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General Coding Practices

There are a few general guidelines you should consider while developing software.

  • "Use tested and approved managed code rather than creating new unmanaged code for common tasks"

    Quite often we see exactly the same mistakes, bugs and/or vulnerabilities. One of the common causes for that is the fact that we're used to approach problems with "vanilla code": code written from scratch, not tested or maintained. Whenever possible, opt for managed code such as frameworks; as they are developed, tested and used by many people, issues would arise and get fixed earlier.

  • "Utilize task specific built-in APIs to conduct operating system tasks. Do not allow the application to issue commands directly to the Operating System, especially through the use of application initiated command shells"

    Almost all programming languages allow you to initiate a command shell as Go does.

    // Cat (command) a file example
    // set FS permissions to a given (by the user) file
    func main() {
    reader := bufio.NewReader(os.Stdin)
    // Ask the user what file to be read
    file, _ := reader.ReadString('\n')
    if err := exec.Command("cat", "-A", file).Run(); err != nil {
    fmt.Fprintln(os.Stderr, err)
    fmt.Print("Executed command -> ")
    fmt.Println("Command successful.")

    At first, it would look like a nice way to perform low level tasks, but you're just creating a security breach if you're not careful and, for example call the OS shell directly with the -c argument. Using exec.Command() is safe as long as it's not executing a binary that accepts a program as an argument as demonstrated here with the bash and -c command.

    // pass file name as 'file.png; rm -rf / #
    if err := exec.Command("bash", "-c", input).Run(); err != nil {
    fmt.Fprintln(os.Stderr, err)

    Always use task specific built-in APIs

    if err := os.Chmod(file, 0644); err != nil {
  • "Use checksums or hashes to verify the integrity of interpreted code, libraries, executables, and configuration files"

    If your application relies on third party resources such as libraries or configuration files, how can you be sure that at execution time they remain exactly as they were when they were deployed?

    Or even worse, if your application loads third party scripts from remote hosts, what kind of warranty do you have that the file won't change, thus breaking your application?

    Maybe you're thinking about CDNs - Content Delivery Networks. They are everywhere and we "need" them. But what if they get compromised and resources get modified somehow?

    Have a look on the Subresource Integrity section. How could did we live without it for such a long time!?

  • "Utilize locking to prevent multiple simultaneous requests or use a synchronization mechanism to prevent race conditions"

    Race condition is what you have when a shared resource gets accessed simultaneously by multiple requesters. Who gets the right to access the shared resource?

    This is an old problem, quite common in concurrent environments. The solution is also often enough not taken into account.

    The best approach to this is to use Mutexes which are available in Go's sync package. A simple example taken from the "Go Tour":

    package main

    import (

    // SafeCounter is safe to use concurrently.
    type SafeCounter struct {
    v map[string]int
    mux sync.Mutex

    // Inc increments the counter for the given key.
    func (c *SafeCounter) Inc(key string) {
    // Lock so only one goroutine at a time can access the map c.v.

    // Value returns the current value of the counter for the given key.
    func (c *SafeCounter) Value(key string) int {
    // Lock so only one goroutine at a time can access the map c.v.
    defer c.mux.Unlock()
    return c.v[key]

    func main() {
    c := SafeCounter{v: make(map[string]int)}
    for i := 0; i < 1000; i++ {
    go c.Inc("somekey")


    Another problem is resource exhaustion, which can lead to Denial of Service.
    Although there is no native support for semaphores in Go, they can be recreated using buffered channels.

    A few examples of the usage of semaphores:

    • Database connections
    • TCP/IP output connections
    • Threads
    • Memory

    A simple example of semaphore usage in Go:

    // write to file
    const (
    AvailableMemory = 10 << 20 // 10 MB
    AverageMemoryPerRequest = 10 << 10 // 10 KB
    MaxOutstanding = AvailableMemory / AverageMemoryPerRequest

    var sem = make(chan int, MaxOutstanding)

    func Serve(queue chan *Request) {
    for {
    sem <- 1 // Block until there's capacity to process a request.
    req := <-queue
    go handle(req) // Don't wait for handle to finish.

    func handle(r *Request) {
    process(r) // May take a long time & use a lot of memory or CPU
    <-sem // Done; enable next request to run.
  • "Protect shared variables and resources from inappropriate concurrent access"

    By now you already know how to approach this problem; using a mutex or a semaphore would solve any further issues.

  • "Explicitly initialize all your variables and other data stores, either during declaration or just before the first usage"

  • "In cases where the application must run with elevated privileges, raise privileges as late as possible, and drop them as soon as possible"

  • "Avoid calculation errors by understanding your programming language's underlying representation and how it interacts with numeric calculation. Pay close attention to byte size discrepancies, precision, signed/unsigned distinctions, truncation, conversion and casting between types, "not-a-number" calculations, and how your language handles numbers that are too large or too small for its underlying representation"

    You should always remember that even the best programming language will have to deal with hardware limitations. One limitation we usually tend to forget is the floating number representation lack of precision.

    package main

    import "fmt"

    func main () {
    var n float64 = 0

    for i := 0; i < 10; i++ {
    n += .1


    You may expect the result of summing 0.1 ten times to be 1 but what you'll get is:


    See what happens when dealing with large numbers:

    package main

    import "fmt"
    import "math"

    func main () {
    var n int64 = math.MaxInt64

    fmt.Println(n + 1)

    All you need is a library to handle big numbers: math/big package

    package main

    import "fmt"
    import "math"
    import "math/big"

    func main () {
    n1 := new(big.Int).SetInt64(math.MaxInt64)
    n2 := new(big.Int).SetInt64(1)
    sum := new(big.Int)

    fmt.Println(sum.Add(n1, n2))

    And, as expected, you'll get:

  • "Do not pass user supplied data to any dynamic execution function"

    For more information, continue reading the Input Validation and Output Encoding sections; there's no shortcut to take.

  • "Restrict users from generating new code or altering existing code"

    There are a few use cases in which users are supposed to upload source code to run server side. If you have a need for this, you should do it in a restricted environment, otherwise you will lose control.

    Let's start from the beginning.

    Your application's source code files should not be writable, making them read only or, at most, executable. This will prevent an attacker who's able to exploit your application by adding extra source code, getting it to run and maybe open a shell to gain control over your server.

    In the same way, uploaded files permissions should be set accordingly. Usually read-only will be just fine; pictures/photos, spreadsheets, text documents, etc... They won't need execution permission.

    When dealing with image files, you should pre-process them server side, converting them to a safe and standard format, avoiding script injection through image files metadata. Images with EXIF tag processing should follow the Output Encoding guidelines as they may contain malicious code.

    // Open out file to be converted
    imageFile, err := os.Open("logo.jpg")
    if err != nil {
    fmt.Println("Error opening file.")

    // decode jpeg into image.Image
    imageDecoded, err := jpeg.Decode(imageFile)

    // Create the new image file
    out, err := os.Create("logo.png")

    // Encode the image to png
    err = png.Encode(out, imageDecoded)

    If for any special reason you have to evaluate user input as source code, do it only in a sandboxed environment1.

  • "Review all secondary applications, third party code and libraries to determine business necessity and validate safe functionality, as these can introduce new vulnerabilities"

    You should audit every single third party library added to your project, they will be a part your application, running with the same access rights and/or privileges.

  • "Implement safe updating. If the application will utilize automatic updates, then use cryptographic signatures for your code and ensure your download clients verify those signatures. Use encrypted channels to transfer the code from the host server"


  1. "Inside the Go Playground", The Go Blog, December 2013