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January 31, 2012

Top Ten Java Frameworks Observed in Customer Applications

One of the great things about the Veracode platform is the insight we get from examining our anonymized customer data - not only information about the vulnerability landscape (as published in the State of Software Security report) but insight into the composition of the applications that we scan. As I alluded in my last post, one of the things we record when scanning applications is the presence of frameworks and other supporting technologies, and we've been at work mining that data to understand what developers use to build their applications. We'd like to share some of that research with you today.

How does Veracode look for the presence of frameworks in Java code? Because our customers upload the application packages that they deploy or distribute (as EARs, WARs, or JARs), we can observe the presence of framework classes, configuration files, and other artifacts in the application. We record the prevalence of the framework so that we can mine the anonymized data later. We resample the data every few months to get an idea of relative framework prevalence and to see if any trends can be observed. Below is our most current Top 10 list for Java frameworks. This list is based on a sample of over 5400 customer applications and was sampled on December 7, 2011. Note that we have decomposed one of the larger framework families, Spring, into its component frameworks to get a better idea of the usage of its individual parts. The percentages reflect the number of Java applications (not individual scans) in which the framework was observed, so an application that was scanned multiple times only counts once in the rankings.

  1. Spring MVC (23%)
  2. Struts 1.x (15%)
  3. Apache Axis (15%)
  4. Apache Xerces (14%)
  5. Hibernate (12%)
  6. JDOM (12%)
  7. Java Applet (8.1%)
  8. Apache Velocity (7.9%)
  9. Apache ORO (7.0%)
  10. JAX-WS (6.5%)

A couple of interesting findings here. First, the relative prevalence of Spring MVC and Struts is unsurprising, but the fact that Struts 1.x is #2 on the list and Struts 2 is not even in the Top 10 is a little surprising. (It came in 24th in the overall rankings, in fact, showing up in just 1.8% of the Java applications scanned). Second, it's interesting to note that there are multiple frameworks for web services in the top ten, and that Axis appears to have an edge on popularity over JAX-WS. Third, the relatively high number of applications scanned that contained Java applets was interesting. It's hard to imagine that 8% of all Java applications have a customer facing applet. One is tempted to speculate that in many cases these applets are administrative interfaces to framework or server code that are left in the application distribution inadvertently or unknowingly, and thus that these represent potentially forgotten attack surfaces for the application. We're just starting to mine the data that we're seeing regarding frameworks. I think that this data should be interesting to development teams looking to choose frameworks that are more widely used. From a security perspective, too, this is a useful reminder that applications rely on third party frameworks, and that some of these may come with their own attack surface (e.g. applets) that shouldn't be forgotten when planning secure deployments.

Tim Jarrett is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Veracode. A Grammy-award winning product professional, he joined Veracode in 2008 and has a Bacon number of 3. He can be found on Twitter as @tojarrett.

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