What Is A Cookie?

While all of us are familiar with the edible kind of cookie (preferably with chocolate chips), let’s talk about one that’s a bit less yummy but quite relevant for web design. 

An HTTP cookie is a small piece of information put away on the user’s PC by the internet browser when they look at a site. Cookies are intended to be a dependable system for recalling useful data and recording users’ browsing activity. 

The server creates data saved in a cookie once you connect to a site. Often, a site will ask you whether you're okay with them storing cookies. The data is uniquely labeled with an ID specific to you and your computer.

When cookies are traded between your computer and network server, the server will read the ID and then know what kind of information to serve next time you visit the same site.


Three Types of Cookies

There are three types of computer cookies, and each of them is designed to serve different purposes. They are the following:

1. Session Cookies

Session cookies are temporary pieces of stored data that memorize your online activities.  Since websites have no sense of memory, your browsing history would always be blank without these cookies. Every time you revisit a site, it would treat you as a completely new user. Not only would this slow down your browsing pace but it can also be irritating in some instances, such as when you'd want to save the progress of an online game.

An excellent example of how session cookies are beneficial is online shopping.  When you’re shopping on the web, you can "check out" at any time, right?  That’s because session cookies follow your every move!  So, without these cookies, your cart would be empty when you'd want to go to the checkout to buy items in your shopping cart.


2. Persistent Cookies

Persistent cookies (also called first-party cookies) work by tracking your online movements. 

So, for instance, when you first visit a site, it is in its default settings. But if you choose personal preferences for how you want to view it, persistent cookies will remember and implement them the next time you visit the site.


3. Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, also known as tracking cookies, collect information based on your online activity.  

When you visit a website, third-party cookies will collect different types of data that are then transferred or sold to advertisers by the website that created the cookie. 

By tracking your age, location, interests, and search trends, these cookies gather data that marketers can use to create custom ads for you. These are often the ads that appear on websites that seem highly relevant to your interests!


Pros and Cons of Cookies

Now that you know what cookies are, you may wonder whether it’s safe for websites to save and use them. After all, this is essentially data about you and your browsing activity - even if it’s to streamline your online experience better.

Here’s the thing: On the one hand, deleting your cookies can help increase your online privacy. Without cookies, website hosts won’t know how many times you may have visited their site, nor will they be able to create a digital database with all your personal information.

Moreover, if you share your device with another person, you’ll also have more privacy as they won’t be able to view your online activity. 

On the other hand, deleting your cookies can also make your web browsing experience less convenient for you. Once you have cleared your cookies, your browser loses all the URLs it has entered for autotype, meaning you’ll have to type in their URL manually each time you want to visit a site.

Also, you’ll get logged out of all your online accounts without cookies, which means you’ll have to re-enter your login information every time. 


Key Takeaway

Cookies are bits of data stored by websites in your computer to remember your browsing history, preferences, and other chosen options. Various types of cookies serve different purposes, some make the browning experience quicker and easier for users. You can choose to disable most cookies if you do not wish to be tracked in this way.