Most of us get cranky from time to time.
The same goes for our computers and smartphones. They may crash or run sluggishly and drive us nuts when storage is cramped.
Sometimes a quick reboot seems to mercifully fix all problems. Sometimes you need to free up space by removing apps or programs you haven’t used in eons. But often one of the most simple ways to restore order — at least when you’re browsing the web — is to clear the cache and cookies from your browser. It's something recommended every month or two, but you can do it more often if your device is acting like a snail.
Why clearing a cache matters
Cache, pronounced cash, in this context refers to an area that becomes a temporary home for files and data left while you were patrolling the internet, including images, videos and text. Their chief purpose is to personalize your experience upon your return to a site, since whatever is left behind is stored locally and doesn’t have to be downloaded during each subsequent visit. In theory, this speeds things up and doesn’t put any undue strain on your computer’s battery.
Your browser also will accumulate crumbs left behind known as cookies, not the tasty kind but rather the sort that reminds a site who you are. On your return to an online shopping destination, for example, you may not have to reenter your log-in credentials or add back items that you left in the shopping cart.
Kaspersky, a cybersecurity company, compares cookies to getting a ticket for a coat check. That ticket is stored in your browser so that you are identified as the coat owner upon your return, and the site can “assemble your activity data and recall your visit just as you left it,” according to its website.
While many if not most cookies are benign, some may be used to track you for ad purposes and invade your privacy. Left untended, the cache itself can build up and claim storage space and memory you could otherwise use. You also may experience glitches or a page that fails to load, especially if a new version of the page bumps heads against a cache stashed with older stuff.
Clearing your cache and cookies generally causes little harm. But the first time you return to some places online, you may have to log in again or wait for certain content to load.
Here is how to clean things up on the four most popular web browsers: Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox. Three of the four have versions for both Windows PCs and Macs with subtle differences between them, as well as versions for both iPhones and Android smartphones.