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Clearing Your Web Browser Cache: When, Why, and How

October 22nd, 2008

clearing-browser-cache.jpgAlthough it is not something that the average computer user may think about, it is a good idea to know how to clear your browser’s cache should you want or need to do so. I have been in the habit of clearing my Firefox cache fairly frequently after I was unexpectedly tagged with a Trojan horse application that I traced back to a web page from a traffic exchange. My antivirus program caught it before any damage was done, but before I removed it I looked at the details and location of the Trojan in an attempt to figure out how it had slipped past me initially.

It turned out that the program was a small file that was simply sitting in my browser cache, having slipped in there from one of the web pages that I had surfed through from the traffic exchange. Clearing the cache removed the file instantly and subsequent virus scans came up clean. Meanwhile, this article by Anne Solomon explains what your cache actually does and provides instructions for how to clear it in the Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari browsers.


When you surf the Internet your web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) makes a copy of the pages you visit and stores (caches) it on your hard drive. This means that it doesn’t have to download all the details every time you visit the page. For several reasons, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of occasionally clearing your cache, especially if you are not the sole user of your computer.

Not only does the cache contain details of your web pages, including cookies and instructions on how pages should display, it also stores personal information like login details and passwords. Another problem with cached pages is that occasionally changes to a web page will not show up (though usually browsers are set to check that they’re seeing the most recent version of a page).

Apart from safety and security, clearing your cache can help your computer’s performance, freeing up disk space. If you find that your browser is slowing, or takes a long time to close down, it could be because your cache is clogged. This could also be due to the amount of cache space you’ve allocated. If you’re a heavy internet user, you may want to consider checking the default setting and upping the megabyte allocation.

Browsers differ, but as a general rule, you should close your browser after clearing the cache. Restarting your computer is advisable though not always essential. Your browser’s help pages will give you additional advice. It is also possible to disable your cache, but this is not recommended, so if you come across that option, ignore it. Here are the steps for actually clearing your cache for three of the more popular browsers:

Internet Explorer 7:

Click ‘Tools’ on the menu and select ‘Internet Options’. Under the ‘General’ tab is the option to ‘Delete browsing history’. An extra tip for IE 7 is to set it so that it empties the cache when the browser is closed. To do this go to the ‘Advanced’ tab and tick the option ‘Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed’.

Mozilla Firefox:

Click ‘Tools’, then ‘Clear Private Data’ and tick the items that you want to remove.

Safari:

From the Safari menu choose the ‘Empty Cache’ option, or simultaneously hold down Option + Command + E.



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