Encoding notes around MvcHtmlString Class and <%: %>/@Model.<…> code syntax

The MvcHtmlString class:
Represents an HTML-encoded string that should not be encoded again. This class contains some interesting methods from security perspective like:

Create Creates an HTML-encoded string using the specified text value.
ToHtmlString Returns an HTML-encoded string that represents the current object.

The MvcHtmlString.Create method:
The Create method of the MvcHtmlString class in System.Web.Mvc namespace creates an HTML-encoded string using the specified text value in the parameter.

The method signature for the Create method is:


The <%: %> code syntax for the MVC ASPX engine:
<%: %> is a new syntax for HTML Encoding output in ASP.NET 4 and ASP.NET MVC 2. This syntax renders output like <%= %> blocks do, but at the same time, also automatically HTML encodes it before rendering.

Considering that ASP.NET 4 introduced a new IHtmlString interface (along with a concrete implementation: HtmlString) that a developer can implement on types to indicate that its value is already properly encoded for displaying as HTML, and that therefore the value should not be HTML-encoded again, a possibility of Double Encoding arises when <%:%> and instances of IHtmlString are used together.

To avoid this, <%: %> code-nugget syntax checks for the presence of the IHtmlString interface implementation and will not HTML encode the output of the code expression if its value implements this interface.

The @model.<…> syntax for the MVC Razor engine:
This syntax automatically encodes value that is represented by <…>. Only exceptions will be when <…> is of MvcHtmlString type.

Possible permutations:

<%: MvcHtmlString %> <%:%> will not encode the MvcHtmlSTring to avoid double encoding as this is assumed to be already encoded
<%: NormalString %> <%:%> will Html encode the NormalString before rendering the same.
@model. <somethingNonMvcHtmlString> This will be HTML encoded and rendered.
@model. <somethingMvcHtmlString> This will be not get HTML encoded as this is assumed to be already encoded somethingMvcHtmlString is already assumed to be encoded.

So why document these when these details are already available in MSDN/TechNet/web?
Because MvcHtmlString.Create method is not generating an HTML-encoded string as documented. And when these strings gets rendered within the <%:%> or @model.<…> syntax, they are not encoded and as a result a non-encoded string gets rendered into the browser.


A small MVC 3 application is created just to check the workings of the Create method of MvcHtmlString class.
The application takes a user string and renders it into the browser. It provides us an option to render as a normal string or as a HtmlMvcString. The UI looks as below:


Once I click on Test, the content entered is rendered as below:


The view code that handles this rendering part is:

image The strUserString is a normal string object.
The data model to which this view is bound has the following code:


Now to check the encoding behaviour, we pass some script values and try to render it in the browser.
Behaviour for Normal String:


This text is encoded and rendered as below:


Now the same text is rendered as an MvcHtmlString type:


The output looks as below:


The MvcHtmlString.Create method did not encode the string as documented. This needs to be taken care of during code reviews particularly when values of type MvcHtmlString is rendered within the <%: %> code nugget expressions or in @Model.<…> in ASP.NET 4 and ASP.NET MVC 2 onwards.
<%: %> and @Model.<…> will NOT automatically encode an object of type MvcHtmlString.

Some points to keep in mind when reviewing ASP.NET 4 and ASP.NET MVC onwards:
1. Check for <%: %> and MvcHtmlString usage.
2. Check for @Model.XXXX and MvcHtmlString usage
3. If found, check the type of value that is being rendered between the <%: %> code nugget expressions. Same for @Model.XXXX
4. If the type is normal string, <%: %>/@Model.XXXX will HTML encode the value. But if the type is MvcHtmlString then the value rendered within <%: %> will not be encoded. So if you see <%: %> in code do not assume that every value within it is encoded by default.

1. http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2010/04/06/new-lt-gt-syntax-for-html-encoding-output-in-asp-net-4-and-asp-net-mvc-2.aspx
2. http://stevesmithblog.com/blog/default-encoding-of-strings-in-asp-net-mvc-2/


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