What Are Cookies?


Many web browsers contain a feature called "cookies," or client-side persistent information. Cookies allow any web site to store information about your visit to that site on your hard drive. Every time you return to that site, "cookies" will read your hard drive to find out if you've been there before.

A "cookie" is simply a small piece of information that is sent by a web site to your browser.  Typically, this is something that will identify you to the web site, so that it can keep track of you as you move around the site.

For example, let's say that you went to visit a site that has a small store and order form.  There are two ways that this site can keep track of what you have purchased, so that when you checkout, all the information is there and ready for your final purchase:

First, they could write tons and tons of program code, so that every time you click on a product, it would save it to a file on their machine... and then HOPE that you don't get distracted, and leave the site... without finishing the purchase. If you 
were to do that (as well as, potentially, hundreds of other people) the site owner's system would fill up with hundreds upon hundreds of these little files... all for incomplete orders.

Or, they could simply send each item to you, in a small piece of text, that is stored on your browser's hard drive.  Then, when you click on "Checkout"... all the information is there and ready to go.  And, should you decide not to purchase, the information is simply deleted, the next time you close your browser.  No muss, no fuss. This makes SO many things possible... and life SO much easier for us programmers (<grin>). We can can do all sorts of great things, including allowing you to customize your home pages on search engines, keep track of how many times you've visited our sites (so that we can do statistical analysis - and make our site more appealing to you) etc, etc. Cookies just work!

A cookie may look something like this:

"name=items, values=product1, product2, product3 ... etc."

This is only one use for cookies, there are many others. However, this is a perfect example.

Cookies are stored differently, depending upon your browser.  Internet Explorer, as an example, stores these cookies in a text file, located in a "Temporary Internet Files" directory. Netscape is similar, only all cookies are stored separately (as of this writing).

Question: "Are Cookies Dangerous? Can't they delete my hard drive???"

Answer: Absolutely NOT! 

So, you may very well ask... "Well then why do all these commercials I see and hear say that I could lose my bank account information, my hard drive could be erased, and my grandmother will die early... if I allow cookies!!??"  Simple... THEY WANT TO SELL YOU SOFTWARE!  Couldn't be simpler than that.

Also, do not confuse cookies with viruses.  COOKIES ARE NOT VIRUSES!  They are completely detectable by your browser, with no other software needed. As a matter of fact, most browsers let you SEE the cookies, if you so choose, before you decide to accept them... not that they're important... but hey, it's your computer.

Lastly, COOKIES ARE NOT EXECUTABLE!  In other words, nobody can dump a cookie on your system, and then run it.  It simply doesn't work that way. There is no mechanism to do this.  And further, cookies can't gather up your bank account information, and transmit it back to a site or other person.  Programs can do that... cookies can't!

Why are you so adamant about allowing cookies??"  Simple. If we could use cookies, without our visitors worrying about them (and wrongfully so!) we could make your visit here (and in many other places) so much more fun, powerful and exciting! Wouldn't you much rather visit a page, and have it say "Hi Bob.. welcome back! And by the way, since you were here last, that software you were looking for has arrived!" That's possible with cookies. Otherwise, you'll have to keep track of yet another user id and password, so that you can login to a site... to get that sort of custom information. It's unnecessary... and falsely propagated by the press and software vendors that only want your money.. and play off your paranoia as an Internet surfer.


Question: How do I ensure that my PC is not blocking the usage of cookies?

Answer: Cookies could be blocked by you in several different ways:

1) Via a privacy firewall, such as Black Ice Defender, Zone Alarm, Symantec Personal Firewall, or other third party cookie programs. All of these programs have configuration settings that permit or prohibit the use of cookies. You will need to refer to the user's manual of the program you are using for further details.

...or...

2) You are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, and you may possibly changed your "Security" zone set to "High" instead of "Medium". To lower the security settings, click the "Tools" item from IE's menu bar, choose "Internet Options", then go to the "Security" page, and click the "Default level" button. You may also need to change the "Privacy" settings to "Default".  If you've made changes in "Advanced" mode to override the default cookie handling behavior, you will need to turn that option off.  In short, your web browser must accept cookies in order to continue.