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What Is A Cookie?
It used to be that a cookie was something that was eaten with milk; however, within the INTERNET the word “cookie” takes on a very different meaning. So, what is a “cookie”? A “cookie” is a small piece of information that is sent by a web server to be stored on a web browser, so that it can later be read back from that browser the next time this unique visitor returns to that web server. This becomes useful for having the browser remember specific information about this visitor like location of their last visit, time spent, or user preferences (like style sheets). The cookie is a text file that is saved in the browser’s directory and is stored in RAM while the browser is running. Also, the cookie may be stored on the computer’s hard drive once you log off from that website or web server.

What Are Cookies Used For?
One use of cookies is for storing passwords and user ID’s for specific websites. Also, they are used to store preferences of start pages. On sites with personalized viewing, your web browser will be requested to utilize a small amount of space on your computer’s hard drive to store these preferences. That way, each time you log on to that website, your browser will check to see if you have any pre-defined preferences (a cookie) for that unique server. If you do, the browser will send the cookie to the server along with your request for a web page. Microsoft and Netscape use cookies to create personal start pages on their websites. Common uses for which companies utilize cookies include: on-line ordering systems, site personalization, and website tracking.

Site personalization is one of the most beneficial uses for cookies. For example, a person comes to the CNN site, but does not want to see any business news. The site allows the person to select this choice as an option. From then on (or until the cookie expires), the person would not see business news when they access the CNN web pages.

Some visitors feel it is an invasion of privacy for a website to track their progress on a site. We, at National Semiconductor, use this knowledge strictly for the purpose of making your visits to our site as short and productive as possible. We want to get you the information or services you seek as quickly as possible and allow you to get back to work without delay. Site navigation statistics are critical to the continuing redesign of our site. We need to know if 100 different people visited our site or if one person (or robot) continuously hit the reload button 100 times.

How Do These Cookies Work?
A command line in the HTML code of a document tells the browser to set a cookie of a certain name or value. The following is a general example of a script used to set a cookie.

Set-Cookie: name = VALUE;
expires = DATE;
path = PATH;
domain = DOMAIN_NAME;

What about security? An HTTP Cookie cannot be used to retrieve personal data from your hard drive, install a virus, get your email address, or steal sensitive information about who you are; however, an HTTP Cookie may be used to track where you travel over a particular site. Site tracking cannot easily be done without the use of cookies.

As with everything else about the Internet, you are only as anonymous as you wish to be. No website knows who you are until you reveal to it who you are. In the meantime, a cookie is simply a means of tracking site statistics in order to better understand usage patterns and to improve visitor productivity. A cookie is our way of remembering that information. The extent of that knowledge will not go beyond our site. Therefore, your identity will not become public to the entire Internet because you visited our site. Your registration information will absolutely be protected as we protect our own confidential information. While you may perceive that your privacy is being violated, if you visit our site and do not register, we will not know who you are. If you do not reveal private information to the Internet, it will not be known to the Internet.

If a website designer desires to make web pages become more interactive with visitors, or if the designer plans on letting visitors customize the appearance of the site, then they will need cookies. Also, if you want your site visits to change appearances under certain circumstances, cookies provide a quick and easy way to let your HTML pages change as required. The newest servers use cookies to help with database interactivity, which can improve the overall interactivity of the website.

Also, cookies assist in troubleshooting problems reported by users. Without the use of cookies, proxy server accesses make it impossible to distinguish between individual users in the access log without requiring user log-ins for site access. Therefore, the use of cookies is for the overall benefit of the site user, and to implement future website content changes based upon user preferences.