Creating Cookies in Perl

Published on February 18, 2008

A little over a year ago, I inherited a productivity tool at work that allows users to enter weekly status reports for various products in our division. The tool is web-based and is written entirely in Perl. One of the mangers who uses this tool recently suggested a new feature, and I decided to implement it using cookies. Having never implemented cookies from a programming perspective, I was new to the subject and had to do some research on how to do it in Perl. It turns out to be quite easy, so I figured I would share my newfound knowledge:

Creating a Cookie

Although there are other ways to do this (as always with Perl), this tutorial will be making use of the CGI::Cookie module. It makes creating and reading cookies very easy, which is a good thing. Furthermore, this module ships with virtually all Perl distributions! Here’s a chunk of code that creates a cookie:

use CGI qw(:all);

my $cgi = new CGI;
my $cookie = $cgi->cookie(-name => 'my_first_cookie',
                          -value => $someValueToStore,
                          -expires => '+1y',
                          -path => '/');

print $cgi->header(-cookie => $cookie);

I first import all of the CGI modules. This isn’t exactly necessary, and it might be a little slower than using the :standard include directive, but I needed a number of sub-modules for the tool I was writing. I then create a new CGI object, and use it to call the cookie() subroutine. This routine takes a number of parameters, but the most important ones are shown.

The -name parameter is simply what you want to name this cookie. You should use something that clearly identifies what the cookie is being used for (though you should always be mindful of the associated security implications). The -value parameter is just that: the value you wish to store in the cookie. I believe cookies have a bounds of around 4K of storage, so remember to limit what you store. Next up is the -expires parameter, which specifies how far into the future (or past) the cookie should expire. The value of ‘+1y’ that we specified in the example above indicates we should expire in one year’s time. Values in the past (specified with a minus sign) simply indicate that the cookie should be expired immediately. No value will cause the cookie to expire when the user closes their browser. Finally, the -path parameter indicates for what paths on your site the cookie should apply. A value of ‘/cgi-bin/’ for example will only allow the cookie to work for scripts in the /cgi-bin folder of your site. We specified ‘/’ in our example above, which means the cookie is valid for any path at our site.

Finally we print our CGI header, passing along a -cookie parameter with our cookie variable. As always, the documentation for the CGI module will give you lots more information on what’s available.

Reading a Cookie

Reading back the value stored in a cookie is even simpler:

use CGI qw(:all);

my $cgi = new CGI;
my $someValue= $cgi->cookie('my_first_cookie');

Again we create our CGI object, but this time we use it to read our cookie, simply by calling the cookie() routine with the name of the cookie we created before. If the cookie is found, the stored value is read and stored into our variable ($someValue in the example above). If the cookie is not found, a null value is returned.

One Gotcha

In the tool I was working with, I was handling storing and reading the cookie on the same page. Since we have to create our cookie via the header() call, I was concerned about how to handle the case where we weren’t creating a cookie. The solution, it turns out, is pretty simple:

use CGI qw(:all);

my $cgi = new CGI;
unless (param())
{
    print $cgiquery->header;
}

In this example, we print out a generic CGI header only if no parameters were passed in (i.e. the user didn’t push us either a POST or GET). If we do have parameters, we want to create a cookie, and we’ll send the header after we have done so. Pretty easy!

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