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Using Cookies in ASP.NET

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codeling 1524 - 6369
@2016-02-11 12:22:30

A cookie is a small bit of text that accompanies requests and pages as they go between the Web server and browser. The cookie contains information the Web application can read whenever the user visits the site.

For example, if a user requests a page from your site and your application sends not just a page, but also a cookie containing the date and time, when the user's browser gets the page, the browser also gets the cookie, which it stores in a folder on the user's hard disk.

Later, if user requests a page from your site again, when the user enters the URL the browser looks on the local hard disk for a cookie associated with the URL. If the cookie exists, the browser sends the cookie to your site along with the page request. Your application can then determine the date and time that the user last visited the site. You might use the information to display a message to the user or check an expiration date.

Cookies are associated with a Web site, not with a specific page, so the browser and server will exchange cookie information no matter what page the user requests from your site. As the user visits different sites, each site might send a cookie to the user's browser as well; the browser stores all the cookies separately.

Cookies help Web sites store information about visitors. More generally, cookies are one way of maintaining continuity in a Web application—that is, of performing state management. Except for the brief time when they are actually exchanging information, the browser and Web server are disconnected. Each request a user makes to a Web server is treated independently of any other request. Many times, however, it's useful for the Web server to recognize users when they request a page. For example, the Web server on a shopping site keeps track of individual shoppers so the site can manage shopping carts and other user-specific information. A cookie therefore acts as a kind of calling card, presenting pertinent identification that helps an application know how to proceed.

Cookies are used for many purposes, all relating to helping the Web site remember users. For example, a site conducting a poll might use a cookie simply as a Boolean value to indicate whether a user's browser has already participated in voting so that the user cannot vote twice. A site that asks a user to log on might use a cookie to record that the user already logged on so that the user does not have to keep entering credentials.

Most browsers support cookies of up to 4096 bytes. Because of this small limit, cookies are best used to store small amounts of data, or better yet, an identifier such as a user ID. The user ID can then be used to identify the user and read user information from a database or other data store.

Browsers also impose limitations on how many cookies your site can store on the user's computer. Most browsers allow only 20 cookies per site; if you try to store more, the oldest cookies are discarded. Some browsers also put an absolute limit, usually 300, on the number of cookies they will accept from all sites combined.

@2016-02-11 12:26:33

Determining Whether a Browser Accepts Cookies

A cookie limitation that you might encounter is that users can set their browser to refuse cookies. Although cookies can be very useful in your application, the application should not depend on being able to store cookies. Do not use cookies to support critical features. If your application must rely on cookies, you can test to see whether the browser will accept cookies by trying to write a cookie and then trying to read it back again. If you cannot read the cookie you wrote, you assume that cookies are turned off in the browser.

The following code example shows how you might test whether cookies are accepted. The sample consists of two pages. The first page writes out a cookie, and then redirects the browser to the second page. The second page tries to read the cookie. It in turn redirects the browser back to the first page, adding to the URL a query string variable with the results of the test.

The code for the first page looks like this:

protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    if (!Page.IsPostBack)
    {
        if (Request.QueryString["AcceptsCookies"] == null)
        {
            Response.Cookies["TestCookie"].Value = "ok";
            Response.Cookies["TestCookie"].Expires =
                DateTime.Now.AddMinutes(1);
            Response.Redirect("TestForCookies.aspx?redirect=" +
                Server.UrlEncode(Request.Url.ToString()));
        }
        else
        {
            Label1.Text = "Accept cookies = " +
                Server.UrlEncode(
                Request.QueryString["AcceptsCookies"]);
        }
    }

The page first tests to see if this is a postback, and if not, the page looks for the query string variable name AcceptsCookies that contains the test results. If there is no query string variable, the test has not been completed, so the code writes out a cookie named TestCookie. After writing out the cookie, the sample calls Redirect to transfer to the test page TestForCookies.aspx. Appended to the URL of the test page is a query string variable named redirect containing the URL of the current page; this will allow you to redirect back to this page after performing the test.

