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There are a number of properties on the global $user object https://api.drupal.org/api/drupal/developer%21globals.php/global/user/7

But I can't figure out how to see if a logged in user has ever previously logged in, or if this is his/her first session. When logged in, the $user->access, $user->login, $user->timestamp values all seem to point of the current session.

I can set a cookie and check for that cookie myself. But I suspect I'm just missing something Drupal already has ?

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    $user->access should work for you. drupal.stackexchange.com/questions/34397/… – arpitr Nov 10 '15 at 16:32
  • good find @arpitr this question could qualify as a duplicate of 34397 – longboardnode Nov 10 '15 at 20:37
  • $user->access seems set to the current login here, not the previous. perhaps that's not true on hook_user_login, but it seems to be so in subsequent requests ? – commonpike Nov 10 '15 at 20:49
  • in the subsequent requests it will set to timestamp when accessed, but not will be 0 – arpitr Nov 12 '15 at 4:23
  • exactly. so its not a duplicate of 34397 – commonpike Nov 13 '15 at 10:55
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A cookie would work. Another way is to add a field to the user entity that you can check that field first to see if it's empty, and then modify it with a Rule, triggered by the log in action

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