How to preform whitelist-based CSS filtering in PHP

Tags: php,css,validation,user-input

Problem :

I am working on a site and I would like to make a user able to enter custom CSS into that will be publicly displayed.

However, seeing as a good deal of XSS attacks can be preformed through CSS, I would like to be able to find a way to "clean" the CSS output, similar to how HTML Purifier works, by parsing the CSS, running the parsed CSS against a whitelist, and then outputting a new stylesheet based on the parsed and whitelisted CSS.

Is there already a library like this out there? If not, is there a CSS parsing library that can be used to create a custom implementation?

Solution :

I guess you're going to write your own CSS parser and filter, so here's what I'd consider, although I've never done such a thing:

  • Make a (white) list of acceptable CSS properties that your users can use. Like: color, font-family.
  • I believe it might be better to not allow short-hand forms such as background, at least in the beginning, so that you can easily parse the values. Require that they explicitly write background-color, background-image.
  • If you want URLs, only allow relative URLs, and discard everything that doesn't even closely look like a URL. Log these issues anyway, so that you can improve your parser and validator.
  • Be very strict in your parsing, discard everything that your parser doesn't understand even if it would be valid CSS. In other words, make your own CSS subset.

When parsing, the hardest part would be the parsing of complex CSS selectors. But you can impose your own subset here too.

Here's some (pseudo)code, maybe it will help you somehow:


function tokenizeCSS() {
    return array(
            'selector'   => '#foo .bar',
            'properties' => array(
                'background-color' => 'transparent',
                'color'            => '#fff',

function colorValidator($color)

 * This is basically the white list. Keys are accepted CSS properties
 * and values are the validator callbacks.
$propertyValidators = array(
    'background-color' => 'colorValidator',
    'color'            => 'colorValidator',

$filteredRules = array();

foreach (tokenizeCSS() as $rule) {
    if (! validSelector($rule['selector'])) {

    foreach ($rule['properties'] as $property => $value) {
         * Check property is in white list
        if (! isset($propertyValidators[$property]) {

         * Check property is valid
        if (! $propertyValidators[$property]($value)) {

         * Valid rule
        $filteredRules[$rule['selector']][$property] = $value;

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