Explained in 60 Seconds: Web Cache

September 02, 2014

Cache is a word you’ll hear during most website development or site optimization projects. Relative to websites, caching refers to the process of storing dynamically generated data for reuse in order to improve performance. Here’s a quick explanation of how web cache works:

Most large websites and web applications are built on a platform that dynamically generates content before returning it to the browser for display. Typically, the content is fetched from a back-end database (such as MySQL) and inserted into page templates on the fly. This is how CMS systems like Drupal and WordPress work. From a content management perspective, this model is ideal as it provides a separation between the content and the presentation layer. But this separation comes with a performance overhead: it takes time for the server to fetch and dynamically assemble content every time a page is requested.

The solution involves the use of cache on the web server, which captures and stores the results of a given request in its final assembled form (in HTML). When subsequent requests are received for the same content, the server can quickly deliver the cached copy of the information instead of dynamically assembling the same content all over again. This dramatically reduces server load and provides huge boost in site performance.

In fact, the cache features of your web browser work in a similar fashion: when you download a page, a copy is stored on your computer in your browser’s cache. If you attempt to view the same page again, your browser can display its local cached copy instead of re-downloading it from the remote site.

Page load speed is known to be a search engine scoring factor and studies show that even small performance improvements can lead to increased conversions. So, web caching needs to be an essential part of any website implementation. Remember, although CMS platforms like Drupal and WordPress provide this type of functionality out-of-the-box, it is possible that not all of the appropriate caching features are enabled on your site. Check with your technical team to ensure that your site has its cache settings configured for optimal performance.

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