Product Documentation

Persistence Based on HTTP Cookies

Oct 21, 2015

When HTTP cookie persistence is configured, the NetScaler appliance sets a cookie in the HTTP headers of the initial client request. The cookie contains the IP address and port of the service selected by the load balancing algorithm. As with any HTTP connection, the client then includes that cookie with any subsequent requests.

When the NetScaler appliance detects the cookie, it forwards the request to the service IP and port in the cookie, maintaining persistence for the connection. You can use this type of persistence with virtual servers of type HTTP or HTTPS. This persistence type does not consume any NetScaler resources and therefore can accommodate an unlimited number of persistent clients.

Note: If the client’s Web browser is configured to refuse cookies, HTTP cookie-based persistence will not work. It might be advisable to configure a cookie check on the Web site, and warn clients that do not appear to be storing cookies properly that they will need to enable cookies for the Web site if they want to use it.

The format of the cookie that the NetScaler appliance inserts is:

NSC_XXXX=<ServiceIP ><ServicePort>

  • NSC_XXXX is the virtual server ID that is derived from the virtual server name.
  • ServiceIP and ServicePort are encoded representations of the service IP address and service port, respectively. The IP address and port are encoded separately.

You can set a time-out value for this type of persistence to specify an inactivity period for the session. When the connection has been inactive for the specified period of time, the NetScaler appliance discards the persistence session. Any subsequent connection from the same client results in a new server being selected based on the configured load balancing method, and a new persistence session being established.

Note: If you set the time-out value to 0, the NetScaler appliance does not specify an expiration time, but sets a session cookie that is not saved when the client’s browser is shut down.

By default, the NetScaler appliance sets HTTP version 0 cookies for maximum compatibility with client browsers. (Only certain HTTP proxies understand version 1 cookies; most commonly used browsers do not.) You can configure the appliance to set HTTP version 1 cookies, for compliance with RFC2109. For HTTP version 0 cookies, the appliance inserts the cookie expiration date and time as an absolute Coordinated Universal Time (GMT). It calculates this value as the sum of the current GMT time on the appliance and the time-out value. For HTTP version 1 cookies, the appliance inserts a relative expiration time by setting the “Max-Age” attribute of the HTTP cookie. In this case, the client’s browser calculates the actual expiration time.

To configure persistence based on a cookie inserted by the appliance, see Configuring Persistence Types That Do Not Require a Rule.

In the HTTP cookie, the appliance by default sets the httponly flag to indicate that the cookie is nonscriptable and should not be revealed to the client application. Therefore, a client-side script cannot access the cookie, and the client is not susceptible to cross-site scripting.

Certain browsers, however, do not support the httponly flag and, therefore, might not return the cookie. As a result, persistence is broken. For browsers that do not support the flag, you can omit the httponly flag in the persistence cookie.

To change the httponly flag setting by using the command line interface

At the command prompt, type:

set lb parameter -httpOnlyCookieFlag (ENABLED|DISABLED)


>  set lb parameter -httpOnlyCookieFlag disabled 
> show lb parameter 
  Global LB parameters: 
       Persistence Cookie HttpOnly Flag: DISABLED 
       Use port for hash LB: YES 

To change the httponly flag setting by using the configuration utility

  1. Navigate to Traffic Management > Load Balancing > Configure Load Balancing Parameters, and select or clear the Persistence Cookie HTTPOnly Flag.

Encrypting the Cookie

From release 10.5 build 55.8, you can encrypt the cookie in addition to any SSL encryption.

To encrypt the cookie by using the command line interface, at the command prompt, type:

set lb parameter -useSecuredPersistenceCookie ENABLED -cookiePassphrase test

To encrypt the cookie by using the configuration utility, navigate to Traffic Management > Change Load Balancing Parameters, and select Use Secured Persistence Cookie and Cookie Passphrase and enter a passphrase.