Getting to Know HTTP Cookies and What They Are Used For

HTTP cookies are not novel in the world of technology, but they cause numerous concerns among consumers and, in some cases, developers. To begin, many individuals believe that HTTP cookies are a type of spyware. Second, when it comes to web scraping, HTTP cookies can result in blocking by targeted web pages.


Understanding HTTP Cookies

HTTP cookies are little pieces of data transmitted from a web server to a user’s web browser. With subsequent queries, the browser saves and re-sends it. HTTP cookies are a necessary component of modern web development. Many online pages would be worthless without them.

Why is this small bit of data being changed between the user’s browser and the web server? The answer is rather straightforward — for a web server to retain information about its users and differentiate them from other users. Cookies are not required to collect personally identifiable information. They are sufficient to recall browser requirements that enable websites to isolate users. While some websites use cookies to keep additional personal data, this is only possible with the user’s consent to supply personal information.


What is the purpose of HTTP cookies?

Cookies are typically required for websites that need logins, have configurable themes, or other advanced features. To delve deeper into the function of a cookie, the primary reasons that websites employ them are for personalization, tracking, and session management. Consider each of these reasons in greater detail to understand better why this is critical.


  • Session management – A session is a user’s interaction with a single website. This covers logins, product additions to shopping carts, and much more. HTTP cookies save this information so that the user is not required to check in to their account or, in the event of an accidental page shutdown, to save items in the cart. This speeds up users’ web browsing by removing the need for repeating tasks.
  • Personalization – HTTP cookies enable the user to visit a website based on general characteristics such as the language used, the browser type used to access the service, and the location from which the service is accessed, among others. Websites can adapt their content to allow users to traverse the page easily.
  • Tracking – Cookies enable websites to tailor their content to users’ specific interests. For instance, news portals employ HTTP cookies to categorize information based on the interests of their readers.

Additionally, there are so-called third-party cookies, which are typically used for advertising purposes. These cookies, based on a user’s browsing history over time, assist in adapting adverts to the user’s preferences. These adverts can annoy users since they believe they are being tracked at all times. Individuals are not obligated to view this advertising, as they can delete these HTTP cookies. We will not dwell on this subject, but a fast Google search will yield suggestions on preventing third-party cookies from tracking your surfing activities.


HTTP Cookies and Web Scraping

The primary difficulty with online scraping is avoiding being stopped by targeted web pages. Understanding how cookies function is one way to address this issue.

One of the most critical components of web scraping is the ability to replicate human-like behavior. Otherwise, web servers may flag web scraping as suspicious bot behavior, increasing the likelihood of being blocked. Even if web scraping activity is not prohibited, targeted websites may return error answers.

As previously stated, HTTP cookies are sent by a website. It is critical in this scenario to consider HTTP cookie management. When accessing needed web pages, the appropriate cookies must be utilized. If you reach a page within a website and your request does not include cookies from the main page, your web scraping activity will likely be flagged as suspicious.

One way to manage HTTP cookies when you need to access a certain product on an e-commerce site, for example, is to approach the main page first, collect the cookies, and then send them along with your requests for specific products. By utilizing the appropriate cookies, developers can create an entirely new user for each request they make.


Final Thoughts

The primary aim of HTTP cookies is to identify users so that websites may adjust their content to their preferences and retain vital user information such as logins, goods in the shopping cart, and much more. HTTP cookies do not include any personally identifiable information, as they are used to identify browsers.

Cookie management is a critical component of a seamless web scraping operation. Otherwise, the web scraping operation may fail, and the essential data may not be accessible.

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