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Sunday, July 11, 2021

How to escape HTML Special characters in JSP and Java? Example

Escaping HTML special characters in JSP or Java is a common task for Java programmers. There are many ways to escape HTML metacharacters in Java, some of which we have already seen in the last article escaping XML metacharacters in Java.  For those who are not familiar with HTML special characters, there are five e.g. <, >, &, ' and '' and if you want to print them literally just like here, Than you need to escape those characters so < becomes &lt;, > becomes &gt; and so on. 

Of course, you can also write your own custom tag or method for converting HTML special characters to entity format which the browser understands but you don't need to do this because there is a more easy and more standard way to escape HTML special characters in JSP and Java

In this JSP and Java tutorial, we will learn about HTML special characters and explore some techniques to escape them in JSP pages and Java code. By the way, this is also a popular JSP Interview question mostly asked 2 years experienced programmers.

List of special HTML Characters needs escaping

Here is a list of special HTML characters which need to be escaped in order to be displayed as it is literally in the browser. The good thing is there are only five characters that are require escaping.

>  - &lt;
<  - &gt;
&  - &amp;
'  - &#039;
'' - &#034;

How to escape special HTML Characters in JSP? Example

In JSP if you are using EL or JSP expression for displaying String you must have faced issues related to HTML Special characters. Suppose you are printing ${info} and if info contains special HTML characters like < or > they will not be displayed literally like that instead they will be interpreted as opening and closing tags by the browser. 

Here is a common example that shows issues caused by HTML special characters. Suppose in the display.jsp we have the following JSP code

"<i> is called italic tag");
    HTML: ${specialCharString}

HTML: is called italic tag

It didn't print <i> instead it makes the text "is called italic tag"  italic because the browser interpreted "<" angle bracket as an opening tag. if you want to display angle bracket as it is you need to escape it and instead of "<" you need to use &lt;
so if you change "specialCharString" to "&lt;i&gt; is called italic tag" it's called escaping HTML special characters and it will display the text "<i> is called italic tag" as it is. Now instead of doing manually, there are two ways to escape HTML characters in JSP

1. by using <c:out> tag
2. by using EL function fn:escapeXml(string)

<c:out> tag has an attribute called "escapeXml" if its true it escapes all HTML special character in "value" attribute. So,
if you use <c:out value=${specialCharString} escapeXml='true'/> it will display exact text with HTML special characters like "<" will be displayed as angle bracket. Here is modified code example of displaying HTML special characters using JSTL core <c:out> tag:

 "<i> is called italic tag");
HTML: <c:out value="${specialCharString}"

HTML: <i> is called italic tag

Also by default escapeXml is true so <c:out/> is equivalent to <c:out escapeXml='true'/>

Another way to escape XML or HTML special character in JSP is by using EL (Expression Language) function called escapeXml(string). In order to use this function you need to import functions from JSTL library by using @taglib directive. here is an example of using EL function for display special HTML characters:

<%@taglib uri="http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/functions"
="fn" %>
HTML: ${fn:escapeXml("<i> is called italic tag")}

HTML: <i> is called italic tag

The good part of both approaches is that they are part of the JSTL core library so you don't need to add any more dependency for this functionality. You can also check out these Servlet and JSP Courses to learn more about fundamental concepts like core tag library and more. 

How to escape HTML Special Characters in Java? Example

Even in core Java, If you are working with HTML or XML document you need to escape those HTML special characters in order to display them as it is. There are lots of open-source library available which allows you to handle HTML special characters.
here are some of them:

1. StringEscapeUtils from Apache's commons-lang library.
2. HtmlUtils from Spring
3. Own custom method using String replace

here is complete code example of using both Apache Commons StringEscapeUtils and Spring framework’s HtmlUtils for escaping HTML special characters:

import org.apache.commons.lang.StringEscapeUtils;
import org.springframework.web.util.HtmlUtils;

 * Java program to escape String in Java and HTML.
 * This program converts HTML metacharacters to their escape form.

public class HtmlEscapeExample {

    public static void main(String args[])  {
        String input = "This String contains HTML
             Special characters requires encoding e.g. < and >"
        System.out.println("Input: " + input);
        System.out.println("Conversion using Spring HtmlUtils: "
               + HtmlUtils.htmlEscape(input));
        System.out.println("Conversion using Apache commons StringEscapeUtils: " + StringEscapeUtils.escapeHtml(input));


Input: This String contains HTML Special characters requires encoding e.g. < and >
Conversion using Spring HtmlUtils: This String contains
HTML Special characters requires encoding e.g. &lt; and &gt;
Conversion using Apache commons StringEscapeUtils: This String contains HTML Special characters requires encoding e.g. &lt; and &gt;

That's all on how to escape HTML special characters in JSP and Java code. we have seen JSTL <c:out> tag to escape  HTML in JSP and Spring's HtmlUtils for escaping HTML in Java, these are my preferred way. 

On a side note, I would also say that use the <c:out> tag for displaying String in JSP because it prevents cross-site hijacking by displaying dangerous java-script code as it is by escaping HTML special character entered by the user.

Related Java programming tutorials for beginners


  1. The programmer must explicitly invoke or fn:escapeXml. If the programmer forgets to do so and the data being rendered was supplied by the user, then the application is vulnerable to cross-site scripting. Here is a way to escape EL valuess by default:

  2. Great article it helped me a lot. Thank you!!!

  3. in java application its working fine, where come to web application its not working, I'm using springs and eclispe IDE . I'm accepting all languages values , there I'm converting the values by htmlEscape and storing the values, now i want those values to convert back to the exact value in java , i used StringEscapeUtils.unescapeHtml its showing me output like this ????? can anyone help me.

  4. Just caught a minor typo:

    < should be <
    > should be >

  5. How can I escape in HTML in jsp format. I have exceptions. In if else format and apart from these exceptions, the customer should not see a new exception on the site. How can I filter the exception?

    else {
    logger.info("<<<<>>>>>" + attributeValue.toString() + "<<<<<<>>>>>");
    exception += attributeValue.toString() + "";

  6. How can I escape in HTML in jsp format. I have exceptions. In if else format and apart from these exceptions, the customer should not see a new exception on the site. How can I filter the exception?


Feel free to comment, ask questions if you have any doubt.