What Is a Browser Cache and How Does It Help You?
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A Browser Cache: Everything a Marketer Should Know

browser cache

So you’ve finished redesigning your website and you’re ready to show it to your customers. Congratulations! You feel confident because the site looks great, and you’re proud of your mad skills. We would be too! But before you show your new design to the world, you might want to inspect it and put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. God forbid they encounter some issue you could’ve solved.

You start refreshing your website and see your first problem. Is that the previous version of your site you’re looking at? It seems that it is. What’s happening here? You’re pretty sure you did everything right. Well, your browser cache is messing things up for you.

Sure, we’ve all probably heard this term before. The question is, do we know what it is? We probably understand the gist of it. Or we think it’s just something we need to clear every now and then because… well, who knows why, but we just need to do it.

Are we right? Yep — that’s what we thought.

In this article we’ll delve deeper into a browser cache, so you won’t need to give someone a blank stare when they mention it.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Let’s start!

Browser Cache: The Basics

While surfing the internet, we’re using a web browser like Google Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox. These software apps help us find information stored on the world wide web. Specifically, a browser searches, finds, and shows us sites and other information we request. 

What’s more, the above-mentioned apps all have a browser cache in them. Okay, enough of throwing this term around, what does it actually mean?

In layman’s terms, a browser cache is an instrument through which your selected browser stores web documents. So, when you visit a site, your browser saves particular pieces of the page and stores them on your computer’s hard drive for later use. Some of the assets it stores include:

  • Images: pictures, backgrounds, logos
  • CSS
  • HTML
  • JavaScript

From the above, you can deduce that browsers cache “static digital assets,” i.e. those parts of a web page that are unlikely to change from visit to visit. The website determines what to cache and for how long. Sometimes it removes assets in a matter of days, while other times it saves them for up to a year.

People usually freak out when they hear that websites are storing browser data on their devices. After all, this means that we trust that web developers won’t put anything malicious on our computers, laptops, or mobile devices. But, in all honesty, the benefits of a browser cache actually outweigh the risks. Today, you have strong firewalls and antivirus software that keep your machine safe.

The Benefits of a Browser Cache

Believe it or not, a browser cache is beneficial for you. It’s a piece of technology because of which we don’t lose patience while waiting for a web page to load. Namely, while storing site data, a browser cache allows a website to open much faster.

The very first time you visit a website, the browser connects with the remote hosting server. After this, the browser is able to download data from the website. The first thing it downloads is the page HTML. Your browser reads the HTML code, requesting that the server sends more pieces of the page. During this stage, the browser downloads images, logos, and similar items, and displays them on the page you’re viewing.

Furthermore, this whole process takes up a lot of bandwidth. In other words, some web pages have large static assets, so it will take some time before the page becomes fully functional. For instance, when you open a website for the first time, you might notice that text appears before the images. And it’s obvious why — text-based content is small, thus quicker to download. On the other hand, high-quality images need a few seconds to show.

Therefore, we can surmise that caching speeds up your browsing experience. Once you’ve downloaded an asset, it remains on your machine for a while. The next time you visit the same page, it will load faster because a cached version has already been saved. So, retrieving the cache files from your computer is faster than retrieving them from a remote server.

Some Pitfalls of a Browser Cache

Keep in mind that a browser cache truly is beneficial for you and your visitors. However, it also has one downside. We’ll explain it below.

So, you’ve finished your website and enabled asset caching. But, you decide to change the image on your homepage a few hours later. You swap the old image for the new one in just a few moments. Then you decide to see how your live website looks. You see something strange — the old photo is still there. Well, the problem here is caching.

In other words, your machine already has the cached images and files. Because of this, it won’t initiate a new download of the page. This means that your machine won’t show the new logo until the cache file expires. There’s a workaround for this, of course.

All browsers allow you to clear browser history and cache. Hitting the button removes all of your cached files. If you don’t want to erase them all,  you can always do it for certain websites. The instructions for “clear cache” differ from browser to browser.

What About Cookies?

We know, some of you are wondering what’s the difference between a browser cache and cookies. Both of these enable you to store information on your customer’s machine. But, it’s important to note that they do this in different ways.

Namely, browser cache looks to speed up your site. This is the most important aspect of this application. In fact, 53% of internet  users leave websites that take more than three seconds to load. So, enabling asset caching is a must.

On the other hand, cookies allow you to save information regarding a specific visitor. There are some of the data cookies store:

  • Email addresses
  • Full names
  • Home addresses
  • Telephone numbers

Do you remember visiting a website and seeing your name even without logging in? Yep, this happens because of cookies. A website locates the cookie it previously stores on your machine and recognizes you.

The most important thing here is that you don’t disregard a browser cache and cookies. They can affect how your pages are updating. In most cases, if you have an issue with your website, you should check these two applications before proceeding.

Be at Top of Your Game

As a marketer, you always need to be at the top of your game. This means being informed and having knowledge of some of the topics, including a browser cache. You can impress your colleagues and help them make a breakthrough in one of your projects. Now that you know what a browser cache is, you have another solution for any website malfunction you might have in the future.