The test page can consist entirely of code; it does not need to contain controls. The following code example illustrates the test page.

protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    string redirect = Request.QueryString["redirect"];
    string acceptsCookies;
    if(Request.Cookies["TestCookie"] ==null)
        acceptsCookies = "no";
    else
    {
        acceptsCookies = "yes";
        // Delete test cookie.
        Response.Cookies["TestCookie"].Expires = DateTime.Now.AddDays(-1);
    }
    Response.Redirect(redirect + "?AcceptsCookies=" + acceptsCookies, true);
}

After reading the redirect query string variable, the code tries to read the cookie. For housekeeping purposes, if the cookie exists, it is immediately deleted. When the test is finished, the code constructs a new URL from the URL passed to it in the redirect query string variable. The new URL also includes a query string variable containing test results. The final step is to use the new URL to redirect the browser to the original page.

An improvement in the example would be to keep the cookie test results in a persistent store such as a database so that the test does not have to be repeated each time the user views the original page. (Storing the test results in session state by default requires cookies.)

@2016-02-13 21:17:01

Writing Cookies

The browser is responsible for managing cookies on a user system. Cookies are sent to the browser via the HttpResponse object that exposes a collection called Cookies. You can access the HttpResponse object as the Response property of your Page class. Any cookies that you want to send to the browser must be added to this collection. When creating a cookie, you specify a Name and Value. Each cookie must have a unique name so that it can be identified later when reading it from the browser and the value has to be converted to a string. Because cookies are stored by name, naming two cookies the same will cause one to be overwritten.

You can also set a cookie's date and time expiration. Expired cookies are deleted by the browser when a user visits the site that wrote the cookies. The expiration of a cookie should be set for as long as your application considers the cookie value to be valid. For a cookie to effectively never expire, you can set the expiration date to be 50 years from now.

If you do not set the cookie's expiration, the cookie is created but it is not stored on the user's hard disk. Instead, the cookie is maintained as part of the user's session information. When the user closes the browser, the cookie is discarded. A non-persistent cookie like this is useful for information that needs to be stored for only a short time or that for security reasons should not be written to disk on the client computer. For example, non-persistent cookies are useful if the user is working on a public computer, where you do not want to write the cookie to disk.

You can add cookies to the Cookies collection in a number of ways. The following example shows two methods to write cookies:

Response.Cookies["userName"].Value = "patrick";
Response.Cookies["userName"].Expires = DateTime.Now.AddDays(1);

HttpCookie aCookie = new HttpCookie("lastVisit");
aCookie.Value = DateTime.Now.ToString();
aCookie.Expires = DateTime.Now.AddDays(1);
Response.Cookies.Add(aCookie);

As mentioned above, because all cookie values are stored as strings, the date-time value has to be converted to a string.

@2016-02-16 21:08:02

Cookies with More Than One Value

You can store one value in a cookie, such as user name and last visit. You can also store multiple name-value pairs in a single cookie. The name-value pairs are referred to as subkeys. (Subkeys are laid out much like a query string in a URL.) For example, instead of creating two separate cookies named userName and lastVisit, you can create a single cookie named userInfo that has the subkeys userName and lastVisit.

You might use subkeys for several reasons. First, it is convenient to put related or similar information into a single cookie. In addition, because all the information is in a single cookie, cookie attributes such as expiration apply to all the information. (Conversely, if you want to assign different expiration dates to different types of information, you should store the information in separate cookies.)

A cookie with subkeys also helps you limit the size of cookie files. As noted earlier in the "Cookie Limitations" section, cookies are usually limited to 4096 bytes and you can't store more than 20 cookies per site. By using a single cookie with subkeys, you use fewer of those 20 cookies that your site is allotted. In addition, a single cookie takes up about 50 characters for overhead (expiration information, and so on), plus the length of the value that you store in it, all of which counts toward the 4096-byte limit. If you store five subkeys instead of five separate cookies, you save the overhead of the separate cookies and can save around 200 bytes.

To create a cookie with subkeys, you can use a variation of the syntax for writing a single cookie. The following example shows two ways to write the same cookie, each with two subkeys:

Response.Cookies["userInfo"]["userName"] = "patrick";
Response.Cookies["userInfo"]["lastVisit"] = DateTime.Now.ToString();
Response.Cookies["userInfo"].Expires = DateTime.Now.AddDays(1);

HttpCookie aCookie = new HttpCookie("userInfo");
aCookie.Values["userName"] = "patrick";
aCookie.Values["lastVisit"] = DateTime.Now.ToString();
aCookie.Expires = DateTime.Now.AddDays(1);
Response.Cookies.Add(aCookie);

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