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Deleting cookies

Most cookie deletion software appears to be out of date, so you may have to delete cookies manually.

(If you've come direct to this page from a search engine, and you're not very familiar with cookies, you might like to start with An Introduction to Cookies.)

You can erase your cookie files or folders manually, but the complication is that they may be under the supervision of computer-generated file controllers. Afterwards, these will hold invalid information, which can slow your browser down, though in practice it doesn't seem to be a big deal.

Make sure you close (exit) your browser before you begin, otherwise you can certainly expect problems. Editing cookies with the browser open is surgery without anesthetic.

Manual Deletion

If you're using IE6, please click through to this page first. (Not sure of your version? Select Help > About from your browser top menu and it will tell you.).

The instructions that follow are for IE5, Netscape 4.7 and Netscape 6 on Windows 98. You may be able to adapt them for other versions.

If you want to view all your cookies before you delete them, follow the instructions on the inspection page.

In IE 4 and 5, there are two or three folders containing cookies and the cookies themselves are individual files within those folders. The first folder is usually C:\WINDOWS\Cookies. To manually delete your cookies, highlight the files you don't want using Windows Explorer and delete them.

You will probably have to keep the file called index.dat, which won't allow access or deletion. This is the automatic file controller. It's best to ignore it. Unfortunately, from now on it will contain invalid information. This could make your browser unstable, though in practice it doesn't appear to do so.

An alternative is to delete the entire folder and rely on the browser to recreate an empty replacement the next time you open it. You'll need to do this in DOS, since the cookie folder is a system folder and will protect itself against deletion in Windows. It's a mildly dangerous operation and only recommended for people who are familiar with DOS.

The next folder to look at is C:WINDOWS\Temporary Internet Files. This area can be partially cleared from within Internet Explorer using Tools > Internet Options > General and choosing to delete Temporary Internet Files. Problem is, this has no affect on any cookies stored there. These have to be cleared manually. But as a precaution it's a good idea to go through the "official" deletion process before you do your manual deletions. Don't forget to close the browser afterwards.

Now go into the folder using Windows Explorer and delete the cookie files. They have odd names but the filetype should mention cookie. If you decide to delete everything from this folder then you'll take out some favicon.ico's too (the small graphics you get next to addresses in the address bar). Whether that's a big deal is down to you. Personally I delete the lot because it saves time.

If you look in C:WINDOWS\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5 you'll probably find lots of garbage folders and favicons, but the cookies should now have disappeared from this area too. The folders are system folders and best left alone. They're just part of the regular clutter and mess created by Windows.

Note that some sites don't like having their cookies deleted. The most well-known of these is hotmail. If you delete your hotmail cookie you will need to do a full log in next time you try to gain access.

I'm interested in hearing about your own experiences of cookie deletion, and any tips you may have. Email me (Andrew Starling) at astarling@xtinhat.com. You'll need to remove the x from my mail address - it's there to fool automatic address harvesters.

In Netscape 4x, the relevant file is called cookies.txt and the cookies are lines within this file. Open it with a text editing program (usually Notepad or Wordpad). This will generally be the default program for opening txt files. There's a note at the top saying Do Not Edit, but it is possible to remove any or all of the cookie lines. Keep the introductory lines at the top intact. Removing the cookies may make your browser less stable.

An alternative is to delete the entire file and rely on the browser to recreate an empty replacement the next time you open it. This appears to work OK. In general, it's easier to deal with cookies in Netscape than in IE.

Netscape 6 is wonderful when it comes to controlling cookies. Just go into Tasks > Privacy and Security > Cookie Manager, and you can do anything you like. The most brutal options are available under View Stored Cookies.

Macs often store cookies in a file called Magic Cookies. If you replace this file with a folder of the same name, you may fool your Mac into thinking it's dealing with cookies normally when in fact it will lose them all when you turn it off. (Thanks to Elliot Herman for this interesting idea.)

One final note, after you've cleaned up your cookie files, you'll still receive more cookies unless you've set your browser to disallow them.

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