If I had a quarter for every time I had to tell someone to clear their website cache (pronounced like “cash” but not nearly as exciting), I’d be able to retire from web design by now. Or at the very least fuel my daily coffee obsession.
It’s likely if your website isn’t loading properly, you’ve been prompted to clear your browser cache and promptly noticed that things seem to work fine again. Then you forget all about the cache…until something seemed to break again.
But what is cache and why would you clear it? Why does clearing it magically fix things? We’ll explore what cache is, why it’s important and why it’s needed below.
What is cache?
Much like a file cabinet full of files, the cache is a storage location that stores files temporarily to help websites, browsers and other technology load faster. No matter if it’s your desktop computer, a browser, a server or an app, you’ll find some version of a cache in each instance.
Rather than repeatedly downloading the necessary files and images that make a website appear each and every time you refresh your browser, the cache stores these assets locally so that it can grab them as quickly as possible. Without a cache, your web browser would run significantly slower because every website you visit would require re-downloading every file.
Think of it like this: instead of your file cabinet full of files being stored in the basement and you having to run down each time to retrieve a file you need, the file cabinet is right next to your desk. So you can grab what you need quickly and move on with your day.
What does it mean to clear the cache?
Cookies vs. cache: What’s the difference?
In most browsers, options for clearing the cache and clearing cookies are in the same place however they’re not the same thing. Your cache stores files downloaded directly from the websites you visit—fonts, images, etc.
Cookies are different in that they store information about you and the activities you’ve taken online. If you browse an e-commerce store and add a bunch of items to a shopping list, that’s saved using a cookie. Cookies also keep track of sites you’re logged in to—which is why, if you clear your cookies, you’ll need to log back into your accounts.
Clearing the cache doesn’t affect any of this.
How do I clear the cache?
Should I clear the cache regularly?
In general, clearing the cache is not necessary unless you are experiencing performance issues or noticing your website is not displaying correctly. This is typically your first step in the troubleshooting process to determine if there is actually something going on or if your device is simply loading an older version of your site. Since the files in the cache allow websites you frequently visit to load faster, the cache is typically on your side.
Caching increases the speed of your website and when used correctly, it will result in significantly faster load times for your visitors but if you notice an issue with the display of your website, always start by clearing your cache.