By: John Michael PierobonJohn Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
I recently visited a web site that I had been to before and it greeted me with "Welcome back, John Michael". My natural reaction was to ask how did it know it was me, but after thinking about it for half a second I realized that this particular Web site used a cookie to recognize me.
Yes, "cookie" is a technical term. Cookies are a general mechanism which Web servers can use to both store and retrieve information on the browser.
At your browser, for example, when you type in, "http://home.netscape.com" the first thing your browser does is check its cookie file to see if there is a cookie entry for the Netscape site. If one exists, it presents it to Netscape when accessing the Web site. The Web server at Netscape examines the cookie information and it serves up content back to your browser based on what is in the cookie. It also writes another cookie into your cookie file.
Although in this case it is the Netscape server that is writing to the cookie file in your hard drive, there is no need to fear about a virus infecting your cookies. Cookie entries are plain ASCII text. Cookies are safe.
Cookies are a good thing in that they provide a way of remembering who you are, where you have been, and what are your preferences. Cookies allow many types of applications to become Web-enabled. Shopping applications can now store information about the currently selected items. For fee services can send back registration information and save you from retyping in a user name on your next visit.
However, you might feel uncomfortable about Web sites having information about you. You can disable or enable cookies. Here is how to do it with Netscape Navigator version 4. Go to the top bar of your browser and select "Edit". A drop down menu will appear. Select "Preferences...", which should be the last choice. A window will pop up with several categories. Highlight "Advanced". The right side of the window will show a section on cookies. You have the choice of accepting all cookies, accepting only those cookies that get sent back to the original server, or not accepting any cookies. You may also configure your browser to warn you before accepting cookies. Click "OK" when you are done.
Here is how to do it with Internet Explorer version 4. Go to the top bar of your browser and select "View". A drop down menu will appear. Select "Internet Options ...", which should be the last choice. A window will pop up with several categories. Click on the Advanced tab. Scroll down to the Security section. In the Cookies subsection you will have three choices: "Prompt before accepting cookies", "Disable all cookie use", and "Always accept cookies". Click "Apply" and then click "OK".
You can examine the cookie file(s) on your computer. Internet Explorer has a separate file for each cookie. Netscape Navigator stores all the cookies in one file. If you have a Netscape browser look for the file called "cookies.txt" which on your PC should be in the Netscape folder, which is inside the Programs folder on your C: drive.
© 1999 - 2006 John Michael Pierobon