Developing Plugins with security in mind

At the start of plugin developement, you may not have a clear picture of all the aspects of the portal you’ll need to access, and that’s fine. In fact, we suggest you go ahead and develop your plugin first and address your plugin’s PACL later. But, as you develop your plugin there are some common security pitfalls, highlighted in the next section, that we’ll show you how to avoid. After you develop your plugin you’ll dig whole-heartedly into security management by generating and fine-tuning you plugin’s PACL. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through it.

If you’re developing a plugin as part of a free app, writing a PACL for your plugin and enabling the security manager are optional, and you can skip this chapter. Otherwise, read on.

Here is the suggested approach for developing secure plugins:

  • Consider common security pitfalls.
  • Develop your plugin.
  • Build your plugin’s PACL using Liferay’s PACL Policy Generation tool.
  • Test your plugin thoroughly, with the security manager enabled.
  • Add to your plugin’s security policy, as needed.
  • Convert your policy’s absolute file paths into relative paths.

Let’s go over each part of this approach.

Consider Common Security Pitfalls

As you develop your plugin, you need to anticipate your plugin’s actions in light of Liferay’s secured environment. The security manager leverages the Java SE Security Architecture. So understanding Java SE Security and learning the few requirements that Liferay’s security manager adds on top of it will benefit you as you develop plugins. The extensive Java SE Security Architecture documentation is available for you to read at But we’ll highlight a couple common mistakes developers make that violate Liferay’s secured environment:

  • Invoking a method, irectly or indirectly, without considering whether it can throw a security exception.
  • Using external libraries or frameworks that access classloaders outside of your plugin.

You wouldn’t intentionally make these kinds of mistakes, but you’d be surprised at how easily you can make them if you’re not being careful enough. We’ll consider scenarios that illustrate both of these mistakes and explain how to avoid making them in your plugin. Let’s consider security exceptions first.

When you’re running on Liferay Portal with the security manager enabled, you must only access authorized resources. If you invoke a method declared as throwing a security exception (i.e., java.lang.SecurityException) and you’re not authorized to access the resources the method uses, the method throws the security exception and the Security Manger stops your plugin dead in its tracks. Security exceptions are unchecked, meaning that the compiler doesn’t require your code to handle them. But since methods that throw security exceptions are declared as throwing them, you should check their signatures as you’re designing your plugin. If they throw security exceptions, handle them appropriately with try/catch blocks. Keep in mind that you not only need to handle security exceptions of methods your plugin invokes directly, but you also need to handle the security exceptions of the underlying methods your plugin invokes indirectly.

For example, you may be using a file utility that calls’s canRead method. Since the canRead method can throw a SecurityException, your plugin will violate security if it invokes the utility on a file that you’re not authorized to access. So, be aware of all security exceptions thrown by methods your plugin calls directly and indirectly.

Operations involving reflection, and similar activities, typically can throw security exceptions. The Java SE Security documentation explains how to deal with them. In many cases, you can declare your plugin’s permissions to avoid running into these exceptions. We’ll go over your plugin’s permissions and security policies later in this chapter.

The second common mistake you should avoid is allowing your plugin to bring up classloaders unintentionally, via other frameworks or libraries. Consider the following Spring configuration from a plugin:

<bean id="userServiceBeanFactory"

It declares a factory bean that calls a method on a Liferay class. This seems reasonable, right? Unfortunately, Spring tries to grab the classloader for the factory class. Since the factory class does not belong to the plugin, the security manager balks at the plugin’s attempt to access the classloader for the factory class. The security manager doesn’t allow applications to get arbitrary classloaders because the classloaders can add, access, and modify classes that your plugin is unauthorized to access. Using Spring in this manner violates the secured environment.

How do you get around this issue? You could simply invoke the method directly like this:


But if you insist on using a Spring factory bean, you can do the following:

  1. Write a class inside your plugin to act as a factory. Your factory class should declare a class that wraps the type of instance your factory returns. Your factory should also implement a method that returns the instance, wrapped in the class you declared.

  2. Configure a Spring factory bean that uses your plugin’s factory class.

Here’s what your plugin’s new factory class could look like:

    package test;

    // Add imports here ...

    public class FactoryUtil {

        public static UserLocalService getUserLocalService() {
            TestUserLocalServiceWrapper localServiceWrapper =
                new TestUserLocalServiceWrapper(

            return localServiceWrapper;

        private static class TestUserLocalServiceWrapper
            extends UserLocalServiceWrapper {
            public TestUserLocalServiceWrapper(
                UserLocalService userLocalService) {




The code above declares a factory class named FactoryUtil that resides in a package named test. The factory declares an inner class named TestUserLocalServiceWrapper that extends Liferay’s UserLocalServiceWrapper class. Note, UserLocalServiceWrapper in turn wraps UserLocalService–the class you want the factory to return. Lastly, the getUserLocalService() method uses the original factory method, UserLocalServiceUtil.getService(), to get the UserLocalService instance. This instance is wrapped up in your factory’s TestUserLocalServiceWrapper class. In your plugin, you’ve implemented a factory class to access the instances you want. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Your new Spring factory bean would look like the following configuration:

<bean id="userServiceBeanFactory" 

Great! Now you know a couple alternatives to using the troublesome Spring factory bean configuration that was accessing a classloader that didn’t belong to your plugin.

