“Well Nathan, what is a cookie?” I’m glad you asked! A cookie is a text string of information that a website saves to a cookie file on the browser you are using on your computer’s hard-drive so that the website can remember who you are. Cookies typically contain the name of the domain from which the cookie has come, the duration that the cookie will remain alive, and some sort of value. There are two main types of cookies, session cookies, which are temporary and will disappear after leaving the particular website, and persistent cookies, which will remain in your browsers cookie file for substantially longer. Sometimes indefinitely unless deleted.
Cookies are not something that you necessarily need to be afraid of. Many websites use them to remember your preferred arrangements and favorite setups, such as Amazon and Facebook. A cookie gives a web server a type of ‘memory’. Without them, every time you visit the same site, it will treat you like a completely new visitor. By themselves cookies cannot identify a user, but they can be used in conjunction with other data to build a unique finger print on you.
Let’s break down exactly what these two types of cookies do.
Session cookies permit the website you are viewing to keep track of your movements from page to page as you traverse the site so that you don't get asked for redundant information you've already given. These cookies let you to proceed through many pages of the site quickly and easily without having to re-authenticate or reprocess data for each new area you visit. Simply stated, it saves you a lot of typing!
Persistent cookies help websites remember your information and settings when you visit them again in the future. This results in much faster and more convenient access since you won’t have to login again or change any user settings.
Besides authentication, other website features made possible by persistent cookies include: language selection, theme selection, menu preferences, internal site bookmarks/ favorites, among many others. On your first visit, the website is presented in default mode. During your visit, you select your preferences and these preferences are remembered, through the use of the persistent cookie, the next time you visit the site.
Cookies are useful tools for websites to remember returning users and to make web browsing a more enjoyable experience. They are not something to be overly concerned about since they are simply text-strings and do not have the ability to read or write information to or from a computer.