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What Is Web Caching? (And What’s It Got To Do With Web Hosting?)

WRITTEN BY
Daren Low
UPDATED
February 26, 2024

 

Modern customers are impatient – they’ll click right out of your site if you keep them waiting at the front door for too long. In fact, statistics show that about half of a website’s potential visitors abandon the site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

 

Imagine that! That’s a lot of potential customers you miss out on if you don’t optimize your website for speed. Therefore, it’s crucial to take all the necessary steps to ensure that your website loads as fast as possible.

 

Now, there are several ways of improving a website’s loading speed, and one of the most popular ways of doing so is called web caching. You might’ve heard of it before, but if you haven’t, don’t worry!

 

In today’s post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about web caching, how it works, its different types, its benefits, and more.

 

 

What Exactly Is Web Caching?

 

Put simply, web caching is the act of storing the static files and data of a website, such as images, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files, temporarily in a location that’s closer to the site’s visitors to reduce the load on the origin server and help the site load faster for the visitor.

 

The first time you open a website, your browser sends a request to the server where that website is hosted. That server then finds the information you’re looking for, assembles it, and sends it back to your IP address. If the origin server (or hosting server) is located far away from the searcher’s location, it may take a lot of time for the website to load.

 

web caching speeds things up

Web caching helps keep things speedy

 

This is where website caching comes in. With website caching, copies of the static content of a website are stored in a temporary location close to the searcher’s location. As we will see later in the article, this location may be separate servers close to the searcher (a.k.a. CDN caching), or it may be the browser of the searcher itself (a.k.a. browser caching).

 

Either way, the next time the searcher opens up the same website, instead of requesting all of the website’s data from the origin server, the system now requests the data from the cache storage (wherever it might be). Only the data that’s not copied and stored in the cache storage is requested and retrieved from the origin server.

 

Think of web caching as… franchising

 

It’s not a perfect analogy, but comparing web caching to franchising might help you understand the idea behind it.

 

Suppose you live in Chicago and hear about a really good restaurant that has opened in New York. The only way you’ll be able to eat at that restaurant is if you travel all the way to New York to the exact location of the restaurant and dine in. This means that each visit to the restaurant is going to take up a lot of your time and energy, which means you might not be able to visit it as frequently as you might want to.

 

However, if the restaurant opens up several branches across the country (including one in or near Chicago), your commute time would be significantly reduced. This will make the restaurant much more accessible to you, and you’ll be able to visit it more frequently compared to when it only had one branch in New York.

 

web caching as franchise

CND servers are analogous to the branches of a restaurant

 

In this analogy, the restaurant itself is equivalent to the website you want to visit, New York is equivalent to the origin (or hosting) server, and the other branch of the restaurant (i.e., in or near Chicago) is the equivalent of cache storage.

 

Of course, this is a simplified explanation of how cache storages work; the actual process is much more nuanced, but hopefully, this example will help you to get the gist.

 

 

How Are Web Pages Cached?

 

If you’re keeping up with the discussion so far, you get the main idea behind web caching. Now, let’s understand how web caching works from a slightly more technical lens.

 

As we mentioned previously, when you search for a website for the first time, your browser finds the IP address of the domain and sends an HTTP request to the hosting server for the website’s information. The server assembles that information and sends it to your device’s IP address.

 

Now if the server you’re requesting this information from is located far from you, it may take a while for your browser to receive and render the website’s information for you.

 

With cache storage, though, this changes entirely. After your first visit to that website, a copy of the website’s static content gets stored either in your browser or a CDN (Content Delivery Network) – a group of servers scattered across the globe that store copies of websites’ data for faster content delivery and to reduce the load on the hosting server.

 

With cached data, whenever you revisit the same website, your browser will:

 

  1. Check its own cache storage for the information, and retrieve it from there.
  2. Alternatively, in the case of CDN, it will request the information from the closest server to you that has copies of the website’s data in the cache (a.k.a. edge server).
  3. The edge server will verify whether its storage has the most up-to-date data of the website and send the data to your IP address.

 

However, if the data requested by the edge server isn’t present, your browser will directly send the request for that data to the original hosting server and receive the data from it directly.

 

 

What Are The Different Types Of Caches?

 

Now that we know how website caching works, let’s take a closer look at the differences between its two main types: browser caching and server-side caching.

 

1. Server-side caching

 

In server-side caching (a.k.a. proxy server caching), when a user retrieves a website’s files from the origin server, the intermediate server temporarily stores copies of those files in the cache.

 

As a result, whenever the user revisits those web pages, instead of contacting the origin server, your browser connects to the intermediate server. This “proxy server” first verifies whether the files are the most up-to-date version of the original website and then sends the stored copies of the files to the requesting client.

