1. Support Center
  2. Issue Definitions
  3. File path traversal

File path traversal

What is file path traversal?

File path traversal (also known as directory traversal) is a vulnerability that allows attackers to read the contents of files to which they should not have access.

File path traversal may allow an attacker to read sensitive configuration files containing secret keys and passwords, access the source code for the application which they can scour for vulnerabilities, or obtain other privileged data files. In some situations, an attacker can leverage the file path traversal vulnerability to gain complete control over the web server.

File path traversal vulnerabilities arise when an application incorporates user data into a file path which it then uses to access the underlying filesystem. An attacker can manipulate the data to cause the application to retrieve a different file to the one intended, allowing the attacker to read the contents of unauthorized files.

Description: File path traversal

File path traversal vulnerabilities arise when user-controllable data is used within a filesystem operation in an unsafe manner. Typically, a user-supplied filename is appended to a directory prefix in order to read or write the contents of a file. If vulnerable, an attacker can supply path traversal sequences (using dot-dot-slash characters) to break out of the intended directory and read or write files elsewhere on the filesystem.

This is typically a very serious vulnerability, enabling an attacker to access sensitive files containing configuration data, passwords, database records, log data, source code, and program scripts and binaries.

Remediation: File path traversal

Ideally, application functionality should be designed in such a way that user-controllable data does not need to be passed to filesystem operations. This can normally be achieved by referencing known files via an index number rather than their name, and using application-generated filenames to save user-supplied file content.

If it is considered unavoidable to pass user-controllable data to a filesystem operation, three layers of defense can be employed to prevent path traversal attacks:

  • User-controllable data should be strictly validated before being passed to any filesystem operation. In particular, input containing dot-dot sequences should be blocked.
  • After validating user input, the application can use a suitable filesystem API to verify that the file to be accessed is actually located within the base directory used by the application. In Java, this can be achieved by instantiating a java.io.File object using the user-supplied filename and then calling the getCanonicalPath method on this object. If the string returned by this method does not begin with the name of the start directory, then the user has somehow bypassed the application's input filters, and the request should be rejected. In ASP.NET, the same check can be performed by passing the user-supplied filename to the System.Io.Path.GetFullPath method and checking the returned string in the same way as described for Java.
  • The directory used to store files that are accessed using user-controllable data can be located on a separate logical volume to other sensitive application and operating system files, so that these cannot be reached via path traversal attacks. In Unix-based systems, this can be achieved using a chrooted filesystem; on Windows, this can be achieved by mounting the base directory as a new logical drive and using the associated drive letter to access its contents.


Vulnerability classifications

Typical severity


Type index (hex)


Type index (decimal)


Burp Scanner

This issue - and many more like it - can be found using our web vulnerability scanner

Read more

Get Burp

Scan your web application from just $449.00

Find out more