Re: Issues with the cookie draft

Yaron Goland wrote:

> Why are names beginning w/$ still reserved? As we have now defined the
> position of NAME=VALUE, this restriction is no longer necessary.

Unfortunately, it is, given the compatibility rules for combining
Set-Cookie and Set-Cookie2 headers.  When the origin server receives a
Cookie header, it doesn't know, a priori, whether it's an old or new
cookie.  Because Netscape's original spec. separated distinct cookies by
';', the positional placement isn't sufficient to find NAME=VALUE.  More to
the point, something like Version=1 could look like a NAME=VALUE.  So I
retained the '$' reservation, to distinguish returned attribute/values from
cookie values.

> Comment should be a language tagged Unicode string not a quoted string.
> The actual language used can be implicitly negotiated on by the
> accept-language headers with the request. This is clearly not a robust
> solution but it is probably appropriate to this situation.

I'd like to see a more detailed proposal of how the language gets chosen,
what the syntax of the Comment attribute would be, and what the
implications would be for displaying Comment's contents to a user (sect.

> Discard is entering dangerous territory. When exactly does a user agent
> terminate? Both MSIE 4.0 and NS 4.0 are moving to desk top models where
> the user agent is operational as long as the computer is on.

In that model, the user agent terminates when you shut down the computer.

> Furthermore, why would you want to discard a cookie when the user agent
> terminates? It sounds like this is an attempt to solve the problem of
> shared cash behavior. If the cookie is sensitive and if the cache is
> shared, we don't want the cookie hanging around. I think we should
> change Discard to Private. Private would indicate that the cookie SHOULD
> only be recorded if a private cache is in use.

What's your definition of a "private cache"?  Does a Wintel PC have a
private cache?  If so, how about a Wintel PC that sits in a university lab,
where it's shared by lots of students?

Here's the problem to solve, from the origin server's perspective.  The
server sends a cookie to a user agent.  The lifetime is meant to be the
shorter of, say, 3 hours or the end of a session.  If I say Max-Age=10800,
User1 (in a shared PC lab) might finish after one hour and exit the
browser, thinking this will eliminate any context that had been
instantiated while s/he used the PC.  User2 comes along, starts up the PC,
goes to the same site, and inadvertantly starts using User1's cookie, which
is "a bad thing".  So the origin server also wants to send Discard, so when
the user agent session ends (browser exits, user reboots Windows,
whatever), User1's cookie is gone.
> Version should be optional, if not included, it should default to V1.

Again, the S-C and S-C2 combining rules necessitate an explicit Version, so
a server can tell whether it's getting V0 or V1 cookies.  Remember, the
origin server only sees a Cookie header (not Cookie2), which is ambiguous.

> The default for Max-Age has the same "how long is a UA session" problem
> as Discard. IMHO the most robust solution is to have the cookie kept
> indefinitely if no Max-Age is included.

That *is* the default, unless there's a Discard.  That's why Discard is
needed -- to override the default where an application needs to do so.

> 2. Quotes & Responses:
> Quote:
> "When it sends a
>      "secure" cookie back to a server, the user agent should use no less
>      than the same level of security as was used when it received the
>      cookie from the server."
> Response:
> What is greater or lesser security? Do we expect clients to record what
> security they were using when they received the cookie and then, through
> some as yet undefined mechanism, decide what "greater" or "lesser"
> security than the original security mechanism means? This definition is
> too fuzzy to be useful, I believe it should be removed.

I agree it's fuzzy, but RFC 2068 says nothing about transport security, so
it would be hard to be more specific.  I think we can agree, though, that
encryption is more secure than no encryption.  I don't want a cookie that
was originally encrypted to be returned to the server as cleartext.  So we
*have* to say something here, and removing the statement would be wrong.  I
invite alternative words that get the point across.

> Quote:
> "If an attribute appears more than once in a cookie, the behavior is
> undefined."
> Response:
> Undefined things have a nasty habit of defining themselves. I propose
> the sentence read "If an attribute appears more than once in a cookie,
> then the cookie is illegal and MUST be ignored."

I was trying to be "generous in what you accept".  The HTTP spec., for
example, does not mandate that a request be ignored if a header is
malformed.  It's an implementation decision.  Returning to Set-Cookie,
ignoring a duplicate attribute is a valid behavior.  Ignoring the cookie is
a valid behavior.

> Quote:
> "HTTP/1.1 servers must send Expires: old-date (where old-date is a date
> long in the past) on responses containing Set-Cookie2 response headers
> |
> unless they know for certain (by out of band means) that there are no
> downsteam(sic) HTTP/1.0 proxies.."
> Response:
> I believe this sentence should be changed to read "HTTP/1.1 servers MUST
> send Expires: old-date (where old-date is a date long in the past) on
> responses containing Set-Cookie2 response headers meant for single users
> unless...". We allow caching of Set-Cookie2 headers intended for
> multiple people.

The point of the original paragraph (sect. 4.2.3; could you cite sections,
please?) was, I think, that HTTP1.0 caches are unreliable and can't be
trusted to honor caching directives correctly.  So stuff must be stored in
them pre-expired.  Even cookies intended for multiple users, because
there's no way to persuade such older caches that they must revalidate
documents and cookies.  HTTP/1.1 caches will ignore Expires in favor of
Cache-Control and do the right thing.
> Quote:
> "   * The request-host is a FQDN (not IP address) and has the form HD,
>      where D is the value of the Domain attribute, and H is a string
>      that contains one or more dots."

