Member Field Race Condition

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This article includes content generously donated to OWASP by Fortify.JPG.

Last revision (mm/dd/yy): 12/1/2015

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Servlet member fields may allow one user to see another user's data.

Many Servlet developers do not understand that, unless a Servlet implements the SingleThreadModel interface, the Servlet is a singleton; there is only one instance of the Servlet, and that single instance is used and re-used to handle multiple requests that are processed simultaneously by different threads.

A common result of this misunderstanding is that developers use Servlet member fields in such a way that one user may inadvertently see another user's data. In other words, storing user data in Servlet member fields introduces a data access race condition.

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The following Servlet stores the value of a request parameter in a member field and then later echoes the parameter value to the response output stream.

	public class GuestBook extends HttpServlet {
	   String name;
	   protected void doPost (HttpServletRequest req,
						   HttpServletResponse res) {
		 name = req.getParameter("name");
		 out.println(name + ", thanks for visiting!");

While this code will work perfectly in a single-user environment, if two users access the Servlet at approximately the same time, it is possible for the two request handler threads to interleave in the following way:

 Thread 1: assign "Dick" to name
 Thread 2: assign "Jane" to name
 Thread 1: print "Jane, thanks for visiting!"
 Thread 2: print "Jane, thanks for visiting!"

Thereby showing the first user the second user's name.

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