Black Lives Matter. Support the Equal Justice Initiative and read our statement here.

Electron Documentation

sandbox Option

Create a browser window with a sandboxed renderer. With this option enabled, the renderer must communicate via IPC to the main process in order to access node APIs.

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, pass sandbox: true to webPreferences:

let win
app.whenReady().then(() => {
  win = new BrowserWindow({
    webPreferences: {
      sandbox: true
    }
  })
  win.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 behavior (by default Electron creates a BrowserWindow and returns a proxy to this via window.open).

app.enableSandbox can be used to force sandbox: true for all BrowserWindow instances.

let win
app.enableSandbox()
app.whenReady().then(() => {
  // no need to pass `sandbox: true` since `app.enableSandbox()` was called.
  win = new BrowserWindow()
  win.loadURL('http://google.com')
})

Preload

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

let win
app.whenReady().then(() => {
  win = new BrowserWindow({
    webPreferences: {
      sandbox: true,
      preload: path.join(app.getAppPath(), 'preload.js')
    }
  })
  win.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 { ipcRenderer, remote } = require('electron')
const fs = remote.require('fs')

// 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:

  • Even though the sandboxed renderer doesn't have Node.js running, it still has access to a limited node-like environment: Buffer, process, setImmediate, clearImmediate and require are available.
  • The preload script can indirectly access all APIs from the main process through the remote and ipcRenderer modules.
  • The preload script must be contained in a single script, but it is possible to have complex preload code composed with multiple modules by using a tool like webpack or browserify. An example of using browserify is below.

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 \
    --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:

  • electron
    • crashReporter
    • desktopCapturer
    • ipcRenderer
    • nativeImage
    • remote
    • webFrame
  • events
  • timers
  • url

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.

Rendering untrusted content

Rendering untrusted content in Electron is still somewhat uncharted territory, though some apps are finding success (e.g. Beaker Browser). Our goal is to get as close to Chrome as we can in terms of the security of sandboxed content, but ultimately we will always be behind due to a few fundamental issues:

  1. We do not have the dedicated resources or expertise that Chromium has to apply to the security of its product. We do our best to make use of what we have, to inherit everything we can from Chromium, and to respond quickly to security issues, but Electron cannot be as secure as Chromium without the resources that Chromium is able to dedicate.
  2. Some security features in Chrome (such as Safe Browsing and Certificate Transparency) require a centralized authority and dedicated servers, both of which run counter to the goals of the Electron project. As such, we disable those features in Electron, at the cost of the associated security they would otherwise bring.
  3. There is only one Chromium, whereas there are many thousands of apps built on Electron, all of which behave slightly differently. Accounting for those differences can yield a huge possibility space, and make it challenging to ensure the security of the platform in unusual use cases.
  4. We can't push security updates to users directly, so we rely on app vendors to upgrade the version of Electron underlying their app in order for security updates to reach users.

Here are some things to consider before rendering untrusted content:

  • A preload script can accidentally leak privileged APIs to untrusted code, unless contextIsolation is also enabled.
  • Some bug in the V8 engine may allow malicious code to access the renderer preload APIs, effectively granting full access to the system through the remote module. Therefore, it is highly recommended to disable the remote module. If disabling is not feasible, you should selectively filter the remote module.
  • While we make our best effort to backport Chromium security fixes to older versions of Electron, we do not make a guarantee that every fix will be backported. Your best chance at staying secure is to be on the latest stable version of Electron.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Key Action
/ Focus the search bar
Esc Focus the search bar and cleans it
Select the next search result
Select the previous search result
Enter Open the selected search result
cmdEnter Ctrl+Enter Open the selected search result in a new tab