Secure, HttpOnly, SameSite HTTP Cookies Attributes and Set-Cookie Explained

João Manuel Gomes
The Startup
Published in
4 min readSep 14, 2020

Cookies are the most common method to add temporary persistency to websites. They are used in most websites and we know their consent banners. HTTP Cookies can contain crucial and confidential data, their usage started around 1994 and some important legacy issue were left unaddressed and new state-of-art security improvements are being tackled nowadays.

Secure, HttpOnly and SameSite cookies attributes are being addressed by some modern browsers for quite some time and soon they will be enforced.

For example, starting from August 25, 2020, Google Chrome v85 enabled a feature, by default, to reject insecure SameSite=None. New features like this might break your website if you aren’t up-to-date with the latest best practices. Like that example, using the following attributes already are considered best practices and modern browsers will(and should) enforce them soon.

In this article I’m going to explain each one, the reasons why developers should care about them and why a correct implementation of them means extra security for your website.

HttpOnly attribute

HttpOnly attribute focus is to prevent access to cookie values via JavaScript, mitigation against Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

Avoiding XSS may be mitigated just by sanitising user inputs and removing <script> tags, one small mistake can have huge consequences. Third party script might break user security as well. Every year we hear about these attacks being successful.

Imagine your webpage is storing a session cookie and there is some input field vulnerable to XSS. Then it’s quite straight-forward for an attack to inject script making a HTTP request to a url similar to the following:


This works because document.cookie is accessible for any JavaScript code and prints all the cookie being used in the current domain. If you, indeed, have a session stored, the attacker will gain access to the user’s current session.

To prevent these hacks, we should be using HttpOnly flags in cookies.

João Manuel Gomes
The Startup

Mostly Full-Stack Software Engineer.