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Cookies: Their not just in grandma’s cupboard

An image of milk and cookies

Cookies: Their not just in grandma’s cupboard

Within my first weeks as a web application QA Tester, I heard many times the word “cookie” and I was like “AWESOME!”. Cookies in the afternoon? Don’t mind if I do! Let’s just say that my expectations were way off (smile). No but really, as a web application tester you will surely hear the word cookie quite often. Why is that? Well because almost every website out there, uses these so-called “cookies”, with the core purpose of enhancing the site usability.

Cookies are small files which are stored on a user’s computer in the browser directories. They are created and used by developers to help users navigate the website efficiently and to perform certain functions. Think of the developers as the bakers and the website server as their oven where they cook these cookies that eventually you will use.

Fun Fact: Ever thought why we call them “cookies”? There are different explanations for where cookies got their name. Some people believe that cookies got their name from “magic cookies” which are part of UNIX operating system. “Magic cookie” in turn derives from “fortune cookie”, a cookie with an embedded message. Other people believe that the name originates from the story of Hansel and Gretel, who were able to mark their trail through a dark forest by dropping cookie crumbs behind them.

Digital cookies come in two different flavors

Session cookies which are temporary files, that are erased when you close the browser, but until then, they are used:
To store information about user page activities so users can easily pick up where they left off on the server’s pages. This way, the user does not need to start navigating the whole site all over again.
To store ordering information needed to create and maintain shopping carts so that the items the user added will be maintained until the “cart cookie” is deleted.

To help authenticate the user if they log in to a secure area of the website. Login information is stored in a cookie so the user can enter and leave the website without having to re-enter the same authentication information over and over.
Persistent or tracking cookies which remain on your hard drive until you manually delete them or they expire. This type of cookie is used to store user preferences on a website which allows them to create a personal and unique experience based on a set of preferences they are allowed to select.

Useful QA tools for managing cookies

A great tool that you can use is a Chrome extension called “EditThisCookie”. It will help you see and edit any cookie the website uses. I also like this tool because it organizes cookies and their information in a more user-friendly way.
Another one can be the Firefox Firebug add-on. This add-on has it’s own custom console that also lets you see the cookie information easier.

Whether you are a Chrome or Firefox user, a very handy benefit that both of the above provide, is the ability to delete all browsing cookies directly from the console, so you can start with a fresh session. From my experience this will help you isolate certain issues faster, so don’t forget to use it!

As a web application tester, you will have to work with cookies and understand how they work and their benefit to the end user. You will need to manually manipulate them so that you will be able to test the entire web application in its countless cases. There are also some concerns about cookies affecting privacy or being used for malicious purposes. If you want to learn more about how you can improve your customer experience with cookies, please feel free to connect with us. Or you can ask questions in the comments section below.

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