Monday, July 1, 2002

Where cookie comes from


By Andrew Stuart

In my February 2002 article, "Using cookies in Lotus Domino applications is in your future," at, I speculated on the reason why browser cookies are called cookies. You'll recall from February that Netscape's cookie specification document (at says, "The state object is called a cookie, for no compelling reason." I doubted that there was no compelling reason for the state object to be called a cookie, and I suggested that browser cookies were probably named after Chinese fortune cookies. My theory was that Chinese fortune cookies contain small chunks of text and so do browser cookies, thus the origin of the term. As it turns out, the Netscape cookie specification document is wrong. My Chinese fortune cookie theory is wrong, too.

I know this for a fact, because the guy who invented browser cookies told me so.

Whilst cruising the Web recently I found a Web site called Technology Review (at, which describes itself as "MIT's magazine of innovation." Technology Review has an interesting yearly roundup of "100 innovators under 35" (at This list is an extremely interesting read in itself, and I encourage you to check it out. One of those innovators is Lou Montulli (at, one of the pioneers at Netscape. Lou is responsible for innovations such as Web proxying, the blink tag, and the incorporation of animated GIFs into the Web browser. Lou also invented cookies.

I dropped Lou an email asking him for the real story. Here's his response:

Cookies are named after the computer science term "magic cookie".

Lou doesn't mince words, but there it is--cookies are named after the term "magic cookie" used by Unix programmers. The link in Lou's email points to The New Hackers Dictionary, which defines a magic cookie as "Something passed between routines or programs that enables the receiver to perform some operation."

So it turns out that I was right. There is a reason for cookies being named cookies. And I was wrong. Cookies aren't named after Chinese fortune cookies. Now I am satisfied.