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Using Cookies

One of the initial disadvantages of the web was that it was very static. Each and every person saw the exact same thing if they visited the same URL. This has changed dramatically over the course of this decade, however, thanks in large part to server-side scripting languages and technologies, such as ASP, Perl, CGI, and others.

However, customization is limited to programs on the server. Small tidbits of information, known as cookies, can be stored on the client (the browser) to provide a customized web experience. Cookies can be used to store when the last time someone visited your site, what pages they visited, what ads they clicked on, and other useful, profiling information.

So, how do you use cookies? There is a great article on this site by Ian Stallings called Cookie Monster: Using Cookies in ASP. ASP, if you didn't know, provides a collection to manage cookies. It's really quite easy!

Now, you may be saying, "OK, Scott, I know how to use cookies, great. But what in tarnation are they good for? Why not just store everything in a database here on the server?" That's a good question, you can pat yourself on the back for asking it. If all you need to store is small chunks of information that need not be persistent, then cookies are for you. If you have complex data, or information that needs to be accessed from a user no matter what computer their sitting at, then the database approach is surely the way to go.

There is a great article on 4Guys by Christopher Miller that shows how to effectively use cookies. It's titled, Creating a Customized Homepage, and it shows a working example of cookie usage in storing user's preferences on background and text colors, as well as a "favorites" list of links. It eeriely looks like MyYahoo!

There is a time and a place for everything, and cookies have their time and place with Active Server Pages. Cookies aren't a replacement for databases, but conversely, just because cookies aren't as powerful as databases doesn't mean that cookies have no use. You've just got to know where and when to use cookies! If you master that, my son, then you will be a man.

Happy Programming!

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