Electron Documentation1.7.5

Docs / API / sandbox Option

sandbox Option

Create a browser window with a renderer that can run inside Chromium OS sandbox. With this option enabled, the renderer must communicate via IPC to the main process in order to access node APIs. However, in order to enable the Chromium OS sandbox, electron must be run with the --enable-sandbox command line argument.

One of the key security features of Chromium is that all blink rendering/JavaScript code is executed within a sandbox. This sandbox uses OS-specific features to ensure that exploits in the renderer process cannot harm the system.

In other words, when the sandbox is enabled, the renderers can only make changes to the system by delegating tasks to the main process via IPC. Here’s more information about the sandbox.

Since a major feature in electron is the ability to run node.js in the renderer process (making it easier to develop desktop applications using web technologies), the sandbox is disabled by electron. This is because most node.js APIs require system access. require() for example, is not possible without file system permissions, which are not available in a sandboxed environment.

Usually this is not a problem for desktop applications since the code is always trusted, but it makes electron less secure than chromium for displaying untrusted web content. For applications that require more security, the sandbox flag will force electron to spawn a classic chromium renderer that is compatible with the sandbox.

A sandboxed renderer doesn’t have a node.js environment running and doesn’t expose node.js JavaScript APIs to client code. The only exception is the preload script, which has access to a subset of the electron renderer API.

Another difference is that sandboxed renderers don’t modify any of the default JavaScript APIs. Consequently, some APIs such as window.open will work as they do in chromium (i.e. they do not return a BrowserWindowProxy).

Example

To create a sandboxed window, simply pass sandbox: true to webPreferences:

let win
app.on('ready', () => {
  win = new BrowserWindow({
    webPreferences: {
      sandbox: true
    }
  })
  w.loadURL('http://google.com')
})

In the above code the BrowserWindow that was created has node.js disabled and can communicate only via IPC. The use of this option stops electron from creating a node.js runtime in the renderer. Also, within this new window window.open follows the native behaviour (by default electron creates a BrowserWindow and returns a proxy to this via window.open).

It is important to note that this option alone won’t enable the OS-enforced sandbox. To enable this feature, the --enable-sandbox command-line argument must be passed to electron, which will force sandbox: true for all BrowserWindow instances.

To enable OS-enforced sandbox on BrowserWindow or webview process with sandbox:true without causing entire app to be in sandbox, --enable-mixed-sandbox command-line argument must be passed to electron. This option is currently only supported on macOS and Windows.

let win
app.on('ready', () => {
  // no need to pass `sandbox: true` since `--enable-sandbox` was enabled.
  win = new BrowserWindow()
  w.loadURL('http://google.com')
})

Note that it is not enough to call app.commandLine.appendSwitch('--enable-sandbox'), as electron/node startup code runs after it is possible to make changes to chromium sandbox settings. The switch must be passed to electron on the command-line:

electron --enable-sandbox app.js

It is not possible to have the OS sandbox active only for some renderers, if --enable-sandbox is enabled, normal electron windows cannot be created.

If you need to mix sandboxed and non-sandboxed renderers in one application, simply omit the --enable-sandbox argument. Without this argument, windows created with sandbox: true will still have node.js disabled and communicate only via IPC, which by itself is already a gain from security POV.

Preload

An app can make customizations to sandboxed renderers using a preload script. Here’s an example:

let win
app.on('ready', () => {
  win = new BrowserWindow({
    webPreferences: {
      sandbox: true,
      preload: 'preload.js'
    }
  })
  w.loadURL('http://google.com')
})

and preload.js:

// This file is loaded whenever a javascript context is created. It runs in a
// private scope that can access a subset of electron renderer APIs. We must be
// careful to not leak any objects into the global scope!
const fs = require('fs')
const {ipcRenderer} = require('electron')

// read a configuration file using the `fs` module
const buf = fs.readFileSync('allowed-popup-urls.json')
const allowedUrls = JSON.parse(buf.toString('utf8'))

const defaultWindowOpen = window.open

function customWindowOpen (url, ...args) {
  if (allowedUrls.indexOf(url) === -1) {
    ipcRenderer.sendSync('blocked-popup-notification', location.origin, url)
    return null
  }
  return defaultWindowOpen(url, ...args)
}

window.open = customWindowOpen

Important things to notice in the preload script:

To create a browserify bundle and use it as a preload script, something like the following should be used:

browserify preload/index.js \
  -x electron \
  -x fs \
  --insert-global-vars=__filename,__dirname -o preload.js

The -x flag should be used with any required module that is already exposed in the preload scope, and tells browserify to use the enclosing require function for it. --insert-global-vars will ensure that process, Buffer and setImmediate are also taken from the enclosing scope(normally browserify injects code for those).

Currently the require function provided in the preload scope exposes the following modules:

More may be added as needed to expose more electron APIs in the sandbox, but any module in the main process can already be used through electron.remote.require.

Status

Please use the sandbox option with care, as it is still an experimental feature. We are still not aware of the security implications of exposing some electron renderer APIs to the preload script, but here are some things to consider before rendering untrusted content:

Since rendering untrusted content in electron is still uncharted territory, the APIs exposed to the sandbox preload script should be considered more unstable than the rest of electron APIs, and may have breaking changes to fix security issues.

One planned enhancement that should greatly increase security is to block IPC messages from sandboxed renderers by default, allowing the main process to explicitly define a set of messages the renderer is allowed to send.


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