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Web Session: How It Works & How It's Different from Cookies

Last updated: May 22, 2023

What is a Web Session?

A web session is the amount of time spent by a user exploring a particular website, starting from when they enter the first page until they leave the website.

This session is also defined as a series of actions performed sequentially by website visitors within a certain period of time.

In general, this metric also includes activities such as searching for information, filling out forms to read content, scrolling website pages, adding items to shopping carts, searching for transportation tickets online, and so on.

Every interaction you make with a website is recorded as a web session in the properties of that site.

How Web Session Works

Web sessions consist of data or files that persist as long as a website is used. These resources can be identified by session IDs.

The user's browser will be assigned a session ID when starting a new session. As such, the ID will be exchanged at each subsequent communication between the browser and the server.

The session includes all relevant information while the user is visiting a site.

This relevant data and information includes:

  • Pages viewed by the user
  • Detailed information that the user has entered into the form
  • Shopping items that the user has added to the cart

Generally, there is a timeout applied to web sessions, after which the session will timeout automatically.

For example, a web session in Google Analytics will end after 30 minutes of inactivity. After that, user activities in the future will be treated as new sessions.

Websites with a very high number of users often store web sessions in cache, so that data can be retrieved more quickly, which is useful for time efficiency.

Benefits of Web Sessions

One of the most striking benefits of web sessions is that they allow a website to hold short-term memory, which contains information about user activity.

You can see real examples on e-commerce websites. If an e-commerce website does not have data related to user actions, this will be very inconvenient, both for the developer and the user.

Users will find it very inconvenient if they have to place e-commerce orders all at once.

Instead, users will find it more convenient to store items in their shopping cart first, so they can make transactions at any time.

However, having a long-term memory is also impractical for e-commerce websites.

For example, if a user returns to an e-commerce website after a month, they may not want to see the same items in their shopping cart as they did the last time.

With this, the session that acts as short-term memory is able to provide enough memory for a site.

This aims to build a good user experience while allowing a site to not store too much irrelevant information in the long term.

The Difference Between Web Sessions and Cookies

Web sessions are different from cookies. Although both store information about the user, they have different functions.

Cookies are text files that are used to track users on a website and have a much longer lifetime than web sessions, i.e., months or years.

Cookies are a way for a website to store long-term user information that must be maintained, for example, entering a user's identity automatically when the user visits a website.

In contrast, web sessions work by storing only information about the user's recent activity, which is stored on the server, which helps prevent risks from irresponsible users.

Web sessions and cookies can actually be used together to track the long-term and short-term behavior of a user.

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