All About Cookies

Excerpts from the Summer 2000 issue of LOEX News

What is a cookie?

"Quite simply, a cookie is a small piece of information sent by a Web server to a Web browser. The browser stores this information in the form of a text file on your computer. Whenever you access a Web page stored on that server in the future, your browser will send the cookie information back to the server.

"Cookies can serve a number of different purposes. For example, they are often used to identify known users and to provide them with custom content based on their past use of a web site...

"Cookies can also be used to “remember” login information for short periods... These cookies are normally set to expire after a short period."

The Cookie Controversy

"Over the past few years, cookies have developed a somewhat bad reputation. Many people are concerned about privacy and security issues related to the use of cookies. Fortunately, many of the rumors about cookies are simply not true. Cookies cannot scan your hard drive for information. Remember, a cookie is only a short piece of information; it is not a program and it cannot control your computer. Similarly, cookies cannot be used to gather information about you from other Web sites. In fact, only the site from which it originated can read a cookie. In addition, cookies can only store information that you provide. In other words, unless you fill out a form containing personal information such as your name, e-mail address, or social security number there is no way that a cookie can gather this type of information about you."

Viewing cookies already on your computer

"Netscape cookies are all stored in a single text file called cookies.txt that resides in the Netscape\Users\ directory... Internet Explorer cookies on the other hand, are stored as separate text files in the Windows\Cookies\ directory. Visit one of these directories and you may be surprised at the number of cookies that you find on your system."

Deleting unwanted cookies

Since the browser writes cookies to memory when it is closed, you must first close the browser. Then you can either delete the entire cookie file, or you can open the file and delete specific cookies.

Preventing cookies being accepted

"If you are concerned about receiving cookies, you may want to consider setting up your browser either to notify you when a cookie is re-ceived, or to disallow them altogether. Both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navi-gator allow you to set your browser preferences to regu-late the acquisition of cook-ies. In the most recent ver-sions of Netscape Navigator, you will find the cookies options under Edit/Prefer-ences/ Advanced...

"You will find similar options in Internet Explorer 4.0 under View/Internet Op-tions/ Advanced and in Internet Explorer 5.0 under Tools/Internet Options/ Security/Internet/Custom Level."

More information

If you want to read more about cookies, check out these URLs:

Cookie Central
EPIC Cookies Page
HTTP Cookies

Colby Glass, MLIS