What Are HTTP Cookies?
Daniel Tarasov
Daniel Tarasov Published: 2023/06/21

What Are HTTP Cookies?

HTTP cookies are short text files that your device saves in its memory when you visit any website. When a file is created by the browser, it stays in the cache. In this cookie file, the browser keeps information about your actions on each site, your login info, browsing history and other preferences.  

To understand what are HTTP cookies, It is essential to understand that HTTP works as a stateless protocol and because of that each web request is treated by the server as an individual operation. This way, without cookies, the server has no records of users requests from before. However, with every request comes additional data that helps to keep the user web browsing up.

In other words, servers are obligated to use cookies as a tool for identifying which user is trying to get access. Cookies maintain the data needed to separate browsers and users from each other. Cookies come as one of the main mechanisms that can maintain personalized and convenient experience for browsing. HTTP cookies are also meant to be used for security or authorization processes. But, some websites tend to keep users’ personal data in those cookie files, usually for advertising purposes. That only can happen if users themself agree to share data from cookies in the pop-up menu.

Properties of HTTP Cookies

The Internet is constantly growing, evolving and developing. Modern pages and sites are much different from Web 1.0 ones in many ways. For example, today sites have become more readable, interactive, and personalizable, largely thanks to cookies. The main tasks like logging, shopping or browsing through pages are also faster and convenient because of cookies. Keeping all that in mind, websites use cookies as a backbone for building pages. The main cookies use cases can be narrowed down to three categories. 

Management of Sessions 

The first task that cookies faced was the implementation of an online shopping cart. Before wide use of cookies, this common feature didn’t exist, since browsers had no way of exchanging information with the server. Today, servers make data exchanges with every request, also with the help of cookies. So cookies allow the page to correctly display a shopping cart, and keep information of added items.

Cookies can also be used as a tool for creating a login process. When a login window opens, browsers receive a cookie with user’s identifying data. After the login process is completed, the server starts associating this user’s session with sent cookies.

And as it concerns web scraping, you should take into account the cookies for each page that you scrape. So, for instance, when you apply rotating proxies (based on HTTP(s) or Socks5 proxies) for scraping, the right (and relevant) cookies should be used for each session in order to avoid suspicion. 

Personalizing User Experience

In the years of Web 1.0 internet, websites stayed the same and didn’t provide any customization function, because of the absence of cookie technology. Now, if you change the site theme to dark or change the language, you also change your cookies. This way, based on cookies, the site can show relevant content or change itself to fulfill your expectations. In most cases, sites provide a special menu to customize appearances and change cookie settings.

User Tracking

Cookies are also often implied to be used as a tool for cross site tracking. So, with cookies, sites could use an identifier to track your browsing history and previously visited sites. In other words, cookies are also used for analyzing customer behavior to suggest better ad banners.

Types of Cookies

All cookies serve a variety of purposes and can differ in many parameters. Now that we covered use cases of cookies, we can look at the most popular and important types of them:

First-party Cookies

Cookies like this one are always stored on your computer and directly managed by your browser. These cookies exist only while the browser session is up and working. Browsers use cookies of this type to keep information about current users’ actions and sessions. Without this type of cookie, browsers also won’t be able to autologin you or restore any of previous setups. 

Third-party Cookies

These cookies are produced by domains that differ from the one you are surfing at the time. Usually, cookies of this type are linked to the blocks of ads on the page you visit. By using these cookies, advertisers and analytics can collect behavioral data and track the browsing history. Later, this information and cookies can be used by ad companies to send you a targeted email with this product. These cookies can be avoided (or altered) if you use residential proxies that will imitate an IP from another location fooling the targeted at cookies ad campaigns.

Secure Cookies

This type of cookie is generated to limit the work to only secure channels. In that case, the server and browser will send cookies only when an encrypted connection is established. The reason for this cookie action is to prevent interception of your network data. Secure cookies are often referred to as httpOnly cookies, on account of scripting languages that are not able to access it.

Zombie Cookies

Cookies like this can stay stored on your device even when you close the web page or browser. When a user destroys a cookie they have before, a zombie cookie can still restore themselves and be attached to new generated cookies. Same as third-party cookies, zombie cookies are often used as a tool for tracking browser history. These cookies also serve as a tool for blocking access to sites for specific users.

Where Are the Cookies Used?

Cookies can be utilized in many scenarios, but in most of them, they are called to keep browsers and your internet sessions working. Except for functional implementation, the main use for cookies lies in advertising purposes. Advertising cookies became one of the basic components of digital marketing years ago. Cookies like this allow targeting ads with accuracy that other instruments can not provide.

At core, an advertising cookie is the same small file that contains data about user behavior on a particular web site. But, in the hands of advertising companies, those cookie files can provide information about logins, browsing history, users device specifications, time zone and more. 

This kind of information from cookies comes as a base for a website’s digital marketing work. Often, campaign success can directly depend on targeting the right audience through cookie information. 

Using HTTP Cookies in Web Scraping

Web scraping tasks always face the problem of banning by targeted site or page. For web scraping bot, it is vital for scripts to behave more like a real human. For that you can consider best proxies for web scraping and buy a datacenter proxy or even better a residential static proxy to ensure access to a target website. But even in cases of passing through the site barriers, you can receive a corrupt response. Cookies can be one of the main solutions for this problem.

We already described how do cookies pass along in http protocol, and now can implement these cookies to web scraping. In this process, it’s important to think about the cookie management. When you try to access any page other than the main page without cookies or without needed cookies, it is close to be guaranteed that your actions will be detected as suspicious.

To overcome the problem, the thing you need to do is visit the main page of the site and collect cookies there. Only when the cookie collection is complete, you can proceed and go to the page you originally wanted to visit. With the right set of cookies, web scraping bots can imitate a new user behavior for each new request. Many web scraping solutions already have support for HTTP cookie management in them.

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