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Selectively Redirect Back

Posted by Danya Alexeyevsky on 2014-01-07 @ 16:17 and filed in Security

It is usually a good idea to redirect the user back to the page they were viewing after they've logged in or edited their profile.

This is frequently done by either passing a next parameter in a form or by looking at the referer in HTTP headers. Both of these approaches cause either major headache or failure to redirect properly in case of multistep login process or static-HTML form validation. Both of them also require you to validate if the specified referer or form argument actually belongs to your site.

If none of this scares you, there exists a wonderful snippet Securely Redirect Back by Armin Ronacher for such validation.

However, quite often it's much easier and safer to white-list the locations that we wish to allow our app to automatically return to, and store the last white-listed location in a signed cookie. Fortunately, flask already does the cookie signing for us, so the rest is very straightforward.

# This snippet is in public domain.
# However, please retain this link in your sources:
# http://flask.pocoo.org/snippets/120/
# Danya Alexeyevsky

from flask import session, redirect, current_app

class back(object):
    """To be used in views.

    Use `anchor` decorator to mark a view as a possible point of return.

    `url()` is the last saved url.

    Use `redirect` to return to the last return point visited.

    cfg = current_app.config.get
    cookie = cfg('REDIRECT_BACK_COOKIE', 'back')
    default_view = cfg('REDIRECT_BACK_DEFAULT', 'index')

    def anchor(func, cookie=cookie):
        def result(*args, **kwargs):
            session[cookie] = request.url
            return func(*args, **kwargs)
        return result

    def url(default=default_view, cookie=cookie):
        return session.get(cookie, url_for(default))

    def redirect(default=default_view, cookie=cookie):
        return redirect(back.url(default, cookie))
back = back()

Please note, this code looks like class, but actually it's just namespace, like module. In fact, you can just put it into module back.py, unindent the code, remove class, staticmethod's and the last line, and it works the same way! (Also, you can cut the snippet down to 8 lines of code, and it still does the same job).

To use it, we decorate our important views with back.anchor:

def index():

def view(entrynum):

It is very important that the back.anchor decorators come after all the app.route decorators, since otherwise the latter app.routes will bypass the anchor code.

And then within the views that we want to return from we call back.redirect():

def login_stage1():
  ... # stuff that sends us to login_stage2, e.g. OpenID

def login_stage2():
  if everything is ok:
    return back.redirect()

You can create templates with the link back:

{% extends "base.html" %}

{% block body %}
    <a href="{{ back.url() }}">Back</a>
{% endblock %}

Or else it makes it very easy to convert error pages into flash messages:

def not_found():
  flash("Sorry, the requested page is not found", "error")
  return back.redirect()

Of course, in this case you have to add flash messages support to your templates too.

The snippet is configured with two configuration options:

This snippet by Danya Alexeyevsky can be used freely for anything you like. Consider it public domain.