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Understanding What Your Cache is

When was the last time you cleared your cache? Do you know what cache is? Do you know how to clear your cache? If the term cache eludes you, you are probably in good company. It is pronounced 'cash' as in money that none of us seem to have enough of :-) To explain it in layman's terms, your cache is a temporary folder set aside to store a copy of everything you see on the web pages you view. For example if you were to visit the New Zealand Herald site at www.nzherald.co.nz you will notice the Web Masters (writers) use a lot of small photos, icons and pictures amidst an array of varied sized text.

On your visit everything you see will be downloaded to the cache folder on the hard drive of your computer or laptop and there it will stay. If you return to the Herald site the following day then once again all new photos and pictures will also download to your hard drive and so it goes on.


On the positive side, when you return to the Herald site the second and any subsequent times your computer will firstly check your hard drive for that site and load it up from your hard drive and not the internet. Hence the page load is much quicker. For example here, the Herald logo which appears to be 'nzherald.co.nz', on the top to the left, is always on the front page. So your web browser does not need to pull that down, it will be able to load it from your computer each time.


The negative side of this is firstly, unless your browser is correctly configured to check regularly for site updates and download those accordingly, your browser will load up from your hard drive only and after a few days the page you are viewing will be out of date. So with our example of the NZ Herald, in three days time what you are viewing will be 3 days old. Most browsers are by default configured to check for any changes but it does not hurt to check the configuration from within preferences.

If you wish to check whether you are viewing the most current information, use the reload button situated on all browser toolbars to tell your browser to go out to the internet and pull down an updated copy. Most browsers as with Opera, Firefox, Mozilla and Google Chrome use a 'Reload' button while Microsoft uses a button called 'Refresh'.

Secondly, and more importantly, your cache folder over a period of time increases in size as you surf the amazing World Wide Web. Every page you view downloads to your cache folder and this folder slowly becomes bloated. Your cache folder will start to take up a lot of space on your hard drive adding file after file. This folder can contain anywhere up to 20,000 files depending on the size of your cache folder, which is set in preferences. This increasing Cache folder plays a manage role in your computer's performance and your weekly maintenance as with:

  • Anti virus and Spybot scanning will take longer to complete.
  • Disk scanning and Defrag will take much longer.
  • File or document searching will take much longer.
  • Browser surfing will start to take longer to load up.

Why will surfing slow up? Your browser must sift through many files in your cache folder looking for the correct pages and photos to load up. Take another look at the NZ Herald page, after a few weeks of all those small photos and icons downloading to your hard drive, each time you return to the Herald site your browser must untangle what you are holding against what is current for the day. Then it must ascertain what to load up and what to pull down through the web.

Ideally you need a happy medium between cached files used daily and the deletion of files that are obsolete or from random sites. Alas this can not happen at present but who knows what the future will bring.

There are many settings regarding the way your browser handles your cache files. Most of you will have the browser default settings unless you have dabbled with the settings in your preferences. Have a look around your browser from the toolbar and do some reading. One setting is to empty out the cache folder when you close the browser down.