 

server side caching

Server side caching involves storing copies of some of your site’s static data in servers’ cache

 

This saves loading speed in two ways. Firstly, because the proxy server is always closer to the user than the hosting server, and secondly, because the files are ready-to-go in the proxy server, meaning the resources don’t have to be recompiled for each search.

 

Additionally, while the website’s data is stored in the server’s cache, the server will send that data to any other user requesting the same content- again, avoiding contacting the main server unnecessarily.

 

Server-side caching is typically done through CDNs. As mentioned previously, these are groups of servers scattered across the globe that store copies of a site’s files and data in a cache. Whenever a user requests the site’s data, instead of connecting to the main hosting server, the CDN server (a.k.a. edge server) closest to the user will send the website’s files over to the user.

 

cdn servers reduce site latency

CDN servers help reduce a site’s latency because of their proximity to the end user.

 

Note

Dive deeper into Client-Side Caching vs. Server-Side Caching for a more comprehensive understanding.

 

2. Browser caching

 

Browser caching is different from server caching as it stores a previously visited website’s images, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files in the cache storage of the browser.

 

This means that the relevant data of that website is downloaded and stored in the user’s local drive. Now, whenever the user visits the same website, the browser retrieves all relevant data from its cache storage instead of retrieving the data from the origin server.

 

As a result, web page loading times are reduced immensely.

 

browser caching stores website data

Browser caching stores a visited website’s static content in the user’s browser.

 

A notable difference between browser caching and server-side caching is that the cached files can only be accessed by the device that has them in its storage. This means that the same user or other users can’t access the same copies of those files through another device.

 

If they search for the website through another device, they’ll receive data directly from the origin website.

 

As we saw in server-side caching, multiple users are able to access the same copies of data cached in the proxy server.

 

 

Why Is Caching So Important For Your Website?

 

At this point, we know about caching, its types, and how it works. Now let’s talk about the benefits of caching:

 

  1. Caching reduces latency
    Since caching allows the files of the website to be stored locally (with browser caching) or nearby (with server-side caching), the loading time of the website is greatly reduced because:

    • Cache storages are closer to the end user as compared to hosting servers.
    • Cache files are ready to go, whereas hosting servers have to assemble them from scratch.
  2. Caching lowers network traffic
    Since cached files can be accessed directly from cache storage without the need to contact the hosting server, a lot of traffic is diverted away from the main server, saving it from excessive load.
  3. Caching improves user experience
    As mentioned earlier, speed is crucial to a good user experience. A faster site will not only ensure that you don’t end up losing visitors to competitors, but also it will mean that you’ll get more conversions because you’re able to retain your visitors.
  4. Lessens bandwidth consumption
    Cached data doesn’t have to be downloaded again. So, when a visitor visits the same website, they simply get directed to the cached content— and the lesser the downloads, the lesser the bandwidth consumption.
  5. Website caching helps with search engine rankings
    A website’s speed is a crucial determinant of its search engine ranking. While high loading speeds don’t exactly guarantee high rankings, low speeds do guarantee low rankings. So, by improving your site’s loading speed, caching actually saves you from a lower ranking.

 

 

2 Simple Caching Methods You Can Implement

 

So, how can you actually enable caching for your website and make it load much faster for your users? Well, you have two major options.

 

1. Enable the cache manager of your hosting service

 

The best web hosts usually come with cache managing services that enable you to store your site’s static content in cache and serve it to clients instantaneously, drastically boosting your website’s speed and overall performance.

 

Two excellent integrated cache managers include:

 

  1. Hostinger’s Cache Manager
    People hosting their site on Hostinger can benefit from Hostinger’s Cache Manager by enabling it in the advanced settings. Once enabled, the Cache manager will store and update the website’s content every half an hour.
  2. Siteground’s SuperCacher
    Siteground’s SuperCacher can be accessed using the following in-site tools under “speed.” The cache manager allows static, dynamic, NGINX, and Memcached options. Meaning it caches different types of your site’s data to make it load much faster.

 

2. Add a caching WordPress plug-in

 

If your website is hosted on WordPress, you may use one of WordPress’ many cache plug-ins to optimize your website. These plugins help store your site’s static content and serve it directly to your returning visitors.

 

Additionally, many plugins like WP Super Cache come with support for Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which makes managing your site’s cache much easier. Through CDNs, you can also clear all of your website’s cached data at once, which is useful when you update your website.

 

 

Website Caching Will Help You Make Your Site Faster

 

Caching is an excellent way to quickly speed up your website, it involves taking all unnecessary burden off of your site’s origin server, and getting it to only handle unique requests (or requests for non-cashable content).

 

And the faster your site is, the more Google will love it, and the higher it’ll rank.

 

So, if you want your online business or website to grow, get started with caching now!

 

 

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