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What are cookies?
Cookies are small files which are stored on a user's computer. They are designed
to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and
can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer. This allows the
server to deliver a page tailored to a particular user, or the page itself can contain
some script which is aware of the data in the cookie and so is able to carry information
from one visit to the website (or related site) to the next.
When are Cookies Created?
Writing data to a cookie is usually done when a new web page is loaded - for example
after a submit button is pressed the data handling page would be responsible for
storing the values in a cookie. If the user has elected to disable cookies then the
write operation will fail, and subsequent sites which rely on the cookie will either
have to take a default action, or prompt the user to re-enter the information that
would have been stored in the cookie.
Why are Cookies Used?
Cookies are a convenient way to carry information from one session on a website to
another, or between sessions on related websites, without having to burden a server
machine with massive amounts of data storage. Storing the data on the server without
using cookies would also be problematic because it would be difficult to retrieve
a particular user's information without requiring a login on each visit to the website.
If there is a large amount of information to store, then a cookie can simply be used
as a means to identify a given user so that further related information can be looked
up on a server-side database. For example the first time a user visits a site they
may choose a username which is stored in the cookie, and then provide data such as
password, name, address, preferred font size, page layout, etc. - this information
would all be stored on the database using the username as a key. Subsequently when
the site is revisited the server will read the cookie to find the username, and then
retrieve all the user's information from the database without it having to be re-entered.
Cookies do not contain any personally identifying or financial information.
Most of the main web browsers automatically accept cookies.
You can also change your browser settings to “not accept cookies”.