What are HTTP Cookies and why can't I eat them...?

April 20, 2018 by
What are HTTP Cookies and why can't I eat them...?
Lighthouse IT Solutions, Matthew Almendinger

When you think of cookies you probably imagine sweet sugar cookies or rich chocolate chip, but in terms of computers unfortunately this is not the case. Browser cookies, otherwise known as an HTTP Cookie, is a small segment of data used by websites to remember certain data when you visit them. Having websites store data about you may sound like a bad thing, but it is not as awful as it seems. Cookies can often lead to a better online experience by making your internet navigation more efficient. Let's go over in greater detail what cookies do exactly, what 'flavors' they come in, and when they can be good or bad.

What do Cookies do?

Cookies are used to store personal information needed on the site locally. Back in the good old days when internet online shopping was not as simple as it is today, an item being placed into a cart required an action had to be recorded somehow. Thus, the Cookie was created! They are primary used in three main ways now-a-days.

  1. The first use is in website preferences. Whether that be a setting change to customize the appearance of a website or auto filling the login box after consecutive visits.
  2. Speaking of logging in, another use of cookies is to create unique session ID. This can be used for reducing how long it takes for a website to load or could be used to grant or deny access to certain services.
  3. The last use of a cookie is for tracking, however, what they track is fairly inconsequential. Cookies only track how many times a site was visited and what advertisements (if any) were clicked on.

Now to go over the different types of cookies out there.

Flavors of Cookies

There are several types of cookies and each preforms a different task. The most common type is known as the session cookie. These only exist as long as the client has a browser open, once the browser is closed the cookie is deleted. Persistent cookies are cookies with a time limit and are primarily used for websites with login pages to help with security. Once the time limit has expired the client will have to log back in. Another type of cookie is the zombie cookie, what makes this cookie special is that it is able to recreate itself if it is deleted. This allows the cookies to track users across different browsers on the same machine.

The Good, The Bad, and The Crumbly

Cookies play an important role in the internet today and usually do not pose any sort of security risk. Though, malicious code can disguise itself as a cookie to infect a computer or to collect information from other websites. To combat these, websites typically block this sort of traffic, thus lowering risks for users. Most websites even allow users to turn off cookies or delete them if they do not want to use them.

In summary, much like actual cookies, HTTP cookies are great to have in moderation and some people like more cookies than others. They are not bad to have around, but it is possible to go without them entirely. Some can be larger than others, and there are many different flavors. Love them or hate them, they are here to stay.

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