specs that make sure certain things can't happen
    • A lot of specs are making sure things do happen and coverage percentage doesn't take into account permissions as same piece of code is used.
    • Make assertions that certain actors cannot perform actions
  • Naming convention to ease auditability: to be defined, e.g. a subfolder containing those specific permission tests or a #permissions block

Be careful to also test visibility levels and not only project access rights.

Some example of well implemented access controls and tests:

  1. example1
  2. example2
  3. example3

NB: any input from development team is welcome, e.g. about Rubocop rules.

Regular Expressions guidelines

Anchors / Multi line

Unlike other programming languages (e.g. Perl or Python) Regular Expressions are matching multi-line by default in Ruby. Consider the following example in Python:

import re
text = "foo\nbar"
matches = re.findall("^bar$",text)

The Python example will output an empty array ([]) as the matcher considers the whole string foo\nbar including the newline (\n). In contrast Ruby's Regular Expression engine acts differently:

text = "foo\nbar"
p text.match /^bar$/

The output of this example is #<MatchData "bar">, as Ruby treats the input text line by line. In order to match the whole string the Regex anchors \A and \z should be used.


This Ruby Regex specialty can have security impact, as often regular expressions are used for validations or to impose restrictions on user-input.


GitLab specific examples can be found here and there.

Another example would be this fictional Ruby on Rails controller:

class PingController < ApplicationController
  def ping
    if params[:ip] =~ /^\d{1,3}\.\d{1,3}\.\d{1,3}\.\d{1,3}$/
      render :text => `ping -c 4 #{params[:ip]}`
      render :text => "Invalid IP"

Here params[:ip] should not contain anything else but numbers and dots. However this restriction can be easily bypassed as the Regex anchors ^ and $ are being used. Ultimately this leads to a shell command injection in ping -c 4 #{params[:ip]} by using newlines in params[:ip].


In most cases the anchors \A for beginning of text and \z for end of text should be used instead of ^ and $.

Denial of Service (ReDoS)

ReDoS is a possible attack if the attacker knows or controls the regular expression (regex) used, and is able to enter user input to match against the bad regular expression.


The resource, for example Unicorn, Puma, or Sidekiq, can be made to hang as it takes a long time to evaluate the bad regex match.


GitLab-specific examples can be found in the following merge requests:

Consider the following example application, which defines a check using a regular expression. A user entering user@aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!.com as the email on a form will hang the web server.

class Email < ApplicationRecord
  DOMAIN_MATCH ='([a-zA-Z0-9]+)+\.com')

  validates :domain_matches


  def domain_matches
    errors.add(:email, 'does not match') if email =~ DOMAIN_MATCH


GitLab has Gitlab::UntrustedRegexp which internally uses the re2 library. By utilizing re2, we get a strict limit on total execution time, and a smaller subset of available regex features.

All user-provided regular expressions should use Gitlab::UntrustedRegexp.

For other regular expressions, here are a few guidelines:

  • Remove unnecessary backtracking.
  • Avoid nested quantifiers if possible.
  • Try to be as precise as possible in your regex and avoid the . if something else can be used (e.g.: Use _[^_]+_ instead of _.*_ to match _text here_).

An example can be found in this commit.

Further Links

Server Side Request Forgery (SSRF)


A Server-side Request Forgery (SSRF) is an attack in which an attacker is able coerce a application into making an outbound request to an unintended resource. This resource is usually internal. In GitLab, the connection most commonly uses HTTP, but an SSRF can be performed with any protocol, such as Redis or SSH.

With an SSRF attack, the UI may or may not show the response. The latter is called a Blind SSRF. While the impact is reduced, it can still be useful for attackers, especially for mapping internal network services as part of recon.


The impact of an SSRF can vary, depending on what the application server can communicate with, how much the attacker can control of the payload, and if the response is returned back to the attacker. Examples of impact that have been reported to GitLab include:

  • Network mapping of internal services
    • This can help an attacker gather information about internal services that could be used in further attacks. More details.
  • Reading internal services, including cloud service metadata.
    • The latter can be a serious problem, because an attacker can obtain keys that allow control of the victim's cloud infrastructure. (This is also a good reason to give only necessary privileges to the token.). More details.
  • When combined with CRLF vulnerability, remote code execution. More details.

When to Consider

  • When the application makes any outbound connection


In order to mitigate SSRF vulnerabilities, it is necessary to validate the destination of the outgoing request, especially if it includes user-supplied information.

The preferred SSRF mitigations within GitLab are:

  1. Only connect to known, trusted domains/IP addresses.
  2. Use the GitLab::HTTP library
  3. Implement feature-specific mitigations

GitLab HTTP Library

The GitLab::HTTP wrapper library has grown to include mitigations for all of the GitLab-known SSRF vectors. It is also configured to respect the Outbound requests options that allow instance administrators to block all internal connections, or limit the networks to which connections can be made.

