WTF is caching?

If you’re digging through the difference between managed hosting + shared hosting + find yourself scratching your head about what caching even is, let’s tackle that nerdy term right now.

The verb cache means store for future use, which is the perfect way to think about caching your site.

When you use caching for WordPress, you are storing a condensed copy of your content so that the site loads faster. Site visitors are none the wiser because it doesn’t change what they see, but sometimes you notice a difference when your recent round of changes don’t show up immediately.

That’s the biggest time that caching can cause problems. But there are ways around it.

Types of caching

Before we dig into how to dodge the negative side to caching, let’s review the main ways that your site is being cached — whether you realize it or not.

Browser Caching

The browser that you use to visit websites (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc) often utilizes a bit of caching to make your internet browsing experience more enjoyable.

Once you visit a website, your browser will typically keep a copy of the site’s CSS file (what makes it look the way it does) so that as you hop from page to page, they load more quickly.

Server Caching

If your site uses a managed hosting service, you’re likely taking advantage of caching settings on the server to deliver a faster website to your visitors.

Sometimes this is called CDN or content delivery network, which specifically refers to using multiple datacenters to deliver content based on the geographic location of the person looking at the website. If you are viewing a site from a computer in Wisconsin, the CDN might use a datacenter in Chicago, Illinois to deliver the website instead of their datacenter in San Francisco, California.

I know, it’s nerdy, but the good news is that you don’t have to understand it 100% to take advantage of it.

Site Caching

This type of caching is similar to browser caching but involves having a plugin installed on your site directly that delivers a saved (and compressed) copy of style files, images + more to keep your site moving quickly. This type of caching is used when Server caching isn’t available.

How to bypass caching

If you find yourself needing to ditch the cached version of your site so that you can see the latest changes, you have options!

Browser Caching

To bypass any browser caching, you’ll need to use a private or incognito window to check out your website. The lingo is specific to the browser that you’re using, but you can find this option by going to File > New (Private/Incognito) Window with any major browser.

This will open up a new window that ditches any previously cached content so you’ll see the most recent version.

Server Caching

Whether you’re using server caching settings or a CDN, you can reset the cache as long as you have access to the account.

GoDaddy gives a “flush cache” option within the WordPress dashboard. Peek at the top menu bar when you’re logged in to flush the server cache.

Flywheel allows you to flush the server cache via the Advanced tab of your hosting account.

Similar to GoDaddy, WPEngine has a “purge” option within the WordPress dashboard that will get rid of the most recent cached version of the site + start fresh.

No matter what service you are using for server-side caching, log into your account + you’ll have the option to reset/flush/purge the cache. This will reset it for you and your site visitors, which is different than what options you have with browser caching.

Site Caching

Similar to the server caching options, if you’ve installed a plugin on your WordPress site that handles caching, you’ll be able to clear it. Head to the settings area + click the clear/reset/purge cache button to start fresh.

Keep in mind that if you clear your site/server cache, your browser caching may still be playing a part in what you’re seeing. So if seeing the absolute latest version is mission critical, be sure to clear all of them + then view your website changes.

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