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Give Me All Your Cache

Have you cleared your browser cache lately? Speed, space, privacy, and currency are good reasons to attend to this task.

A cache is a place to store something temporarily. On your computer, caches help to speed up operations by keeping frequently accessed files (or copies of files) in a place where they can be quickly retrieved. To use a library analogy, think of a cache as a ready reference collection. It makes no sense to keep the medical dictionary on a faraway shelf if you need to refer to it several times a day. You save time and energy by keeping it close at hand.

Your web browser stores cached copies of the pages you visit on your local computer. For pages you visit frequently, the content you see on the screen sometimes comes from your local cached copy. Drawing content from the cache is more efficient than sending separate requests out to the Web every time you want to access the page. This is especially true for pages that include a lot of graphics.

Speed and space are two reasons to get familiar with your browser cache and how to manipulate the settings. As explained above, having a browser cache speeds up retrieval for pages you access frequently. However, if your cache becomes too large, it can have the opposite effect and begin to slow things down. For example, you might notice that it is taking a long time for your web browser to open. It is a good idea to clear the cache every once in awhile to save space on your computer and to make sure your browser is working as it should.

Speed and space are not the rare computing commodities they were a few years ago. Maybe you have a speedy processor, lots of bandwidth, and all the hard drive space you could ever need. There are other reasons to manage your cache. Do you use a shared computer, or do you monitor public workstations? Think about the privacy implications of having a search history stored for others to see. Clearing the relics of your web browsing between sessions helps to ensure confidentiality.

There’s one more reason to manage your browser cache, and that is to avoid getting outdated results when you access pages with interactive content.

Has this ever happened to you?

  • You complete and submit an online form, but it “doesn’t go.”
  • You post a message in the discussion forum for an online class, but it doesn’t appear on your screen.
  • Your browser keeps loading a version of a page that you know is out of date.

If so, a crowded cache may be the culprit. Clicking “refresh” might solve the problem for the short term, but optimizing your cache settings helps to assure that the pages you see are the most current versions available.

Take a minute to find your browser cache and see what might be lurking there. Here are instructions for clearing the cache in:

Internet Explorer 6
Internet Explorer 7 (scroll down)
Firefox 3

Depending on your needs, you may also want to modify settings to reduce the amount of file space devoted to the cache. You could also set your browsing history to be cleared at regular intervals, i.e. each time you close your browser, or after a certain number of days. Here are instructions modifying the settings on:

Internet Explorer 6 (scroll down)
Internet Explorer 7
Firefox 3

Thanks to Michael Boer and Adam Garrett for providing feedback on this post.

One Response to “Give Me All Your Cache”

  1. Hope Leman Says:

    Hi, Alison. Thanks for the very cogent, persuasive disquisition on the matter of one’s cache. I did indeed do as you suggest and was interested to see how much junk and gunk was in that puppy. Good-bye to all that. I hope now to be able to zip along on the info superhighway at lightning speed.

    Thanks for doing your bit to keep us all functioning at maximum efficiency.