What is Caching: Website Caching 101

August 9, 2019

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Many business owners and marketers know caching is critical because it improves website performance, but they don’t realize what a cache really is. We wrote this blog post because we understand how common it is to misunderstand how website caching works.

We want to help clear up any confusion about caching and break down the basics. The last section of this blog is going to focus in on how caching works specifically for WordPress websites.

1) What is Caching: Definition and Overview
2) Client-Side Caching vs. Server-Side Caching
3) Introduction to Caching in WordPress

Caching Definition and Overview

A simplified definition of the term “caching” is the process of using saved data from a user’s previous website sessions to speed up the loading of future requests. It’s important to understand that caching occurs at every stage of web content’s journey from server to web browser.

In order for a website to function, the transfer of data from a database to a host to a web browser is required. Caching streamlines and expedites the data transfer process between systems/machines. This means less communication between systems and a more responsive website. For example, a web browser cache allows users to see a previously downloaded web page almost instantaneously because it’s already saved in the cache.

Benefits of Caching

In short, caching is beneficial because it gives users a faster experience, allows servers to handle more traffic, decreases network costs, and increases overall website performance. A website that loads quickly is also a positive SEO ranking factor. Page load speed is important to Google and influences how websites rank in search results. You can check how fast your website loads using the free tool called Google Pagespeed Insights.

Common Caching Issues

One of the most common caching issues is when a browser cache mistakenly keeps outdated versions of web pages, which disrupts user experience. This is an example of a caching issue that’s specific to an individual user’s device. An issue like this can be solved by simply clearing your web browser’s cache and restarting your browser. “Clearing” your cache means emptying it. After you clear your cache, everything on the web page that you downloaded has to be re-downloaded afresh.

In terms of problems with caching, there are also network-wide caching issues and hosting related issues. These kinds of problems need to be addressed by network and server administrators, web developers, and hosting companies. Take a look at the common caching issues infographic below:

Caching Issues Examples Image

Client-Side Caching vs. Server-Side Caching

Different types of caching exist for the same purpose: to store a copy of data for a website so that it’s more readily available the next time. Even though caching mechanisms ultimately reach the same goal, they help expedite processes in different ways.

Client-Side Caching Image

Client-Side Caching

Client-side caching decreases the time it takes for a website to load and minimizes the burden on your web server. Basically, the recent images/files viewed on the Internet are copied and stored locally on your computer’s hard drive in the cache folder. Then, the client’s web browser accesses that local cache of images/files to speed up loading.

Server Side Caching Image

Server-Side Caching

Server-side caching is when a server on a client’s network performs all the caching. The recent images/files viewed on the Internet are stored on a server in its cache. Then, a client’s web browser looks at the network server’s cache to speed up access and reduce network activity. Server-side caching is usually performed on a proxy server.

Introduction to Caching in WordPress

Now that we covered the difference between client-side and server-side caching, let’s talk about how you set up caching in WordPress. Setting up caching on a WordPress website requires installing a caching plugin. There are plenty of WordPress caching plugins to choose from, both free and paid.

How Caching Plugins Work

Before we explain how WordPress caching plugins work, it’s helpful to understand that the code of WordPress websites is written using PHP as the programming language. PHP is an open-source language that interprets scripts on the server side, and it allows for interactive features that aren’t possible using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). However, static HTML versions of your website’s web pages are much quicker to load than WordPress PHP scripts.

A caching plugin works by generating a static HTML version of your website and saving it all on your server. Every time someone navigates to your website, the caching plugin serves up the HTML pages instead of processing the WordPress PHP scripts so they can view your web pages faster.

WordPress Caching Plugins

As we mentioned, there are plenty of options for WordPress caching plugins. Our team uses WP Rocket, which is the most popular premium caching plugin. Even though you have to pay a minimum of $49.00 for an annual license, it’s extremely easy to configure. Free plugins like WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache are also great choices.

Wrapping It Up…

We hope this post demystified the concept of caching for you and empowered you to feel more confident about the related terminology. We work with many clients to help them build and update their websites, particularly on WordPress. Our team can help you make sure caching is helping rather than hurting your site’s performance.

Whether you need ongoing optimization services or just want help troubleshooting and strategizing a specific project, we are happy to tailor our offerings to your team’s needs. Want to know more about how our team of experts here at Chainlink can help your business with our wide range of digital marketing services? Reach out to us below, and don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter for more of our insights! 

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