httpstate cookie domain pains

Back in 2008, I wrote about when Mozilla started to publish their effort the “public suffixes list” and I was a bit skeptic.

Well, the problem with domains in cookies of course didn’t suddenly go away and today when we’re working in the httpstate working group in the IETF with documenting how cookies work, we need to somehow describe how user agents tend to work with these and how they should work with them. It’s really painful.

The problem in short, is that a site that is called ‘’ is allowed to set a cookie for ‘’ but not for ‘com’ alone. That’s somewhat easy to understand. It gets more complicated at once when we consider the UK where ‘’ is fine but it cannot be allowed to set a cookie for ‘’.

So how does a user agent know that is magic?

Firefox (and Chrome I believe) uses the suffixes list mentioned above and IE is claimed to have its own (not published) version and Opera is using a trick where it tries to check if the domain name resolves to an IP address or not. (Although Yngve says Opera will soon do online lookups against the suffix list as well.) But if you want to avoid those tricks, Adam Barth’s description on the http-state mailing list really is creepy.

For me, being a libcurl hacker, I can’t of course but to think about Adam’s words in his last sentence: “If a user agent doesn’t care about security, then it can skip the public suffix check”.

Well. Ehm. We do care about security in the curl project but we still (currently) skip the public suffix check. I know, it is a bit of a contradiction but I guess I’m just too stuck in my opinion that the public suffixes list is a terrible solution but then I can’t figure anything that will work better and offer the same level of “safety”.

I’m thinking perhaps we should give in. Or what should we do? And how should we in the httpstate group document that existing and new user agents should behave to be optimally compliant and secure?

(in case you do take notice of details: yes the mailing list is named http-state while the working group is called httpstate without a dash!)