Frames? Cookies? Good Grief!

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Question from IM2 Who are you? What's your email address? Who do you work for? Do you have questions about the Web? Are there Net-related things you don't understand but think you should (and are too embarrassed to ask)? Send them in! Q: Lately I keep hearing people talking about "frames" and whether we should use them on our Web site. What are they? Do I need them?

A: If you're surfing around the Internet with Netscape 2.0, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0, or a better browser, you've probably seen frames already. Frames are the device that allow developers to create pages that are broken into different segments. Each frame is actually a separate Web page. One of the best benefits to using them is that you can "target" the links in each frame -- in other words, you gain more control over how your site is presented to viewers.

Frames are a great tool if you have a Web project that's going to fill a lot of pages. Maybe you want the pages to flow in some sort of linear order or perhaps you want visitors to have control over which pages they hit in which order.

Using frames, you can set up an easy-to-use table of contents or other kind of navigation aid. By running a tool bar in a frame, you can keep your navigator on screen in the same place at all times, so users can navigate easily through your information.

As visitors follow the links, the new pages can come up in one of the other frames on the page or can even launch in a new window so that you can keep your Web site open while sending users to another site.

One thing to keep in mind: Because each frame is a separate document, they slow down load times for users.

On the plus side, you can define parts of the document to show up for people who don't have frame-capable browsers -- but it also means that you may have to create and update twice as many pages for your site.

Q: My new browser sounds an alarm when I'm given a 'cookie.' What is a cookie and should I be alarmed?

A: Net-Cookies are like real-world cookies. They're treats that Web sites give you. Of course, sometimes you get treats for doing things that other people want you to do.

On the technical side, cookies are bits of information that a Web site stores in a special file on your personal computer. The site can put information in that file and then read information from that file.

What do you do with them? Cookies can be used to store registration information so that you don't have to log in to sites everytime you visit them.

For example, Hotwired allows registered users to save their log-in information into the cookie file. You get the convience of not having to log in (your treat). They get the records of your visits to their sites, which is good information to give to their advertisers (their treat).

They can't use a cookie to store any information about you that you don't give them. They can't pull up, say, what kind of computer you have with a cookie. There are other ways to do that. However, if you fill out a form on their site and tell them what kind of computer you have, they can store that in your cookie file, and find it when you visit their site again.

Cookies have certain attributes, including which site they are used with (Web sites can only read cookies their site has put there), an expiration date and any fields that users wish to define themselves (an example being the Microsoft Network.

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