Friday, December 3, 2010

Cookies, Cache and History

I can't get websites to load! This is one of the top cries on the macmama's voicemail.

In order to speed up web browsing, web browsers  download web pages and store them locally on your computer's hard drive in an area called "cache". The cache contains a kind of travel record of the items you have seen, heard, or downloaded from the Web, including images, sounds, Web pages, even cookies. Typically these items are stored in the Temporary Internet Files folder.
When you visit the same page for a second time, the browser speeds up display time by loading the page locally from cache instead of downloading everything again. This sometimes results in less than current versions of web pages being displayed. When the cache fills up, performance can slow down and your hard drive may run out of space.
What is a "cookie"? There are tons of stuff on the web about this, but this site, explains it pretty simply:
Cookies are small, usually randomly encoded, text files that help your browser navigate through a particular website. The cookie file is generated by the site you're browsing and is accepted and processed by your computer's browser software. The cookie file is stored in your browser's folder or subfolder.
Your browser accesses the cookie file again when you visit the website that created the cookie file. The browser uses the information stored in the cookie file to help ease your navigation of the website by letting you log in automatically or remembering settings you selected during your earlier visits to the website, among many other functions.
Any particular website cannot access information on your computer other than the cookie it set on your computer. The cookie is not executable code so it doesn't have any “life” of its own other than being used by the website that created it. As explained above, such use is limited to helping your browser process the information located on the website.
Although cookies are merely harmless text files that help your browsing experience, they are not free from controversy. Cookies can be used to track your browser's website browsing history. If you feel this impacts your privacy, you can change your browser's settings to limit the use of cookies on your computer to cut down on its ability to keep records of your browsing history.
Essentially this is the memory of your internet browser where you can find all your cookies stored in a format that facilitates easy retrieval by a browser.

You should periodically clear the cache and empty your cookies to allow your browser to function more efficiently. It's also a good idea to clear your history at the same time.
Here's how to do it on your Mac.
In Safari, click Safari from the menu bar and you'll see this:

So you can just select Empty Cache, or use the keyboard shortcut, and that's (remember the option key?) Option-Command-E.

Look right above for the Reset Safari command.

This is kind of a one-stop shopping for a fussy browser. The items I have checked are my usual choices. I actually NEVER allow Safari to remember my passwords, I use a fabulous password application called 1Password. More on that at a future time.

Or you could just empty the cache, and clear your history. To clear your history, click History from the menu bar, and you've got it, select Clear History:

If you use Mozilla's Firefox, it's a bit different and a little more complicated.
To empty the cache in Firefox 3.5 and above:

  1. Click Firefox menu in the menu bar.
  2. Select Preferences.
  3. Select Advanced.
  4. Click the Network tab.
  5. In the 'Offline Storage' section, click Clear Now.
  6. Click the OK button.

To clear the cookies:

  1. Click Firefox menu in the menu bar.
  2. Select Preferences.
  3. Select Privacy.
  4. Click the Remove Individual Cookies link.
  5. In the Cookies dialog box, click Remove All Cookies.
  6. Close the Cookies dialog box.
  7. Close Preferences.
To clear your history, you would think you should click on History in the menu bar. But no, click on Tools. Wait, what?

Yes, that's right, none of the one stop shopping like in Safari.

But this kind of maintenance is important to keep your browser working efficiently.

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