What Are Caches and Should I Clean Them?
What Are Caches and Should I Clean Them?
No matter what type of computer you have (Mac, Linux, Windows, etc.) your computer uses caches. But, if you’re like most people, you have no real idea of what a cache is, what it’s function is, or whether or not you should ‘clean’ it to speed up your computer.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about caches to maintain them properly, so that your computer stays in good condition.
What is a Cache?
First, there are several types of caches, and most applications including browsers maintain their own. We’ll start out with a computer cache, because understanding it will allow you to understand the basics every other type of cache.
How Computer Caches Work – Your computer system is organized around the Central Processing Unit. It looks a bit like this:
- RAM (Random Access Memory)
- Central Processing Unit (CPU)
When you access a program, search, online application, etc., for the first time, your computer loads it manually, storing the information in your Random Access Memory. This is data that you access once and will likely never use again, the computer doesn’t keep it and you will have to use system resources to load anything new on the computer. RAM is the fastest type of memory on your computer, and is able to process data and commands as-is needed by the processor. This is used by one-time loads, such as when applications perform new tasks, when you handle unique operations, when you perform specific searches, and when you play video games.
Other data must be accessed more frequently. Once your computer knows that it has to keep pulling data up, it creates a cached copy, which it can access more quickly. Your Cache is actually a type of RAM, but it’s known as Static Random Access Memory (SRAM) instead of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM).
How does this speed up your computer? Let’s say you’re making sandwiches for friends. You’re making one at a time because you don’t yet know what each person wants on their sandwich but you know you have to make a lot. So you bring the entire loaf of bread to the counter where you can easily access it each time you need it.
Caching works a lot like bringing a loaf of bread to the counter. Without the cache, your computer would have to go back and forth to the cabinet (or wherever you store your bread) to keep getting two more slices each time someoen else wants a sandwich.
In computer terminology, your computer stores copies of common actions and then simply pulls that up instead of searching the computer and pulling up a new copy each time. So if your cache knows that you open an application, it will store a cached version which it can access very quickly rather than having to search the computer to find everything necessary.
What About Browser Caches? – Browser caches work very similarly to computer caches. When you load a website for the first time, your computer has to contact the server to request a copy of the website – the website takes longer to load and you have to wait. With a cached version, your website will load within a few seconds, because the computer already has a copy in storage. However, your computer adds to the cache every time you load a new website.
App and program caches typically work very similarly, so there is no real need to go into them in further detail.
Don’t Caches Take Up a Lot of Space?
They can, but they can also be fairly small. Caches store compressed versions of activity that can be accessed quickly. A good cache should take up a few hundred mb of data at most. However, sometimes caches become corrupted and create more data than is necessary. If you have a cache taking up several gigabytes of data and you don’t know what’s wrong, you shouldn’t clear it. Instead, take it in to a professional to find out what is causing the cache problem so that you can fix it permanently instead of temporarily.
If you have a Windows computer, your cache is more likely to become corrupt for no reason, and cleaning it yourself is okay. However, if you keep having the same issues, you should take it in for service.
So, Should I Clear My Cache?
Most people clear their cache to speed up their computer, but if you do it regularly, it can actually do the opposite. Your computer will run more slowly until you build up a new cache. You’re effectively shooting yourself in the foot.
However, you can clean your cache occasionally. Great times to clean a cache include:
- After deleting applications
- After accessing websites or services you don’t intend to access again
- On a periodic basis such as once every few months
- When your cache isn’t responding
There are plenty of programs you can use to clean your caches but you shouldn’t do it all the time because it will slow your computer. Instead, you should see it more like an oil change or getting your tires changed – it’s not necessary or wanted until it’s needed.