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How to control cookies in Internet Explorer

Cookies are pieces of information that your web browser sends to a web server each time it accesses the server. They can be useful in carrying information between successive requests to a server, e.g. indicating that you previously logged in successfully when you attempt to access a page on the server, or recording which items you have added to a shopping basket. Because they carry information between subsequent accesses of the server, they can cause problems by allowing a problem that arose once to persist in subsequent accesses. They may also grow to be large or contain invalid characters, which can lead to HTTP 400 errors.

Avoiding cookies

Internet Explorer version 8 offers “InPrivate Browsing” which allows you to access a web site without using cookies and other information that may have been set in previous web browsing sessions. You can choose to use “InPrivate Browsing” by selecting it from the Tools menu, or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+P.

Deleting cookies

The most effective approach to solving a problem that may be due to cookies is to delete all cookies. While that is easy to achieve, it will likely also delete cookies that are unrelated to your problem and that must later be recreated, so you may prefer to delete specific cookies.

Deleting all cookies

  1. From the Internet Options control panel
  2. Choose the General tab
  3. In the Browsing history section, click on Delete... which will lead to the following window: Internet Explorer: Delete Browsing History: Delete cookies
  4. Deselect all options except for Cookies
  5. Then press the Delete button.

Viewing and deleting specific cookies

  1. Open Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer, but the Windows file Explorer)
    • In Windows XP, move to “C:\Documents and Settings\username\Cookies” (change “username” to your username)
    • In Windows Vista or 7, enter “C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies” in the address bar at the top of the window and press Enter.
  2. Each cookie is stored in a file named after the network domain to which it relates (e.g. “example.com”). Delete the files whose name includes the name of the domain of the website that you are having problems with (e.g. username@www.example[1].txt).

    Note that Windows Explorer does not understand the hierarchical nature of domain names and so lists cookies in alphabetical order of the left-most letters in the name, rather than in order of the top-level domains (e.g. “.com&rdquo), then 2nd-level domains (e.g. “example.com”), then 3rd-level domains, etc. So you might find that multiple cookies relating to a domain of interest are distributed in the listing, interspersed by cookies for other domains, so you may have to search for cookies of interest, rather than relying on the order of their listing e.g.

    docs.google.com
    getnetgoing.com
    google.com
In Windows Vista or 7, there may be further cookies in the “Low” subdirectory.

Extra information

Two types of cookies are used with HTTP, as defined in the following documents:
  • RFC 2109: Defines version 1
  • RFC 2965: Defines version 2, which uses the Set-Cookie2 HTTP header in addition to the Set-Cookie header of version 1
For more about how cookies can be (ab)used, see CookieCentral
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