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What Are Cookies?

The Internet, by default, is a stateless environment. That simply means that when you go from one web page to another web page, you effectively become a brand new visitor. The web server on the other end creates a brand new process, opens a brand new IP connection, and presents you with a brand new page. Once you get the page you requested, the computer process is utterly destroyed, along with virtually all information about you. Whether you came from another web page on that same server or from a search engine in another time zone makes absolutely no difference. The way the Internet was designed essentially enforces complete anonymity.

In the bad old days, that meant you might have to identify yourself anew for every single page. Not a lot of fun. So Netscape, one of the first browser companies, came up with a concept they called cookies. Since the web server has no way of keeping track of you, Netscape decided to let your own PC keep track of you.

PC: "Here's the username and stuff my master just entered."

Web Server: "Okay, those are good. Please store them on your hard drive, in cookies, so you can give them to me again later."

PC: "Sure, I can do that for you!"

A few minutes later, you click on a link and go to a new web page. Remember, you just became a brand new visitor, creating a brand new computer process that doesn't know you from Adam.

Web Server: "Hello, PC on the other end. Do you happen to have any cookies for me?"

PC: "Well, yea, as a matter of fact I do."

Web Server: "Cool. In that case, I won't ask your master to enter the same data again."

Most of the time, this little scenario works pretty smoothly and it saves Internet users a lot of typing. But software isn't perfect and sometimes it gets out of whack. And, big surprise!, people aren't usually perfect either.

Please note that web servers do not talk to people. When your fingers touch the keyboard or wiggle the mouse, you are talking only to your own PC, not to the web server. At some point, when you click on a Submit button somewhere along the line, you are asking your PC to send something along to the web server. If it's what you typed, then your PC did a good job. If not, then it's a problem between you and the PC. Web servers do not talk to people. They can't look through the monitor and recognize eye color or length of hair. They can't even look at what you typed, but only what your PC tells them you typed. Web servers don't talk to people. They talk only to PC's.

Is that important? Yea, because if something works for tens of thousands of people every day, but doesn't work for you - it just might be a problem with your PC!

Some Important Things to Know

Netscape presumably called their new invention cookies because they were tiny little bits of data. They are stored as simple text files on your computer's hard disk and have definite limitations on length (no cookie can be more than 4K) and the number you can keep alive. Where the text file is stored will depend on both your browser and your operating system. Netscape and Windows, for example, will usually store the file in C:\Program Files\Netscape\Navigator\cookies.txt (though that will depend on where you installed Netscape). On a Macintosh, look in the System Folder under Preferences:Netscape for a file called magiccookie. Internet Explorer, on a Window platform, will store the cookies as a series of files in C:\Windows\Cookies (look for .dat extensions).

Because cookies are simple text files and not programs, you cannot be given a virus through a cookie. In fact, Netscape was very concerned about security when they devised their standard and came up with some pretty stringent rules. When our web server asks your PC to create a cookie, your computer effectively signs that cookie with our domain name. And your PC will refuse to give that cookie back to anyone with a different domain name. And we, of course, can't get any cookies from your PC that don't already belong to us.

Why Your Cookies Might Not Work

The most common reason why cookies might not be working for you is that you've turned them off. When our web server asks your PC to store something, there's nothing to say your computer has to agree. You can essentially instruct your computer to tell our computer to suck a rock.

Every browser is a bit different, and each browser company seems to take great pleasure in changing things every time they come out with a new version - but I can at least give you some hints on where to look for the proper settings.

In recent versions of Netscape, you go to the menu and select Edit, then Preferences. The popup window you get controls most of the program settings. On the left side of the window (labeled Category), you'll see a "tree," similar to a file display in Windows Explorer. At the bottom of the tree are the Advanced options. Click directly on the word Advanced (not on the plus [+] sign) and the right hand side of the window will change. On that page, towards the bottom, are the setting for cookies. You can click on anything there EXCEPT "Disable cookies," and you'll be able to work efficiently within our forums. I personally suggest you select "Accept only cookies that get sent back to the originating server."

In Internet Explorer, go to the menu and select Tools, then Internet Options. Click on the Security tab at the top of the resulting popup, then click on the button labeled Custom Level. You'll get another popup window. The top part deals with ActiveX controls, so you'll have to use the scroll bar to move down a bit. When you find the two Cookie sections, you'll want to click on "Enable" for both Stored cookies and Session cookies. (You could also select "Prompt," which will ask you each time a cookie is sent to your PC - just don't Disable either of them.)

Sharing A Computer?

For those of you who share a computer with multiple Passionate personalities, you might want to avoid sharing your cookies by using different Profiles. For IE users, that means setting up Profiles in Windows, which will then cascade to Internet Explorer. For Netscape users, you can use the Profile Manager that comes with recent versions. In both instances, your PC will set aside separate areas of the hard disk so you can have a different set of cookies for each Profile.

Corrupt Cookies?

You can lead a computer to water, but you can't make her eat the cookies. Er, something like that.

Sometimes (too often), the computer cookies become corrupt and just stop working. You can set them all day, but they still don't quite function properly.

What is necessary is to get rid of the corrupt cookie before you ask the server to give you a new one. In most cases, the server can help you do that. Look for the button above that says "Delete ALL Cookies" and click it. That will give you a fresh slate and the next time you Vote or Send a Poem, you can reestablish your cookies.

Summary

The only reason we support cookies at Passions is to make life a little easier for you. We will NEVER use them to infringe on your privacy or dishonor the trust you've placed in us.

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