The whole system of web browsing and web servers was designed to be “stateless”: each page load is disconnected from each other. Cookies were invented in the very early days to serve as a kind of breadcrumb (or cookie crumb). When you log in to a website, the primary method of preserving state—of keeping an active session in which you’re remembered from page to page—is dropping a cookie to your browser that your browser in turn sends back every time it requests a page. Thus is the web crudely knit together. (With web apps, even though you’re on what appears to be a single page, all the behind-the-scenes interaction still sends cookies.)
One Macworld reader finds themselves constantly prompted in Safari to log in again when they visit any site, and they’re unclear why. I suspect an excess of privacy—or maybe just the right amount—is bedeviling them. One of the following scenarios is likely.
Block All Cookies. Safari for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS lets a user prevent their browser from accepting and sending any cookies at all. In macOS, that’s Safari > Preferences > Privacy and the Block All Cookies checkbox; in iOS and iPadOS, it’s a switch at Settings > Safari. However, with all cookies disabled, it’s unlikely most sites will allow a proper log in at all.
Private Browsing. All modern browsers let you enable a private, incognito, or similar mode in which the tab you’re using picks up no stored information for your browser, only stores cookies and other data while it’s open, and then deletes it all when the tab is closed. It’s an effective way to avoid many kinds of tracking. When used for site logins, it also prevents remembering your login at all, so each subsequent visit after closing a tab requires a fresh login. You can tell if you’re using Private Browsing in Safari on any platform, because the Location bar’s background is a dark grey. Safari for macOS provides no additional clues, but in iOS and iPadOS, tap the tabs in a browser window, and in the tabs view the word Private appears in black type on a white lozenge to indicate that’s the mode you’re using.
Clear History. If you use Clear History in Safari, it will wipe out all your browsing history, cookies, and either site-related data for a period of time you select (macOS) or entirely. That option in Safari for macOS is Safari > Clear History; in iOS and iPadOS, it’s found at Settings > Safari labeled Clear History and Website Data.
Third-party browsing history cleaner. A number of apps are designed to erase tracking and traces of your activity from your company and online. If you have any “cleaner” app installed, check its configuration. It might be wiping out cookies on a regular basis.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Badí.
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