Prefer alternatives to Java serialization

Java serialization has security issues that were transformed into serious exploits. Its attack surface is too big to protect and is constantly growing.

Object graphs are deserialized by invoking readObject on an ObjectInputStream, which is essentially a magic constructor that can instantiate objects of any type on the class path, so long as that object implements the Serializable interface.

  • In the process of deserializing the byte stream, this magic constructor can execute code from any of these types, therefore the code for all serializable types is part of the attack surface.

The best way to avoid serialization exploits is to never deserialize anything. There is no reason to use Java serialization in any new system you write.

Other mechanisms provide a way to translate between bytes and objects. They are better in that they're far simpler than Java serialization because they don't support automatic serialization and deserialization of arbitrary object graphs. In general, they support structured data objects consisting of attribute-value pairs.

  • JSON
  • Protobuf

If you can't avoid Java serialization entirely, i.e., you're working in a legacy codebase, the next best alternative is to never deserialize untrusted data.

A third alternative, worst than the first two options above, is to use object deserialization filtering, which allows you to apply a filter to data streams before deserialization.

  • If you do this, prefer a whilelist filter to blacklist filter.

Implement Serializable with great caution

The long term costs of making a class implements Serializable are substantial.

Implementing Serializable decreases the flexibility to change the implementation once it has been released. This is because the class's byte-stream encoding (or serialized form) becomes part of its exported API.

  • You are expected to support the serialized form forever.
  • As a result, if you don't design a custom serialized form, the default means that the class's private and package-private instance fields become part of the exported API.
  • Changing internal representations is a breaking change because clients who attempt to serialize an instance of the old version will fail to deserialize it using the new version.

If you must make a class serializable, you should design a high-quality serialized form that you can support for the long-haul.

Implementing Serializable increases the likelihood of bugs and security holes. Serialization is an extralinguistic mechanism for creating objects that do not use constructors. Deserialization is therefore a "hidden constructor" and it is easy to forget that you have to maintain all of its guarantees associated with deserialization.

Implementing Serializable increases the testing burden for any new version of a class. Since you must always make sure that the instance can serialize and deserialize in the face of any change.

Classes designed for inheritance and interfaces should rarely implement Serializable.

Consider using a custom serialized form

Do not accept the default serialized form without first considering whether it is appropriate. The default serialized form is likely appropriate if an object's physical representation is identical to its logical content.

If the object's physical representation differs substantially from its logical data:

  • It permanently ties the exported API (including private fields) to the current internal representation
  • It can consume excessive space
  • It can consume excessive time
  • It can cause stack overflows.

Even if you decide the default serialized form is appropriate, always provide a readObject method to ensure invariants and security. For your docstrings on fields, add the @serial tag, which tells Javadoc to place the documentation on a special page that documents erialized forms.

Instead of this:

// Logically, this is a sequence of strings.
// Physically, it represents the sequence as a doubly linked list.
public final class StringList implements Serializable {
    private int size = 0;
    private Entry head = null;

    private static class Entry implements Serializable {
        String data;
        Entry next;
        Entry previous;

This is more reasonable (but you should still avoid Java serialization):

public final class StringList implements Serializable {
    private transient int size = 0;
    private transient Entry head = null;

    // No longer Serializable
    private static class Entry {
        String data;
        Entry next;
        Entry previous;

     * Serialize this {@code StringList} instance.
     * @serialData The size of the list (the number of strings
     * it contains) is emitted ({@code int}), followed by all of
     * its elements (each a {@code String}), in the proper
     * sequence
    private void writeObject(ObjectInputStream s) throws IOException {

        for (Entry e = head; e != null; e = {

    private void readObject(ObjectInputStream s) throws IOException {
        int numElements = s.readInt();

        for (int i = 0; i < numElements; i++) {
            add((String) s.readObject());

Whether or not you accept the default serialized form, every instant field not labeled transient will be serialized when the defaultWriteObject method is invoked. Therefore, every instance field that can be declared transient should be, included derived fields.

  • Remember that these transient fields will be initialized to their default values when an instance is deserialized. If thes values are unacceptable, you must provide a readObject method that invokes defaultReadObject then restores transient fields to acceptable values.

You should always declare an explicit serial version UID in every serializable class you write. Example:

private static final long serialVersionUID = randomLongValue;

It doesn't matter what value you choose for randomLongValue, you can pick a number from thin air.

This serial version UID requires bytes you want to deserialize to have this same value. If you ever want to make a new version of a class incompatible with existing versions, you merely need to change the serial version UID, which will cause an InvalidClassException upon deserialization.

Write readObject methods defensively

If you have a class that uses strict control over its constructor, getters, and setters to maintain object attribute invariants, adding implements Serializable adds another (hidden, if you don't implement readObject) constructor that could ruin those invariants.

readObject is effectively a constructor, albeit one that takes a byte stream as its sole parameter, and so it must also defensively construct itself.

  • You should call defaultReadObject, then check for invariants, throwing InvalidObjectException to prevent deserialization from completing.
  • It is critical to defensively copy any field containing an object reference that a client must not possess.

For instance control, prefer enum types to readResolve

Deserialization adds additional wrinkles if you're trying to create an instance-controlled type. Without handling it, deserialization could create additional instances beyond what you were expecting.

Single-element enum types are preferred. Java guarantees that there can be no instances besides the declared constants.

public enum Elvis {

    private String[] favoriteSongs = { "Hound Dog", "Heartbreak Hotel" };

    public void printFavorites() {

If you need a class to be both serializable AND instance-controlled, BUT you cannot use an enum type, then you must provide a readResolve method and ensure all the class's instance fields are either primitive or transient.

If you depend on readResolve for instance control, all instance fields with object reference types must be declared transient.

  • If you place readResolve on a final class, it should be private.
  • If you place readResolve on a nonfinal class, you must carefully consider its accessibility. If private, it will not apply to any subpackages. If package-private, it will only apply to classes in teh same package. If it is protected or public, it will apply to all classes that do not override it.

Consider serialization proxies instead of serialized instances

The serialization proxy pattern reduces the risks of implementing Serializable.

  1. Design a private static nested class that concisely represents the logical state of an instance of the enclosing class.
  2. The private static nested class is known as the serialization proxy. It should have a single constructor whose parameter type is the enclosing type.
  3. This single constructor merely copies data from its argument, does not need to do any consistency checking or defensive copying.
  4. Both the enclosing class and its serialization proxy must be declared to implement Serializable.
// Example serialization proxy
class Period {

    private static class SerializationProxy implements Serializable {
        private final Date start;
        private final Date end;

        SerializationProxy(Period p) {
            this.start = p.start;
            this.end = p.end;

        private static final long serialVersionUID =

        private Object readResolve() {
            return new Period(start, end); // Uses public constructor

    private Object writeReplace() {
        return new SerializationProxy(this);

    private void readObject(ObjectInputStream stream) throws InvalidObjectException {
        throw new InvalidObjectException("Proxy required");

This writeReplace generates a SerializationProxy instance instead of the an instance of the actual class. The serialization system will never generate a serialized instance of the enclosing class.

An attacker may try to fabricate a serialized instance of the enclosing class so the enclosing readObject throws an exception to force the usage of the proxy.

The proxy gets its own readObject that returns an instance of the outer class.