Website Cache 101: A First Look at Website Caching

All websites want to be fast. If you don’t have fast-loading content and pages, you’ll lose visitors over time. Making a website faster will help lead to better user experiences and more importantly better standings with Google, something most businesses strive for.

 

There are many ways to improve the speed of your website, but we’re going to focus on caching and how it works for your users and you.

 

First off, what is cache? A cache is a reserved hardware or software that stores and collects data for websites allowing them to request stored information quicker. So caching is when you are accessing that memory bank or storage, making it easier for your website to access the needed data for each page. All of this is to help improve your website’s response time and overall speed for the user’s visiting.

 

The first time someone visits your website and they hop onto your homepage, the process is simple. The user requests all the information that is needed for your website which includes the content of the page like headers, footers, images and their optimized sizes, etc.; all of it is then searched for and processed on your servers, then brought back to be displayed to the user’s browser in a file format, repeating the process for each page they visit. Now caching comes into play the next time someone visits. The process is sped up thanks to caching, where instead of having to load up all of the content that is needed again, it can basically repaste the file that was already given before thanks to it being cached or stored nearby, and if the content has not been modified or changed. The process of website caching can be incredibly helpful when looking to cut down the time it takes your servers to process all the back-and-forth queries for each of your pages, especially if you update your pages frequently.

 

To help with managing your cache we have to look at the two main types of website caching, browser and server. Browser-side caching is done on the user’s end, while server-side caching is done off the servers (or you).

 

Browser-side caching is where the user’s temporary storage space in their hard drive is used in retrieving data and information for your website. Once a user visits your website, the browser saves some of the data, allowing the browser to store the files for some time so it doesn’t need to retrieve them every time they visit you. A good example of how browser caching works is when someone is exploring your website and they press the “back” button or clicks on a link to another page of your website that they have already visited.

 

Browser caching doesn’t store as many files as server caching, and really is helpful in boosting speeds for returning visitors. Browsers can store the files until they expire or until the hard drive cache is full. Users are also able to manually clear their own browser cache in their browser settings to fix or avoid any issues on their end.

 

Server-caching helps speed up websites for anyone, not just returning users. It works when browsers request a page, with the server taking time to process those requests. Once the first request is fulfilled, the server stores or remembers the information and delivers it the next time the same request is asked for by any user.

 

There are two server caching methods to take in consideration, full page caching and object caching.

 

Full page caching is the standard server caching method before, where the cached file or version of an entire page is delivered and displayed to the user’s browser. Object caching on the other hand stores only tiny bits and pieces of information as opposed to the full page, saved for future use. A good example to look at for object caching is something you know won’t change often but is used on various pages (think navigation menu) are key things to have for your object caching.

 

If you’re looking to optimize speeds and load times for your website we have a few tips on how to make your website more cache-friendly, and in turn faster:

 

  • Use consistent URLs
  • Compress and optimize images and objects
  • Use a common library of images and other elements
  • Make caches store information and pages that don’t often change
  • Set cache-controls and expiration headers
  • Don’t change files unnecessarily

 

Caching is important for any brand or business looking to optimize their website. Having knowledge of how cache is used and works can only help you improve your loading times and website performance overall. Utilizing and leveraging cache is all about finding the right tool that works for you.

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