In some cases, it has been possible to configure GitLab::HTTP as the HTTP connection library for 3rd-party gems. This is preferable over re-implementing the mitigations for a new feature.

Feature-specific Mitigations

For situations in which an allowlist or GitLab:HTTP cannot be used, it will be necessary to implement mitigations directly in the feature. It is best to validate the destination IP addresses themselves, not just domain names, as DNS can be controlled by the attacker. Below are a list of mitigations that should be implemented.

Important Note: There are many tricks to bypass common SSRF validations. If feature-specific mitigations are necessary, they should be reviewed by the AppSec team, or a developer who has worked on SSRF mitigations previously.

  • Block connections to all localhost addresses
    • (IPv4 - note the subnet mask)
    • ::1 (IPv6)
  • Block connections to networks with private addressing (RFC 1918)
  • Block connections to link-local addresses (RFC 3927)
    • In particular, for GCP: ->
  • For HTTP connections: Disable redirects or validate the redirect destination
  • To mitigate DNS rebinding attacks, validate and use the first IP address received

See url_blocker_spec.rb for examples of SSRF payloads

XSS guidelines


Cross site scripting (XSS) is an issue where malicious JavaScript code gets injected into a trusted web application and executed in a client's browser. The input is intended to be data, but instead gets treated as code by the browser.

XSS issues are commonly classified in three categories, by their delivery method:


The injected client-side code is executed on the victim's browser in the context of their current session. This means the attacker could perform any same action the victim would normally be able to do through a browser. The attacker would also have the ability to:

Much of the impact is contingent upon the function of the application and the capabilities of the victim's session. For further impact possibilities, please check out the beef project.

When to consider?

When user submitted data is included in responses to end users, which is just about anywhere.


In most situations, a two-step solution can be utilized: input validation and output encoding in the appropriate context.

Input validation

Setting expectations

For any and all input fields, ensure to define expectations on the type/format of input, the contents, size limits, the context in which it will be output. It's important to work with both security and product teams to determine what is considered acceptable input.

Validate input
  • Treat all user input as untrusted.
  • Based on the expectations you defined above:
    • Validate the input size limits.
    • Validate the input using an allowlist approach to only allow characters through which you are expecting to receive for the field.
      • Input which fails validation should be rejected, and not sanitized.
  • When adding redirects or links to a user-controlled URL, ensure that the scheme is HTTP or HTTPS. Allowing other schemes like javascript:// can lead to XSS and other security issues.

Note that denylists should be avoided, as it is near impossible to block all variations of XSS.

Output encoding

Once you've determined when and where the user submitted data will be output, it's important to encode it based on the appropriate context. For example:

Additional info

XSS mitigation and prevention in Rails

By default, Rails automatically escapes strings when they are inserted into HTML templates. Avoid the methods used to keep Rails from escaping strings, especially those related to user-controlled values. Specifically, the following options are dangerous because they mark strings as trusted and safe:

Method Avoid these options
HAML templates html_safe, raw, !=
Embedded Ruby (ERB) html_safe, raw, <%== %>
In case you want to sanitize user-controlled values against XSS vulnerabilities, you can use
Calling link_to and redirect_to with user-controlled parameters can also lead to cross-site scripting.

Do also sanitize and validate URL schemes.


XSS mitigation and prevention in JavaScript and Vue

  • When updating the content of an HTML element using JavaScript, mark user-controlled values as textContent or nodeValue instead of innerHTML.
  • Avoid using v-html with user-controlled data, use v-safe-html instead.
  • Consider using gl-sprintf to interpolate translated strings securely.
  • Avoid __() with translations that contain user-controlled values.
  • When working with postMessage, ensure the origin of the message is allowlisted.
  • Consider using the Safe Link Directive to generate secure hyperlinks by default.

GitLab specific libraries for mitigating XSS


Content Security Policy

Free form input field

Select examples of past XSS issues affecting GitLab

Internal Developer Training

Path Traversal guidelines


Path Traversal vulnerabilities grant attackers access to arbitrary directories and files on the server that is executing an application, including data, code or credentials.


Path Traversal attacks can lead to multiple critical and high severity issues, like arbitrary file read, remote code execution or information disclosure.

When to consider

When working with user-controlled filenames/paths and filesystem APIs.

Mitigation and prevention

In order to prevent Path Traversal vulnerabilities, user-controlled filenames or paths should be validated before being processed.

  • Comparing user input against an allowlist of allowed values or verifying that it only contains allowed characters.
  • After validating the user supplied input, it should be appended to the base directory and the path should be canonicalized using the filesystem API.

GitLab specific validations