20.4. XML Processing Modules

Python’s interfaces for processing XML are grouped in the xml package.


The XML modules are not secure against erroneous or maliciously constructed data. If you need to parse untrusted or unauthenticated data see the XML vulnerabilities and The defusedxml and defusedexpat Packages sections.

It is important to note that modules in the xml package require that there be at least one SAX-compliant XML parser available. The Expat parser is included with Python, so the xml.parsers.expat module will always be available.

The documentation for the xml.dom and xml.sax packages are the definition of the Python bindings for the DOM and SAX interfaces.

The XML handling submodules are:

20.4.1. XML vulnerabilities

The XML processing modules are not secure against maliciously constructed data. An attacker can abuse XML features to carry out denial of service attacks, access local files, generate network connections to other machines, or circumvent firewalls.

The following table gives an overview of the known attacks and whether the various modules are vulnerable to them.

kind sax etree minidom pulldom xmlrpc
billion laughs Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
quadratic blowup Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
external entity expansion Yes No (1) No (2) Yes No (3)
DTD retrieval Yes No No Yes No
decompression bomb No No No No Yes
  1. xml.etree.ElementTree doesn’t expand external entities and raises a ParserError when an entity occurs.
  2. xml.dom.minidom doesn’t expand external entities and simply returns the unexpanded entity verbatim.
  3. xmlrpclib doesn’t expand external entities and omits them.
billion laughs / exponential entity expansion
The Billion Laughs attack – also known as exponential entity expansion – uses multiple levels of nested entities. Each entity refers to another entity several times, and the final entity definition contains a small string. The exponential expansion results in several gigabytes of text and consumes lots of memory and CPU time.
quadratic blowup entity expansion
A quadratic blowup attack is similar to a Billion Laughs attack; it abuses entity expansion, too. Instead of nested entities it repeats one large entity with a couple of thousand chars over and over again. The attack isn’t as efficient as the exponential case but it avoids triggering parser countermeasures that forbid deeply-nested entities.
external entity expansion
Entity declarations can contain more than just text for replacement. They can also point to external resources or local files. The XML parser accesses the resource and embeds the content into the XML document.
DTD retrieval
Some XML libraries like Python’s xml.dom.pulldom retrieve document type definitions from remote or local locations. The feature has similar implications as the external entity expansion issue.
decompression bomb
Decompression bombs (aka ZIP bomb) apply to all XML libraries that can parse compressed XML streams such as gzipped HTTP streams or LZMA-compressed files. For an attacker it can reduce the amount of transmitted data by three magnitudes or more.

The documentation for defusedxml on PyPI has further information about all known attack vectors with examples and references.

20.4.2. The defusedxml and defusedexpat Packages

defusedxml is a pure Python package with modified subclasses of all stdlib XML parsers that prevent any potentially malicious operation. Use of this package is recommended for any server code that parses untrusted XML data. The package also ships with example exploits and extended documentation on more XML exploits such as XPath injection.

defusedexpat provides a modified libexpat and a patched pyexpat module that have countermeasures against entity expansion DoS attacks. The defusedexpat module still allows a sane and configurable amount of entity expansions. The modifications may be included in some future release of Python, but will not be included in any bugfix releases of Python because they break backward compatibility.