What is Caching

Caching: What is it, How Does it Work, and How Does it Help Me?

If you sit in our office for more than an hour you will undoubtedly hear us say something about “caching." We talk about it almost constantly, but it's still a relatively unknown beast to most of our clients. So what is caching? In broad terms, it’s the process of storing temporary data in a cache.

That doesn’t say much, does it?

So what is a cache, really?

Your cache is a temporary storage area that houses all of the files that you automatically request when you browse the internet. Basically, every website on the internet is composed of a bunch of different web files. Whenever you browse that page, your computer has to download those files from the server. Once they are downloaded, they are stored in the cache.

If you want to navigate back to that page in the near future, your computer won’t have to work as hard to download all of the information because it’s already accessible on your machine.

Why is caching important?

Caching helps out in a couple of ways:

1. It dramatically increases site speed for your end user.

If you’re worried about bounce rates and conversions, then you know the importance of a fast website. The caching on your website and your user’s local browser work in tandem to make sure that everyone has a quick and efficient browsing experience on your website. Analytics show that if a website takes too long to load, your potential customer will simply navigate away to find a speedier alternative.

2. It decreases the load on your server.

Every time someone navigates to your website, the server has to have a conversation with that user’s browser. Now imagine: You have thousands of people hitting your website over the span of a couple of hours. That is a lot of conversations to have at once. With the cache, any of those users who are frequent visitors won’t have to have that conversation and will be able to bypass the server and navigate immediately. A bogged down server can create a laggy site experience for everyone who navigates to the site at that time.

What about site updates?

You might be wondering, “If their browser is showing a cached version of the site, how will they see my updates?"

Each website owner is able to set what aspects of the site they’d like to have cached in a user’s browser. As well, they are able to set the length of time that cached information is valid. This keeps your "frequent flyers" from ending up with stale and out-of-date information when they login.

There are some downsides to caching

This all sounds awesome right? Unfortunately, everything has some downsides. Caching can sometimes make your website behave unexpectedly.

For example, let’s say one of your contact forms isn’t allowing users to submit their information. Your IT guys hop to work to get it fixed and notify you that they’ve solved the problem, but when you go to check you find the submission form STILL isn’t working.

Because your browser indiscriminately saves all of the web files, it can pick up issues on the site as well. This can be very frustrating on your end because it seems as though the problems are never solved. If this happens to you, sometimes navigating to the page in a private or incognito window or clearing your cache will reverse the issue.

How to clear your cache

Are you wondering now how to clear your cache? Well fret not here are instructions to clear your cache from all of the major  browsers:

Safari

Select "History", then "Clear History" to remove the saved data on Safari. A drop-down menu will appear, which lets you decide to delete all data from the last hour, today, today and yesterday, and all history. This deletes your history as well as your cookies and the entire browser cache. Alternatively, select an entry from the list, right click and choose Delete if you want to remove indvidual sites.

Firefox

Click the menu button, select "History", then "Clear Recent History." Choose how much of your history you want to clear by selecting the time range. Next, click the arrow alongside Details to select exactly what information will be cleared. Your choices are described in the What things are included in my history? section in Mozilla's FAQ. Finally, click the "Clear Now" button.

Chrome

On your computer, open Chrome. At the top right, click More. Click More tools, Clear browsing data. At the top, choose a time range. To delete everything, select All time. Next to "Cookies and other site data" and "Cached images and files," check the boxes. Click Clear data. 

Internet Explorer

Go to "Tools", via the Gear Icon, click "Safety" and select "Delete browsing history." This menu can also be opened by holding Ctrl+Shift+Delete. Select which data you want to delete by unchecking the revelant boxes, and by checking both Temporary Internet Files and Cookies. Click Delete.

Android

You can clear the cache on Android, to free up phone space for example, in Settings. Go to "Apps" (or "Applications", depending on your device) in the menu, find the app want to clear the cache or data for and tap on "Storage." The buttons for clearing the cache and app data will become visible and you can see how much storage is being used, and clear it.

iOS

In a similar way to Android, go to "Settings," "General," "Storage & iCloud Usage" and, in "Storage," select "Manage Storage." To see the storage being used by individual apps, choose it from the list and go to Documents & Data. If it's is taking up more than 500MB, deleting and reinstall to clear space.