Building Javascript Cookies: Everything You Need To Know

Cookies are a great tool that the most successful websites take advantage of in order to improve the user experience of a website.

Building Javascript Cookies: Everything You Need To Know

Gisele Blair 05.24.2018

Internet browsers today are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. Because of this, JavaScript cookie management is an important topic that both web surfers and webmasters need to consider.

There are some common misconceptions about cookies and how they work. This article is going to address those misconceptions, explain how cookies work, and how Javascript developers can use practical JavaScript cookie management to their advantage.

What Are Cookies?

Cookies are one of those terms that get thrown around a lot when people talk about Internet browsers and websites.

Have you ever wondered how a website recalls your account information, or why you see advertisements that relate to your recent Internet searches? The answer is Internet browsing cookies.

The purpose of Internet cookies is to either: recall your information to make future visits more enjoyable (i.e. faster), or to customize the webpage or website you are looking at for a more familiar experience.

Most cookies require you to enter information that they will later save for you, however, not all do. Some cookies may be able to glean information based on the websites you have visited while the cookies were active in your browser. Some cookies, for example, may be present on online examination websites that track other websites you visit in order to discourage cheating.

If you want to learn more about what cookies are, how they are used, and why they are important, you should check out Webopedia’s post about them.

Dispelling Cookie Myths

You will want to enable cookies if you want to increase the accessibility of a client’s experience on your website. Clients can feel frustrated if they have to complete an extensive checkout process on your online store every time they want to buy something.

Instead, by saving their personal and financial information in a web cookie, which the client can delete at any time by clearing their cache, the client can enjoy a quick and seamless shopping experience, while also controlling the cookie’s ability to capture future data.

Do not fear online horror stories by bloggers who have little understanding of what cookies are and are not. You can easily control and disable the cookies on your browser in two steps:

  • The simplest way is to clear your cache.
  • Another method is to disable JavaScript. If you have JavaScript enabled or you do not know how to disable it, you can do so in your browser’s settings panel. On Chrome, simply go to the site settings page and disable JavaScript.

Since cookies live in the browser, they require JavaScript to be enabled. Many times, cookies are also created in JavaScript and inserted into the code of the webpage, either automatically or manually. Once you learn how to control the cookies in your browser, and the ones present on your website, JavaScript cookie management becomes a breeze.

Cookies do not keep as much information as you might think. They do not know everything about you. Here are a few of the things that you will find if you analyze the various cookies currently saved in your browser.

  • The cookie’s name
  • The cookie’s domain
  • The date the cookie was created
  • The expiration date for the cookie (some cookies can last decades)

 Working With Cookies

Now, you may believe that working with cookies is difficult. However, they are quite simple to create. Even coding cookies is not a huge or complex task.

The truth is, you don’t have to be a software engineer to practice proper JavaScript cookie management and implementation and you certainly don’t have to be an expert coder either. Cookies in WordPress, for example, can even be curtailed in accordance with various Internet and privacy/sharing laws around the world.

At its most basic, there are a few things you need to do in order to work successfully with cookies.

1. Do You Need Cookies? 

Determine whether you need to implement cookies at all - many websites, especially ones that are not focused on e-commerce, do not necessarily need cookies, in that your business and your website can be successful without even a single cookie. If all your website is a placemark for your business, but you have no member area and no online shop, you do not need cookies. That being said, adding cookies is a personal preference, so even if you do not need them, you can add them anyways if you like.

2. Where Will Your Cookies Live?

Decide which sections of your website you want to place cookies on. Even if you have a member’s area, or a shop, or some other section of your website that you could place cookies on, you do not need to do so. Remember that some clients may not like cookies, especially given unrelated privacy issues online that have plagues users like the Equifax breach or the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

3. What Type of Cookie Do You Need?

Choose what type of browser cookie (session cookies, persistent cookies, secure cookies, or third-party cookies) you want to set on that webpage - you can use different cookies for different purposes. Some cookies only capture data on that specific webpage, other cookies capture data throughout your browsing session, and can even remain active after you have left the website. If you are using a backend website solution like WordPress, you can implement cookies with simple plugin extensions. If you are coding your website yourself, you can use code extensions to build cookies, or you can code them from scratch.

How to Build Javascript Cookies

Setting a cookie using JavaScript will require some knowledge of how websites work, how websites share and retrieve data, and how to read code in HTML and JavaScript, but this knowledge can be picked up within an hour or so (even if you have little technical knowledge). You simply need to understand the limited amount of code that you will need to read. You will not need to reproduce a cookie by yourself from scratch, as JavaScript cookie templates and instructions on how to set cookies can be found all over the web.

For a detailed breakdown of what the individual snippets of code found in a cookie mean, take a look at SitePoint’s post on the topic.

Additionally, HTML Goodies wrote a detailed post about inserting JavaScript cookies into the HTML of your website.

Remember that when specifying the relevant domains of your website in your cookie, so that you can capture data, you can specify the entire website, or even just specific webpages. It is up to you.

If you want to expand your aptitude with setting cookies, you can even alter the CSS (the style of your website) to make your cookies appear more graphically-friendly and appealing to clients and visitors.

Practicing Proper JavaScript Cookie Management

When it comes to JavaScript cookie management, there are several things you will want to consider.

  • Determine the best settings for your cookies (i.e. switching up the expiration date, or even the data captured) and documenting which settings work best for your business. 
  • Try to learn more about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as these programming languages are the main programming languages that you will need to customize your website. 
  • Learn more about computer networking so that you can learn how cookies interact with the web, and how data flows through your website.

Cookies are a great tool that the most successful websites take advantage of in order to improve the user experience of a website.

This article provides you with a great starting point when it comes to JavaScript cookie management. By taking the time to understand the basics, you now know what a cookie is, how they work in practice, and the benefits and disadvantages that they provide.

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Gisele Blair

Solutions Engineer, Zesty.io

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.... Learn More

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