With regards to both of the use cases we’ve illustrated, the main point we’re emphasizing is that you must be aware of the how the libraries you use behave with respect to your secured environment. The better you understand Java SE Security and Liferay’s Plugin Security Management, the easier it will be for you to write security-aware plugins. Keeping this in mind, you can proceed confidently creating your plugin.

Develop your plugin

Start creating your plugin the way you normally would. Design your application, write code, unit test your code, have users beta test your code. In essence, do everything you normally would do. Do all of this with the Plugin Security Manager disabled via your plugin’s file:


Before the Plugin Security Manager is enabled, you must specify the resources your plugin accesses. Let’s build a list of these resources in your plugin’s PACL.

Build Your Plugin’s PACL

Rather than tediously figuring out all of the resources your plugin accesses, on your own, let Liferay’s PACL Policy Generation tool to give you a head start. The generation tool detects resources your plugin accesses and writes corresponding PACL properties to a policy file. You can then merge the PACL properties from this policy file into your plugin’s file.

Here’s how you generate a PACL policy for your plugin:

  1. Make sure your Liferay Portal instance has liferay set as its security manager strategy value and that the security manager was activated during application server startup.

    In your file, make sure Liferay Portal’s security manager strategy is specified as follows:

    Your app server may require that certain startup arguments be used for activiting the security manager. For example, Tomcat requires that you pass in an option -security in order to activate the security manager. Check your app server’s security manager documentation to make sure. Conveniently, some app servers, like Tomcat, output a terminal message, like “Using Security Manager”, indicating that it’s using the security manager.

    Unless you already started Liferay with the security manager enabled and activated as described above, you must restart Liferay with these settings.

  2. Enable the security manager to generate a security policy for your plugin by setting the following property in your plugin’s file:

  3. Deploy your plugin.

    The PACL Policy Generation tool writes a PACL policy file with the following path:


    On deploying your plugin and as you exercise your plugin’s features, Liferay Portal’s security manager performs security checks on your plugin; but rather than throwing errors on failed checks, the generator tool writes suggested rules that specify access to the resources your plugin accesses.

    Unless you’ve turned off logging for the generator tool, messages like the ones below are logged, reporting the various authorization properties that the tool generated

    DEBUG [localhost-startStop-2][GeneratingPACLPolicy:230] my-pacl-portlet
    generated authorization property {key=security-manager-properties-read,
    DEBUG [localhost-startStop-2][GeneratingPACLPolicy:230] my-pacl-portlet
    generated authorization property {key=security-manager-properties-read,
  4. Lastly, merge the properties that the security manager wrote (i.e., your newly generated PACL policy file [liferay.home]/pacl-policy/[servletContextName].policy) into your plugin’s file. It’s just a matter of merging the properties that start with the “security-manager-” prefix.

Now that your plugin has a thoroughly specified list of resources it accesses, let’s enable the security manager and do final testing of your PACL properties. We cover enabling the security manager in the next section.

Test the Plugin with the Security Manager Enabled

If you want to distribute plugins, either through the Liferay Marketplace or through your web site, you have to assume potential users will insist the Security Manager is enabled in your plugin. For this reason, you should enable it when testing your plugins.

To enable the Security Manger set the following property to true:


Then, re-deploy your plugin and re-test it’s functionality. The Security Manager throws Java security exceptions, if your plugin accesses resources that are not specified in your plugin’s security policy. As you test, keep track of these Java security exceptions, so you can authorize access to the respective resources in the PACL properties of your file. Save your changes to the file, re-deploy the plugin, and re-test. Make sure everything works. If not, there are more rules you must declare for your plugin. Refer to the Portal Access Control List Properties section of this chapter to see the definitions of all the PACL properties and see example property values.

If you are not finding an adequate way to specify a security rule with PACL, you can specify it in a Java Security Policy file. You see, it’s almost impossible for Liferay and PACL to be aware of every possible security implementation check, because developers, libraries, and the Java Security API can always call for new types of security checks. So, Liferay provides a fallback to PACL, that lets you specify operations permissible within the context of your app’s plugins.

