What is Cache and Why Does it Matter?

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. 

 

website cache

 

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?

Clearing the browser cache deletes the stored files so that the next time a website loads, it will be forced to retrieve the latest version of the website files and images. Therefore you’ll be served the most up-to-date version of the website.
 
Clearing these stored files frees up storage space and eliminates any older files that may have been causing a website to display incorrectly for you. Other options in addition to clearing the cache are to pull up the site in “incognito mode” in your browser or through a free proxy browser like hide.me

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?

Depending on your browser, the process for clearing the cache will differ slightly. In most cases, you’ll find this option in the Settings menu under Privacy/Security. There will be an option to clear stored files or clear browsing data. Once you do this, it’s best to close out your browser and reopen then try to visit the website in question to see if any issue has been resolved. 

Clear Browser Cache in Google Chrome

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.

 

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Your Digital Navigator Michelle

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We help adventurous entrepreneurs navigate the uncharted territory of website technology and take back their free time.

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Your Digital Navigator Michelle

YOUR DIGITAL NAVIGATOR

Simplifying the traditional website process, with tools, education and resources

Launching or growing your website should feel like sitting on a beach in Tahiti soaking up the sun, not scaling Mt. Everest in an avalanche. I’m Michelle, a travel and technology obsessed web designer and I’m here to show you there’s a different way. My goal with Website Wayfarer is to help you expertly navigate the ever-changing landscape of website technology and get back to the freedom of running your business.

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