[4.3.2 Rejecting Cookies]
> Response:
> The company Blah Inc. has the web site Blah sells many
> products, one of which is called bar. Bar has been released in several
> versions, the newest of which is Foo. Blah wants to be able to present
> information to its customer that it thinks the customer will be
> interested in and it wants to present this information across all of its
> sites. So it sends a cookie whose domain is If a user is
> visiting and receives this cookie they will have to
> reject it because it violates the above rule. It is totally appropriate
> for Blah Inc. to want to hand out cookies that apply to all the sites it
> owns. However instead of doing it simply by having a single cookie, it
> now has to clutter the user's hard drive with cookies for every
> * site visited, not to mention complicating the server's
> implementation. I believe this requirement is not reasonable, especially
> for complicated sites.

Sorry, this piece has a long history of discussion, and I don't think we're
willing to change it, although I do understand your point.  The issue was
how to provide adequate flexibility to applications (and you don't think we
have) while preventing cookie-sharing abuses that might arise from sites
that send cookies with too-liberal Domain=.
> Quote:
> "User agents should allow the user to control cookie destruction...."
> Response:
> If a UA maker wants to never allow a customer access to cookie control
> mechanisms, that is the UA maker's business, not the standards. We can
> not threaten companies by saying "Well if you don't create your
> interface the way we say then you aren't compliant" and expect to remain
> credible as a standards organization. This is not a wire protocol
> related issue. It is a feature issue and a matter of competitive
> advantage for UAs.

This item, of course, is part of the broader discussion about what RFC 2109
can and cannot say about UA interfaces.  The members of the sub-group were
quite firm in their belief that users should have control of cookies.

> Quote:
> "   * The value for the $Domain attribute must be the value from the
> |
>      Domain attribute, if any, of the corresponding Set-Cookie2 response
> |
>      header.  Otherwise the attribute should be omitted from the Cookie2
> |
>      request header.
> |
>    * The value for the $Path attribute must be the value from the Path
> |
>      attribute, if any, of the corresponding Set-Cookie2 response
> |
>      header.  Otherwise the attribute should be omitted from the Cookie2
> |
>      request header"
> Response:
> All cookies have Domain and Path values. When not explicitly defined
> they are implicitly defined. Thus a user agent will record these values,
> explicit or not. The above requirements now dictate that the UA has to
> record extra information, an indication if the Domain and Path are
> implicit or explicit. I can find no good reason to place this
> requirement on the UA. Instead we should simply require that the Domain
> and Path, explicit or not, should always be returned with the cookie.

Yes, there we are requiring extra information.

Here's why.  You cannot specify explicitly by Domain and Path the domain
and path you get by default.  For example, suppose sends a cookie.
If it leaves out Domain=, the default domain is  The cookie will
be returned *only* to that site.  However, if you say, the
cookie gets sent to any site *, not just  Or you can say, which domain-matches *

There's a similar behavior for Path regarding '/'.
> Quote:
> "Domain Selection
>      The origin server's fully-qualified host name must domain-match the
>      Domain attribute of the cookie.  The origin server's port number
> |
>      must equal the port number of the server that sent the cookie."
> Response:
> Why do we have the port number requirement? If Blah Inc. has an HTTP
> server on ports 80 and 81, why would we want to prevent sharing between
> two ports on the same system?

Well, for one thing the two servers may be administered separately for
different purposes, and letting them share cookies seems like a bad idea.

> Quote:
> "If multiple cookies satisfy the criteria above, they are ordered in the
> |
> Cookie2 header such that those with more specific Path attributes
> precede those with less specific.  Ordering with respect to other
> attributes (e.g., Domain) is unspecified."
> Response:
> If we leave domain ordering undefined doesn't that sort of destroy the
> utility of requiring path ordering?

Okay, I was lazy, following Lou's example in the original spec.  I didn't
want to have to specify a multi-dimensional sorting algorithm.  Got any
ideas?  (I'm hoping that multiple cookies to the same site are rare, so it
isn't that big a problem, but I do feel a little guilty it is so poorly

> Quote:
> "User agents may offer configurable options that allow the user agent,
> or
> any autonomous programs that the user agent executes, to ignore the
> above rule, so long as these override options default to ``off.''"
> Response:
> Again, I do not feel it is appropriate for this specification to dictate
> to UA makers how to build the parts of their product that do not go over
> the wire. If a UA maker wants this to default to "ON", that is their
> business. If the UA maker wants to default to "ON" and not allow the
> user to change the value, that is also their business. The mission, I
> hope, is interoperability, not second guessing UA makers.

Same user agent interface discussion as before.  And same user control
> Quote:
> "This state
> management specification therefore requires that a user agent give the
> user control over such a possible intrusion, although the interface
> through which the user is given this control is left unspecified.
> However, the control mechanisms provided shall at least allow the user
>    * to completely disable the sending and saving of cookies.
>    * to determine whether a stateful session is in progress.
>    * to control the saving of a cookie on the basis of the cookie's
>      Domain attribute."
> Response:
> Wire protocols have a massive effect on the range of functions a client
> can implement. In effect, they restrict products. Software companies
> have decided that interoperability is such an important product feature
> that it is worth having their functionality restrained. However there is
> another reason behind the software maker's behavior, they know that the
> real battle is UI not features. Features tend to be a check-list, so
> long as everyone has the same check marks, the competitive field remains
> flat. The area of competition becomes primarily one of interface. When
> standards step beyond the wire, beyond even functionality, and go into
> the area that is the heart of computer software, they render themselves
> irrelevant. Companies are not going to give up their competitive
> advantage in order to be compliant with a standard. Worse yet, due to
> press pressures, companies will be forced to look like they are
> compliant, even when they are not. This reduces the ability of the IETF
> to be an effective standards setting organization. Once companies are
> forced to selectively ignore standards the goal of interoperability
> becomes impossible.


Dave Kristol

Received on Wednesday, 19 March 1997 08:44:15 UTC