Sessions aren't better than Cookies

Let the battle begin!

In Django, using the session is just so EASY! There it is on request, behaving like a dict, just being all easy to use.

But sometimes, you're actually better off using cookies.

Why?

Sessions are great if you have persistent state you need to store for a visitor, but don't want them to see or be able to meddle with.

And it's that "but" clause that makes all the difference. If you have some data you need to tie to a visitor, but you don't care if they see it, you're often better of using Cookies.

Case in point.

Recently, we found [through NewRelic -- use if it you don't already!] that loading and saving sessions was actually a significant proportion of our DB hits.

Sure, we could have just jumped over to using Cache backed sessions, or Redis, or something else. But we have a need to inspect sessions when they expire, so having that pre-delete hook is perfect for us.

We found the problem originally stemmed from some middleware that was setting a value on every request. It didn't need to - once was enough. However, as we looked further, we realised we didn't need it in the session at all.

Remember - the session data are lazily loaded, and only saved if dirty. So if you don't access the session, it's not loaded.

The solution

Two values we were calculating once and storing on the session -- the visitors country and preferred language -- really could function just as well in cookies, and that would avoid the session noise.

However, cookies aren't quite as simple as sessions, when it comes to middleware.

You can't set a cookie when all you have is the request -- you need the response object.

The pattern

class MyMiddleware(object):
    def process_request(self, request):
        try:
            # Try to get the cookie value
            language = request.COOKIES['language']
        except KeyError:
           # IF it's not set, figure it out
            language = get_language_for_request(request)

       # Store it on the session for all to see
       setattr(request, 'language', language)

    def process_response(self, request, response):
        try:
            # If the values don't match, update the cookie [which, by default, is None]
            if request.lanugage != request.COOKIES.get('language'):
                response.set_cookie('language', request.language)
        except AttributeError:
            # language wasn't set on request
            pass
        return response
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