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I was asked today to increase the php session length to 86400 (24 hrs) for one of our magento 2 sites. I am guessing this is to make guest's cart items be persistent for 1 day. I am used to session length being ~20 minutes so I am unsure of the effects of such an increase.

Are there any security/performance drawbacks to this increase. If so, are cookies a better alternative for persistence than increasing the php session length?

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If that is indeed their aim then there is a better solution. Enable Shopping Cart Persistence. You will find it in Stores > Configuration > Customers > Shopping Cart Persistence. You can chose the time out there (the default is a year).

Docs are here: http://docs.magento.com/m2/ce/user_guide/sales/cart-persistent-configuration.html

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