Friday, 27 October 2006
Friday Fun: I Hate Cookies
There are plenty of reasons to hate HTTP Cookies, but there’s one thing that especially annoys me; their syntax.
Specifically, the Netscape spec allowed an “expires” field that contains the date the cookie should be discarded;
Set-Cookie: CUSTOMER=WILE_E_COYOTE; path=/; expires=Wednesday, 09-Nov-99 23:12:40 GMT
What’s wrong with that? Well, HTTP uses commas to delimit different instances of the same header, saying:
It MUST be possible to combine the multiple header fields into one “field-name: field-value” pair, without changing the semantics of the message, by appending each subsequent field-value to the first, each separated by a comma.
Notice something about the above? It uses a comma inside of the date, without quoting the value. This makes it difficult for generic processors to handle the Set-Cookie header.
Still, it should be possible to parse a combined Set-Cookie header, as long as the implementation is careful.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Bake Some More Cookies
RFC2109 tried to fix this by moving from expires to Max-Age, and also by allowing values to be quoted, making them easier to parse. That was in 1997.
Then, in 2000, RFC2965 stepped in and defined a new header, Set-Cookie2, containing a bunch more options than the old one.
My question is how well-supported these different mechanisms are by browsers, and do they support setting more than one cookie on the same header line?
To test this, I set up a simple page that sets a bunch of different cookies*;
Set-Cookie: NS=yes; expires=Wednesday, 01-Jan-10 0:0:00 GMT Set-Cookie: NS_1=a; expires=Wednesday, 01-Jan-10 0:0:00 GMT, NS_2=b; expires=Wednesday, 01-Jan-10 00:00:00 GMT Set-Cookie: RFC2109="yes"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60" Set-Cookie: RFC2109_1="a"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60", RFC2109_2="b"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60" Set-Cookie2: RFC2965="yes"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60" Set-Cookie2: RFC2965_1="a"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60", RFC2965_2="b"; Version="1"; Max-Age="60"
Notice that each cookie style is set, and then set twice on the same line, to see if that’s supported.
So Far, Not Good (updated)
You’d think that after so much time and two standards, we’d have this stuff nailed. Not so much.
- Safari 2, Firefox 2, IE6 and 7, and Opera 9 all work with Netscape and RFC2109 cookies, but none except Opera know anything about RFC2965. I didn’t have much expectation of broad adoption there, but it’s still disappointing.
- Opera and Safari both seem to be OK with combining cookies on the same line, but Firefox and IE only see the first one. This is a big pain for header libraries, and I’ve filed a bug where I can.
- Of all of them, only Opera sends the $Version parameter to indicate that it understands anything more recent than the Netscape spec.
So far, Opera seems like the only fully-featured browser cookie implementation out there. It would be interesting to test other cookie jars (e.g., in Python, Perl, Ruby).
* You might have to reload to make sure the cookies show up — that’s a browser bug, but a different one than those we’re interested in today.