A cookie is created at the request of the website a user is viewing. The website requests the web browser create a small text file with a small amount of information, which it can access whilst you are viewing the website. The information is usually to provide some functionality such as a shopping cart to enhance the users experience on the site. The information saved in a cookie has a name of the cookie, and a value (which can be a numeric or text value). Other information includes the domain the cookie is for, the path/page on the website (if not specified then the cookie is for all pages on the domain), cookie expiry date and time, if the cookie is HTTP only (ie cannot be accessed by javascript) and finally if the cookie is a secure cookie.

Hopefully, with a better understanding of what cookies are and what role they play when visiting websites, users can actively manage cookies that are saved on their computer. If you don't trust a particular website you could block cookies for that site or alternatively if you trust a website you can always allow cookies. For most web browsers the default is to accept all cookies. If you are not sure if cookies are enabled, why not try cookie detection tool. If cookies are enabled, then a cookie will be saved on your computer.

Cookie uses

Cookies are used on websites to provide enhanced functionality on improve the users experience. Examples of website cookie use include:

  • An online store can record items in your shopping cart whilst you are browsing the store.
  • A website can display different content, if you have never visited a site before. An example is many sites show a cookie warning on first visit to a website.
  • Allow a website to save any preferences set by a user, so that next time the settings don't need to be set again. Some is setting your home town on a weather website.
  • Can tracking browsing habits. An example is an online store can suggest more useful additional items to buy, based on the previous pages visited.
  • For a website that requires you to login, it allows you not to have to type in your user name and password every time to visit the site (or view different pages on a site).

Cookie security and privacy

Cookies are text files stored on your computer, and therefore cannot be used to infect your computer with a virus or allow malicous code to run on your computer. So cookies are not deemed dangerous, however there maybe concerns over privacy. Cookies cannot access any other information on your computer, so the privacy concerns relate to tracking of your sites you browse.