In case you need it for your plugin, let’s get familiar with the Java Security Policy file.

Using a Java Security Policy File

If you cannot find a way to specify PACL permissions for an operation that your plugin must access, you can specify the permission in a Java Security Policy file. You can create policy file (java.policy) in your plugin’s WEB-INF folder. The policy file must follow Policy File syntax as described in detail at Like the rules you define in your plugin’s PACL, the additional rules you define in your plugin’s Java Policy File, WEB-INF/java.policy, only apply to that plugin. Plugins aren’t privy to each other’s security policies.

Importantly, the Java policy file should only be used to specify rules Liferay’s PACL property implementation does not already support. You should not specify any rules in a Java policy file that you can specify in a PACL.

Here’s a scenario that calls for using a Java Security Policy:

Java has a security implementation called It checks a whole bunch of networking operations, that Liferay’s implementation doesn’t check. In case you want to perform one of these operations, like using a custom Stream Handler, you can grant your plugin permission to do so in its WEB-INF/java.policy Java Security Policy file. Here’s one way to specify that rule:

grant codeBase "file:${my-supercool-portlet}${/}-" {
    permission "specifyStreamHandler";

This grant entry defines permission for the plugin’s code to access the specifyStreamHandler target operation of the class. The codebase value, in this example, specifies the following:

  • file: indicates the code resides on the server’s file system.
  • ${my-supercool-portlet} represents the context path of a plugin named “My Supercool Portlet”. The context path is a system property Liferay generates for the plugin. It maps the context path name to the plugin’s fully qualified deployment path.
  • ${/} represents the system’s path separator.
  • - matches files and folders, in this folder and below.

On reading this plugin’s .jar file, the JVM creates a codebase for it. The codebase uses properties that Liferay sets for the plugin that say, in effect, “If a file originates within the plugin, then this plugin can perform the specifyStreamHandler operation on it”. The codebase narrows the scope for the permission. This plugin is permitted to perform the definited operation, specifyStreamHandler, as long as it is done within the scope the plugin.

How do you add more permissions to a codebase? Just define them on separate lines in the grant entry:

grant codeBase "file:${my-supercool-portlet}${/}-" {
    permission java.lang.RuntimePermission "loadLibrary.test_b";
    permission "specifyStreamHandler";

In this example, we’ve granted the plugin permission to invoke native code that’s in some library ( This is another type of operation which Liferay’s PACL does not support. So, it makes sense to specify permission for it in the Java Security Policy file.

With Liferay’s PACL policy and Java Security Policy files, you can precisely specify all of the resources your plugin needs to access! Next, let’s revisit the file path values that the PACL Policy Generation Tool wrote to your file.

Convert PACL Absolute File Paths into Relative Paths

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, we recommend using the PACL generation tool to give you a head start on specifying your plugin’s security rules. But The generator is only aware of file paths with respect to the current system, and therefore generates them as absolute file paths. In order to use your security policy in production, it must use only relative file paths. So, as a final step after testing the generated PACL, you must massage the generated file paths into appropriate relative file paths. For example, you can specify paths relative to your Liferay web portal directory:


In this example, we used a dash (-) character at the end of the paths. We use this as a wildcard character. Oracle defines wildcards for for use with Java Security, and Liferay provides some too. Let’s consider some helpful wildcards you can use in PACL properties and Java Security policies.

For files and file paths, you can leverage the following wildcard characters:

  • Dash (-) matches everything in the current folder and below, like you might expect with the normal GLOB operation in UNIX. The current folder isn’t included in the match.
  • Star (*) matches every file (not folder) in the current folder. The current folder and subfolders are excluded from the match.

Let’s say you want to match all of your theme files and folders, specify …



NOT this:


The star means “every file in this single directory.” The dash, however, matches everything in this folder and below.

One more note. This:


does not include this:


The dash lets you read the contents of the folder, but not the folder itself. Also, when defining the folder, do not include a trailing slash, otherwise the folder itself will not be included. Below, we specify the themes folder and all of the contents under it:


For file path separators, you can use the ${/} alias.


grant codeBase "file:${my-supercool-portlet}${/}-" {
	permission "specifyStreamHandler";

Congratulations! You now know how to specify your policy’s file paths appropriately for deployment on any server. Once you’ve completed testing your plugin without getting any Java security exceptions, you can distribute it as an app on Liferay Marketplace. You can do so with confidence, because you’ve specified all of the resources it uses in the application’s PACL, and possibly its Java Security Policy, and your application satisfies Liferay Portal’s Security Manager.

The sections that follow demonstrated how to enable the Security Manager (which you’ve already done) and provide descriptions for each type of PACL property.

« How plugin security worksEnabling the Security Manager »