What is a computer cache and how do I clear it?

The role of your computer cache is essential in keeping your computer functioning at its most efficient level. However, unless you regularly work in website design, you’re unlikely to know what it actually does and how it can cause problems for your loading speed if it’s not cleared every now and again. 

What is your cache?

At its most simple level, your computer cache is a small amount of memory that is part of your computer’s processor. The role of your cache is to temporarily hold instructions and data that your computer is likely to reuse. This is similar to the way the human brain processes directions for new journeys. If you’re driving somewhere for the first time, your brain will store some information about the route, such as the landmarks, should you have to go there again. When it comes to your cache, the information that is retained is how to access previously visited websites more efficiently. 

Website owners set caching instructions and your browser automatically gets told what to download, however, you can set the preferences on your computer if, after you’ve read about the pros and cons in this blog, you decide it makes you more comfortable. 

The benefits of caching

As stated above, the main advantage of caching is that it will help websites and applications load quicker. If you think back to the analogy of driving to a new destination, without ‘caching’ you’d forget everything about the journey after you took it. You therefore don’t get the benefits associated with gaining more experience of the route.

This doesn’t just mean the webpage will load faster but also the images on the page. As such, sometimes you might be mistaking slow internet for your caching speed. In addition, online office tools such as Google Docs also use caching to save documents both online and offline. Without caching, these programmes wouldn’t be able to bring up the same document in both states – it simply wouldn’t load and save in offline mode.

The downsides of caching

The main problem with caching is that if changes are made to a website, such as a new logo, your browser may want to load your cached information instead of the updated portions. Frustratingly this has a negative effect on your browser experience, slowing down your speed and causing image errors.

Caching also leaves you vulnerable to hacking if your device is stolen. This is because part of providing you with the most efficient browsing experience comes from authentication data and sensitive information. It is therefore recommended that, to keep your computer functioning at its best, and to protect your privacy, you clear your cache every so often.

How to clear your cache

Before you clear your cache, please be aware that doing so will remove any data you have saved in online forms. So, if you like having your address automatically pop-up when placing an online order at your favourite shop, note that you will have to upload this again after you clear cache.

On Chrome

Open Chrome and click the row of three vertical dots in the top right-hand corner to open the settings menu. Next go to “More Tools” and select “Clear browsing data.” Click the checkboxes for cookies, as well as cached images and files. If you have an update waiting on your Chrome, instead of the three dots you should click on the white arrow pointing upwards in a red circle.

Use the menu to select the amount of data you want to delete – this ranges from removing “the past day”, to “the beginning of time”. Once you’ve made your choices, click “Clear browsing data.”

On Firefox

For the Firefox browser 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. Finally, click the “Clear Now” button.

On Safari

For Safari simply select “History”, then “Clear History” to remove the saved data. 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.

Do you have any other topics you’d like us to cover or have any questions? Leave a comment in the section below.

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