The internet has become such an integral aspect of modern society that it’s almost impossible to imagine life without it.

However, as tech-savvy as most people are these days, there are still some aspects of online browsing that not many understand, such as the HTTP cookie.

HTTP cookies are considered essential in our online browsing activities, but what exactly are they? Moreover, what roles do they play in our online activities? Let’s find out.

HTTP Cookies: What Are They?

To understand what an HTTP cookie does, we first need to identify what it is. HTTP cookies are just text files that contain small amounts of data sent by a web server to your browser. These are repurposed versions of the original “magic cookie,” designed explicitly for online use.

Later on, your browser saves this information and returns it to the server once you access the same site again. These help web servers identify specific users and use this information to tell them apart and optimize and improve their browsing experience.
This makes HTTP cookies essential in modern web development, rendering most web pages useless without them – more on the specifics (https://oxylabs.io/blog/what-are-http-cookies).

Top 3 Case Uses of an HTTP Cookie

In general, HTTP cookies have three primary case uses: personalization, session management, and tracking. Learn more about them below.

Personalization

One of the top uses of an HTTP cookie is personalization, wherein websites use the data obtained from these cookies to adapt their website to fit their visitors’ needs and preferences.

HTTP cookies don’t store your personal data, but they can store information, such as your browser type, language, and location. Cookies can also store data, such as your theme, preferences, among other settings.

Websites can use this information to optimize your web browsing experience, allowing you to access the site more quickly and smoothly. Aside from optimizing your browsing experience, websites can also use HTTP cookies to display targeted ads while browsing their site.

Session Management

On the other hand, session management deals with sites that require them to identify and recognize individual users and remember essential details about them. These include data like users’ added products to their shopping carts, login information, and others.

HTTP cookies can save users valuable time and effort by recalling their login information, so they don’t have to type in the details every time they need to access the website.

Likewise, an HTTP cookie can also come in handy when you accidentally close down a website since it can save whatever items you had in your cart. This allows you to go back to it once you already can.

Tracking

Lastly, HTTP cookies also keep track of users’ browsing behavior and analyze it accordingly to ensure that they enjoy a seamless online browsing experience. Websites also use this data to adapt their website’s content so that it’s more aligned with their visitors’ interests.

For example, news websites can use HTTP cookies to keep track of what articles you open and use this information to display news articles that you’re more likely to read because it’s more relevant to your interests.

Types of HTTP Cookies

Generally, HTTP cookies come in two types – persistent and session. Learn about their differences below.

Persistent Cookies

As the name suggests, persistent HTTP cookies are ones that are stored on a computer for an indefinite period. However, some of them have a set validity period, after which they’re automatically deleted from the server.

This type of HTTP cookie is primarily used for two specific purposes:

  • Tracking
  • Authentication

Tracking involves using these cookies to display targeted content to their audience, while authentication involves keeping track of your login data for convenience and efficiency.

Session Cookies

Unlike persistent HTTP cookies, session cookies are only in use while you’re browsing a website. These are never stored in permanent locations like hard drives and are stored in the RAM (random access memory) instead.

As a result, any cookies created during the session are immediately deleted once it ends. These are often used to maintain a user’s online privacy.

The Dangers of HTTP Cookies: How to Deal with Them

As helpful as HTTP cookies can be for optimizing online browsing, they can also pose some dangers to online users. Of course, the cookies themselves aren’t harmful since they’re incapable of carrying malware or viruses that can infect your computer.

However, some cybercriminals use cookies to access your browsing sessions and gain access to your sensitive data. They use third-party cookies – the ones generated by other websites through the ads on the page you’re accessing – to hijack your session.

So, how do you deal with these dangers?

First, consider limiting what cookies you allow during your session. You can do this by going to the cookie section of your browser. You can usually find it under the Privacy tab of your Settings option. Then, click the ones you want to allow. If you don’t want to do so, you can uncheck all the boxes.

Second, you can also remove any existing cookies to prevent data breaches. Doing so can reset your browser personalization and make some sites more difficult to navigate. Still, it’s worthwhile if you want to preserve your privacy online.

To remove these cookies, you can go back to your browser’s Settings, proceed to the Privacy section and remove the cookies from there by following the prompts.

Conclusion

HTTP cookies can be helpful for optimizing your browsing experience, but they can also pose security risks if you’re not careful. With that said, hopefully, this article has helped you understand better what an HTTP cookie is and what its role is in your online browsing.