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Technology

What Do My Cache and Cookies Do and Why Do I Need to Clear Them?

Browsing the Internet is practically an international sport these days. People do it on desktops, tablet computers, and even from their phones.

Of course, technology evolves and browser technology is no exception. Two key features of modern web browsers are cache and cookies.

Like most technological advancements, cache and web cookies are double-edged swords. While browsing on a new computer often feels lightning fast, most users experience a gradual slowdown in their internet performance.

Ironically, browser caching and web cookies help account for both Internet speed and internet slowdown. To understand why you should delete cache and cookies, though, it helps to first answer the question, “What are cookies and cache?”

What Is Cache?

In simplest terms, a cache is memory that a computer allocates for temporary file storage. It’s important to note that computers use more than one kind of cache. A few common types of cache include:

As a general rule, when people talk about “clearing the cache,” it refers primarily to web browser caches.

What Does Cache Do?

All cache follows the same basic function. It temporarily stores copies of recent data or files for easy retrieval. So, in the case of a browser cache, your computer stores a local copy of images and page files from websites you visit.

For example, let’s say you visit Amazon. Your computer might store the Amazon header, logo, and menus.

This lets your computer load Amazon’s website faster if you go back later. Your computer can just pull those images and menus straight out of local memory instead of downloading it over your network.

This not only speeds up page load times but reduces the load on your local network. It also cuts down on how much processing power your computer must devote to dealing with web pages.

Why You Should Clear Cache

Cache offers benefits like lower processor loads and faster website loading times, but it’s not a flawless system. The cache files sit on your drives and eat up space.

Depending on your system settings, that can mean gigabytes of memory that can’t be used for something else. All those files also slow down your computer performance after a while.

An additional problem happens when you need a fresh look at a website. Let’s say that your web designer just uploaded new versions of the files for your website. Your computer may keep loading stored local files of the website instead of displaying the new versions.

Periodic cache cleaning solves these problems. If you empty your browser cache, you’ll load completely fresh versions of each page that you visit. That means you access the most up-to-date version available on a server.

You’ll typically see an immediate uptick in performance because the computer isn’t bogged down with all those stored files.

What Are Cookies?

A web cookie is a file that a website sends your computer that gets stored in your browser. Your browser will then send information from the file back to the website if asked for it.

As a general rule, these are small text files that pose a minimal danger in and of themselves.

What Do Cookies Co?

What a cookie does depends on what kind of cookie you’re talking about. Most users deal with three main types of cookies:

  • Session cookies
  • Stored cookies
  • Third-party cookies

Each type of cookie has a specific function.

Session Cookie

A session cookie temporarily stores information about your current visit to a website. So, let’s say your shopping on a retail site. The session cookie does things like keep your shopping cart active and current.

Stored Cookie

A stored cookie or authentication cookie works a little differently. These cookies typically stay on your computer permanently and contain authentication information.

So, a stored cookie might include your login email address and password. This lets the website auto-populate the login form. It’s primarily a convenience cookie that improves your experience or speeds up your login process.

Third-Party Cookie

Most people know third-party cookies better as tracking cookies. These cookies make note of where you go and what you do online. This information then goes back to advertisers, who often target ads at specific types of users.

Why You Should Clear Cookies

While authentic cookies pose a minimal threat, they are not risk-free. Hackers can potentially forge a cookie that lets them access your account on a website and steal sensitive personal data.

If you access password-protected sites from a public computer, such as from a library, the computer will still store cookies from the site. That means that the next person on the computer can potentially access your accounts on those same sites. Clearing the cookies from the browser prevents that access.

Tracking cookies store a lot of information about you and your browsing habits. That information can leave you vulnerable to targeted ads you might find obnoxious.

For example, let’s say you buy a bunch of camping gear for an upcoming trip. You can find yourself constantly seeing ads for camping gear long after you’re done shopping.

Clearing your cookies removes stored cookies, but it also removes tracking cookies. That helps protect you from relentless targeted ads.

Clear Cache and Cookies for a Better Internet Experience

The function of cache and cookies is a better and more efficient browsing experience. They even achieve that goal, up to a point.

After a time, though, the amount of memory they take up starts slowing down your computer. This, in turn, slows down your internet browsing experience.

On top of that, some cookies track your online activity. That can let advertisers target you with ads for things you don’t even want, which can make browsing a frustrating experience.

Periodic cache clearing and cookie clearing takes you back to ground zero. You might end up entering login information again on all your sites, but you should get a faster and better Internet experience in exchange.

Looking for more tech tips and advice? Check out the technology section on this site.

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