There was a time in which internet connection was relatively slow when compared to today. Even browsing a simple static web page used to require some seconds of waiting. Nowadays websites are generally more complex than in the early age of internet, richer of content, images and dynamic elements: it would be unthinkable, for example, to surf modern social networking websites with a dial-up connection of the first ages of internet. Still, there is something that is common to the internet users of today and those of 30 years ago: the use of caching technologies implemented server-side and client-side (those that can be found on browsers of people who surf the internet). This article will focus on client-side caching technology and, in particular, on how it works and how to eventually clear your browser cache and why you should do it sometimes.
How does web browser cache work?
To explain it in the simplest form, caching technology of web browsers consists in archiving certain static elements that are part of the web pages we surf, so that they can be retrieved later from your computer instead of be downloaded again from the server. For example, if we surf an online newspaper, we are generally accessing a dynamic website, as it is based almost surely on a CMS on which new articles are continuously published (a dynamic website is something that always changes, so that when you surf the homepage in a specific moment, you are not necessarily seeing the same stuff you used to see in another period). Even in dynamic websites there are static elements that are hard to change over time: for example the image of the logo of website is something that rarely changes, just like the CSS files that rule the layout and the appearance of the website you are browsing (it is difficult to find a website that changes logo and appearance everyday). These static elements, together with thumbnails and images contained in the articles of this example of online newspaper, can be cached in a temporary folder in your PC so that, next time you are going to load the website again, these elements are retrieved locally and not downloaded from the server. This leads to less use of technical resources of the web server on which the online newspaper is hosted and especially to faster loading times for the final user, who has not to download every part of the website, but only some specific elements. Web developers can set specific caching rules so that they can tell the browser if to cache an element and for how much time the cache should last before getting wiped, just like they can instruct CDN services providing server-side web caching technology to cache certain elements and for a specific period of time so that some elements are downloaded from the CDN service and not from the server on which the website is physically hosted: all of this is done in order to optimize use of web server resources and to provide a faster browsing experience. Still, web caching technology is not something that only web developers should understand: also the everyday user should be aware of how does it work and especially of the reasons why it is good to clear browser cache sometimes.
Why You Should Clear Web Browser Cache
There are two important reasons why you should want to clear your web browser cache:
- You are facing slow navigation experience or issues with loading of a specific website: this may happen, for example, when your cache is excessively full, maybe also of elements that should have a short lifespan but that remain stored on your PC for long time because of a misconfiguration of caching rules. Web cache is something that has to be kept regularly clean: that’s why it is good to benefit from it, but also to wipe it too sometimes;
- You cannot see the updated version of a website: this may happen, again, in case of a misconfiguration of caching, that leads to an aggressive caching method that affects also elements that should be dynamic. For example, if a website that is dynamic is set to be fully cached, this may lead to seeing outdated stuff or, even worse, to see it as a not registered user even if you have maybe logged in. This would lead to a very bad experience, especially if the website is something complex like an e-commerce, in which one should get the smoothest experience possible: imagine trying to buy something, logging in, then seeing back the website as a logged off user, then getting issues even during the payment, questioning yourself if your order has been processed and if there is the risk of not having paid it or, even worse, of having paid it twice. While you cannot know if the website developer has set proper caching rules, you can still manage to manually delete your web browser cache if something seems to go in the wrong way.
The general rule is that web caching is comfortable, still it takes space on your PC or mobile device. Wiping it on a regularly basis is like cleaning your house: it is something you have to do in order to enjoy your environment. Many situations in which surfing the internet starts to become slow and unpleasant, often are the results of not having wiped the cache on your device.
How To Clear Your Browser Cache
There is not a standard procedure to clean your web browser cache, as every software has its specific tool for handling this. In general, you have to visit the Settings page of your web browser and look for something related to your web cache. Then you can generally adjust some options that can help you better manage your cache (like auto wiping on certain periods or exclusions for websites you want to never be cached). Finally, there is the option to manually wipe your web cache. For a better guide, you can refer to the instructions provided by the developers of the most known web browsers. For example, this is the official guide showing how to clean Google Chrome cache:
In a world in which internet is different than 20 years ago and web pages are also more complex and rich in content, it is easy to deal with huge caches that affect experience of surfing. Regularly clearing your web browser cache is a good practice in order to ensure a nice and smooth surfing experience.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.