What Is Caching (And How Does It Work)

If you own one of the 1.2 billion websites out there, you know a bit about web technologies. That said, you might want to learn a bit more.

One technology you’ve probably used or even heard discussed is caching. What is caching, though, and what does it do?

This guide will give you a much better understanding of how caching works and why it’s beneficial for your website.

What is Caching?

The term “cache” can refer to a few different things within computing. You can have website caching, data caching, and cache on a chip.

That can make it a bit difficult to figure out what caching is. In short, though, cache is a type of memory computers use to lighten their workload.

It’s often the fastest and smallest computer memory available. It’s most often integrated with RAM or the processor.

Speeding up Retrieval

If you think about how a computer retrieves information, you’ll quickly see why cache memory is so useful. Every time you request a file, your computer goes searching for it on its hard disk.

The problem is that the data can be fragmented across the disk. On traditional spinning hard drives, it can take the computer a long time to locate and retrieve the data.

Cache speeds up retrieval times by making it easier for the computer to access frequently used data. If you always open a file, then that file may be cached. It’s sort of like keeping a friend on speed dial, so you can message them quickly.

Caching isn’t limited to file retrieval though. It can exist in almost any computing application. Virtual memory, for example, is one form of caching.

Applications and programs may have caches too, which include user preferences. These allow the apps to load up a user profile or access a user’s history readily.

How is Caching Used with Websites?

When it comes to websites, a cache is used to store Internet pages. That’s because the Internet link tends to be the slowest method of retrieving data. When a user requests a page for the first time, the webserver has to send the entire page.

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This takes time. Your computer has to send the request, which has to reach the website server. The server then has to process the request and send back an HTML version of the page you want to view.

It would be faster and more efficient if you could access that page on your local disk. Luckily, cache lets you do this. Your browser will cache a copy of pages you’ve looked at recently, to decrease loading times.

If you visit a page early in the morning, your browser will cache the page. If you return later in the day, your browser should check to see if the page is in the cache.

In a perfect world, the browser also communicates with the website to check the timestamp. If there’s no new content, your browser can call up the cached version of the page.

That way, the website server doesn’t need to send all the information again. This decreases the amount of work the computers have to do, and it speeds up page loading.

There’s also a cache on the server side. Once the server has processed the request and delivered the HTML content, it can cache the HTML. The next time that the user requests the page, the server can send the already loaded HTML.

Again, this reduces load times by reducing the amount of work the computers are doing.

When Caching Doesn’t Help

As you can see, caching is useful. It makes apps and websites run faster, while also reducing bandwidth.

Unfortunately, caching does have a downside. That’s when outdated content ends up stored in the cache and blocks new content from being loaded.

This happens from time to time with webpages cached by browsers. Sometimes, a user will visit a page, but the browser will drag up a cached version of the page. That means the user doesn’t see new content.

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This can happen for a few reasons. It may happen if the website server isn’t responding or is taking too long. The computer may also store the cached version too long.

Most of the time, you can clear the cache and the issue will resolve itself. You may need to upgrade your web browser. If the cache is a regular problem, you may want to play with the settings to determine what gets cached and for how long.

What about Server-Side Caches?

Server-side caches can also cause problems. Suppose you add a new post to your blog or update your website. It looks good on the backend, but when you visit the site, you’re not seeing the changes.

Chances are the cache on the server is interfering. It’s time to clear it out so that users can load the new version.

If you run WordPress, you may have a few options to try. You can clear WordPress cache via your server as well as your CDN. You may also try to clear the cache using a WordPress plugin.

Finally, if those options don’t fix the issue, it might be time to clear the cache on your web browser too. In fact, you might want to start by clearing the cache on your browser before heading in to clear server caches.

Create a Better Website Experience

You asked, “What is caching?” and now you have the answer. Understanding what caching is and how it works can help you use it on your servers the right way. In turn, you can deliver a better web experience to your visitors.

Are you looking for more tips to improve your website and drive more traffic? You’re in the right place. We have plenty of informative guides to help you take your blog or website to the next level.