What the hell is a browser cache?

This blog post was originally written for LegRoom Agency and was published in January, 2017.

You’ve asked your developer to make some much-needed updates to your website – image changes, page restructuring… the whole nine yards. But when you refresh or preview the page to check out their handy work, the formatting isn’t quite right – old images are still appearing, the page structure is a mess, and your site still looks like it was designed in the Geocities era.

So you contact your developer and tell them that everything looks the same. You’re woefully unimpressed, frustrated that you’ve been billed for x amount of hours, and you’re still left with that stale, old site you were trying to forget. Those pesky devs! You just can’t trust them. Unless they work for LegRoom of course… we hear they’re a pretty incredible bunch 😉

Nine times out of ten, your developer will ask you if you’ve cleared your cache. As a business owner with little knowledge of how the web works, you tell a little white lie to keep your dignity and hang up the phone.

Cue frantic Googling.

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So what is it?

Your browser cache exists, because, in the grand scheme of things, the internet is slow. And your internet connection is (most likely) slower than your computer. It’s faster to pull data from your hard drive than the internet, even with high-speed infrastructure like NBN.

You’ll notice when visiting a website, a lot of the elements will remain the same across various pages (think logos, headers, footers, background images, etc.). Rather than downloading those same elements each time your browser is refreshed or your visit a new page, your browser will download it once, and reuse as much of the data as possible each time.

And where do you think this data is stored? You guessed it, the cache! Essentially, the cache is a place on your hard drive where the browser keeps downloaded items, just incase it needs them again.

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Clearing the cache

Clearing the cache is really just a phrase for emptying it, like you (hopefully!) do with your recycling bin. Once the cache is cleared, it means that the next time you visit a web page, everything will be downloaded anew.

Occasionally, though, your browser and it’s cache can have a disagreement – websites might load without images, the site might seem badly formatted, or the wrong images might begin to appear in the wrong places.

It would be silly to assume that all issues with website formatting stem from a caching problem, but because it is quite a frequent issue, developers will almost always suggest that you “clear your browser cache” and reload the site.

How do we do it?

Chrome:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. At the top-right, click the three vertical dots.
  3. Click More tools > Clear browsing data.
  4. In the box that appears at the top, choose a time period, such as past hour or past day (we recommend deleting everything, so select ‘Since the beginning of time’).
  5. Select the types of information that you want to remove. Ensure that Cache is selected.
  6. Click Clear Browsing Data.

FireFox:

  1. Open Firefox.
  2. Click the Menu button > Choose preferences.
  3. Select the Advanced panel.
  4. Click on the Network tab.
  5. In the Cached Web Content section, click Clear Now.
  6. Close the About: Preferences page. Any changes you’ve made will automatically be saved.

Safari:

  1. In the Safari menu bar, click the Safari option.
  2. Click the Clear History link.
  3. In the Clear drop-down menu, select the time range you’d like to clear browsing from (we recommend to select all history).
  4. Click the Clear History button.

Edge:

  1. Click the Hub icon.
  2. Click the History icon.
  3. Click the Clear All History link.
  4. Check the Cache box.
  5. Click the Clear button. The message “All Clear!” will appear at the top when the data has been erased.

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