Monday, December 17, 2012

How to properly create and destroy a PHP session

When working with shared caches like Varnish or Nginx, cookies will kill everything you are trying to do.

The idea is that since a cookie can be used by the backend to modify the reply, like being logged in as a user, the shared does not take the chance and refuse to cache it. This behaviour can be modified, especially in the case of Google Analytics cookies, but for the PHP session cookie, you will typically want it.

However, it is important, for a useful usage of your shared cache, to only start a session when you really need it and destroy it when it is not needed anymore. PHP’s session_start specifically mentions that is does not unset the associated cookie.

So the idea is to start a session when you need it; for example, in a login page. This will send a header to the client, setting a cookie and the cookie will get sent back on every request. Therefore, in some global file, you can detect this cookie and reload the session. At last, on the logout, clear everything.

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