A cookie is a small information of text that accompanies requests and pages as they go between the Web server and browser. The cookie contains information the Web application can read whenever the user visits the site.
For example, if a user requests a page from your site and your application sends not just a page, but also a cookie containing the date and time, when the user's browser gets the page, the browser also gets the cookie, which it stores in a folder on the user's hard disk.
Later, if user requests a page from your site again, when the user enters the URL the browser looks on the local hard disk for a cookie associated with the URL. If the cookie exists, the browser sends the cookie to your site along with the page request. Your application can then determine the date and time that the user last visited the site. You might use the information to display a message to the user or check an expiration date.
Cookies are associated with a Web site, not with a specific page, so the browser and server will exchange cookie information no matter what page the user requests from your site. As the user visits different sites, each site might send a cookie to the user's browser as well; the browser stores all the cookies separately.
Cookies help Web sites store information about visitors. More generally, cookies are one way of maintaining continuity in a Web application—that is, of performing state management. Except for the brief time when they are actually exchanging information, the browser and Web server are disconnected. Each request a user makes to a Web server is treated independently of any other request. Many times, however, it's useful for the Web server to recognize users when they request a page. For example, the Web server on a shopping site keeps track of individual shoppers so the site can manage shopping carts and other user-specific information. A cookie therefore acts as a kind of calling card, presenting pertinent identification that helps an application know how to proceed.
Cookies are used for many purposes, all relating to helping the Web site remember users. For example, a site conducting a poll might use a cookie simply as a Boolean value to indicate whether a user's browser has already participated in voting so that the user cannot vote twice. A site that asks a user to log on might use a cookie to record that the user already logged on so that the user does not have to keep entering credentials.