Magento's "Use HTTP Only" Cookie Setting

Published: March 8, 2017

Recently, while checking out Mozilla Observatory I learned about the HttpOnly Set-Cookie directive. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s an explanation from MDN…

HTTP-only cookies aren’t accessible via JavaScript through the Document.cookie property, the XMLHttpRequest and Request APIs to prevent attacks against cross-site scripting (XSS).

The “HttpOnly” name is a bit confusing and is sometimes misinterpreted as having something do to with HTTP vs HTTPS. However, that is not the case. The idea is that the cookie is made available to the server as part of the HTTP request (“HTTP only”). However, the browser has no access to it.

This provides a layer of security against XSS as, even if an attacker is able to get malicious script to execute on a web page, the attacker won’t be able to access precious cookies, which are often the only key needed to compromise a user (or admin) account.

This got me interested in investigating how Magento manages that flag. I decided to dig in to get a better understanding. Here, I’ll documented my findings…

How PHP Manages This Directive

Before looking at how Magento manages this directive, it’s worthwhile to look at how it is managed by PHP.

PHP’s setcookie function allows the user to manage the HttpOnly flag through the httponly parameter, the 7th and final parameter.

setcookie($name, $value, $expire, $path, $domain, $secure, $httponly)

If set to true, the Set-Cookie response header will include the HttpOnly directive.

By default, PHP sets $httponly to false.

How Magento Manages This Directive

In the Magento admin panel there is a setting in the “Cookies” group called “Use HTTP Only”. If set to “Yes”, all cookies set by the framework will include the HttpOnly directive.

In Magento 2 this setting is available under Stores > Configuration > General > Web > Default Cookie Settings…

A screenshot showing the Use HTTP Only cookie setting in the Magento 2 admin panel

In Magento 1 it’s available under System > Configuration > General > Web > Session Cookie Management…

A screenshot showing the Use HTTP Only cookie setting in the Magento 1 admin panel

The default setting is “Yes” in both Magento 1 and Magento 2.

Leave This Setting On!

Because Http-Only cookies are not accessible to the browser, they cannot be stolen by XSS. As such you should always leave this setting on! In Magento 2 the following comment was even added to this setting…

Warning: Do not set to “No”. User security could be compromised.

I’m not sure why Magento doesn’t just remove this setting entirely since they’ve so strongly discouraged changing it :grimacing:


If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop a note below, or, as always, you can reach me on Twitter as well.

Max Chadwick Hi, I'm Max!

I'm a software developer who mainly works in PHP, but loves dabbling in other languages like Go and Ruby. Technical topics that interest me are monitoring, security and performance. I'm also a stickler for good documentation and clear technical writing.

During the day I lead a team of developers and solve challenging technical problems at Something Digital where I mainly work with the Magento platform. I've also spoken at a number of events.

In my spare time I blog about tech, work on open source and participate in bug bounty programs.

If you'd like to get in contact, you can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.