Laws like the EU’s General Data Protection Rule and California’s CCPA may require websites to tell you they’re using cookies. These laws help users understand what information a site is collecting and how they’ll use that data.
These measures only help if you understand what cookies are. What do they do, and how do they work?
You might also wonder about the differences between cache vs. cookies. Both of them are a kind of data storage that can make your web experience much faster and smoother.
Let’s clear up the difference between cookies and cache. With a better understanding, you can make more informed decisions to manage your data.
What Are Cookies?
Cookies are a type of file some websites will load onto the user’s machine. They’ve been around almost as long as the web itself. They were first introduced by the browser Netscape.
Today, you’re probably familiar with sites asking you to “accept” their cookies policy. Thanks to measures like the GDPR, websites have to tell you they’re using cookies.
Some sites ask for permission to load cookies since it involves loading a new file onto your device. Cookies are relatively harmless, although they do send data back to the website.
So, what do cookies do? You can think of them as a sort of memory for your favorite sites. Cookies store data, such as information about logins or ads you’ve seen on the site. Some may also keep a record of your web activity.
If you’ve ever logged into a site, left the page, and then come back at a later time, you’ve encountered a cookie.
Cookies store relevant information to improve your web experience. When you visit a page for a second or third time, the page can ask the cookie for relevant information. The cookie can then tell the site that you’re logged into your account and so on.
Cookies can also improve the online shopping experience. Suppose you fill up your shopping cart on Amazon. Before you check out, though, you want to check to make sure you have the right products.
While you’re doing your due diligence, you leave the site. Without cookies, your shopping cart would be empty again when you returned. Now you have to go through the process of finding all those products again.
With cookies, this doesn’t happen. Amazon hangs on to your cart, so everything is ready and waiting when you get back.
Cookies can also help the people running the sites you visit. The cookie stores information about which pages you’ve visited. That can tell a blogger which of their posts people visit, so they can determine which are most popular and useful.
Cookies can also track other online behavior. Google, for example, will trail you around the Internet, recording all your stops. The search engine then uses this data to serve you ads that fit your interests.
Some people don’t like cookies for this reason. Others see their use as a trade-off for a streamlined web browsing experience.
What’s a Cache?
If cookies allow websites to store information, what does a cache do?
Caches make webpages load faster. A copy of every page you visit is copied into your browser’s cache. When you go back to the page, your computer or phone can access the cache to load the page faster.
The point is to speed up web browsing. If you’ve already visited a page, why go through the steps of having the server send the whole thing over again?
It’s a bit like memory recall. When something’s new, you have to learn every bit of it. As it becomes more familiar, you can more easily call the information up.
The cache stores cookies and other trackers.
Cache vs. Cookies: The Major Differences
We’ve gone over how both caches and cookies work, as well as the purpose of both. They’re both types of memory storage that improve the web browsing experience.
The differences between cache and cookies should be clear at this point. The cache stores whole webpages and cookies while cookies store key user information. Cookies can also record user activity.
The cache can’t do this. Both provide a record of your browser history. The cache tells people which pages you’ve visited, while cookies have information about logins and shopping carts.
A cache is a short-term storage. You may see it under the name “temporary Internet files.”
You can empty this folder regularly. Temporary Internet files may be deleted automatically after so many days. In other cases, you may need to clear the cache manually.
Cookies usually stay with the temporary Internet files until you clear them. Some cookies are time-limited, but most will continue working for quite some time. You’ve seen this in action if you’ve ever filled a shopping cart on a site, abandoned it, and come back after a week or two.
Will You Accept Cookies?
Finally, there’s also the issue of permissions. Caches are created automatically, usually without the user’s explicit consent. They help browsers work, so browsers do this without user input.
Today, the situation has changed. The GDPR requires websites serving users in the EU to tell users they’re using cookies. They also have to explain the data they collect through cookies and how they’ll use it.
The GDPR also requires websites to give users the chance to opt-out. Many sites today will ask you to agree to their cookies policy. This is true even in the US and other countries outside the EU.
Many businesses updated their websites to ask every user about the cookies policy. That way they can be sure of their compliance, even as more new laws arrive. California’s new CCPA shows websites will need to be even more transparent in the future.
If you don’t accept the cookies policy, you can decline. You may not be able to access the website after though.
Removing Browser History
Both cookies and caches can be part of your browser history. You can remove both your cached files and your cookies by clearing the browser history.
In some cases, you may also need to locate temporary internet files stored on a local hard drive because it may contain both cookies and cached pages.
There are a few reasons to clear out old cookies and cached pages. You may have heard jokes about deleting browser history so people don’t find out what sites you’ve visited. More common reasons to clear out these files include:
Freeing up space on your hard drive
Removing cookies from sites you no longer visit
Clearing old versions of pages
The cache is usually more troublesome than cookies for this reason. A cached page may prevent you from loading a more recent version.
A cookie may also store old, outdated information. That could cause problems if you want to log in to a different account and so on.
Clearing the Cache
Clearing out your old Internet files on a PC using Windows is fairly easy. You can schedule this as part of routine clean-up and maintenance on the machine.
On Windows 10, you can head to the Start menu, then click System. From there, you’ll select Storage, and tell the machine to “free up space now.” Windows will scan the machine, then report on files that you can clean up.
You can then manually clear temporary Internet files, including cached pages and cookies.
How to clear cache on Mac isn’t quite as simple. You’ll need to find the hidden Library folder to clear the caches manually. There are also special apps you can use to clean up your Mac faster.
Finally, you can also clear the caches on individual browsers. If you use both Chrome and Firefox, each program will have a separate cache. Clearing them out will free up space, help your computer run faster, and keep your machine safe.
Preventing a Digital Trail
Most modern web browsers include features to help you protect your privacy. Browsing in private mode, for example, means your browser won’t cache pages. You don’t have a record of your browsing history in private mode.
Using technology like VPNs can also keep you off the radar.
Browse the Web Your Way
Now you know the differences between cache vs. cookies. Understanding how these two types of memory work can help you make smart choices about your online presence.
Looking for more tech tips to stay safe on the Internet? We have a whole library of informative articles for you to discover.