2023, August 09
8 min read
Matt S.

Cache vs. Cookies: What Are the Differences?

Cache or Cookies? Dive into the distinctions between these web storage methods and understand their impact on your browsing experience.

Cookies and cache are two terms that are mentioned quite often when the topics are browsing online, SEO, digital privacy, and so on. Even though we hear or see them quite often, far from everyone actually knows and understands what they mean, what they do, and why they’re important. This blog will answer all of these questions to help you stay safe while browsing online!

Cookies – an overview

Don’t worry these cookies aren’t called biscuits in the UK…
Bad jokes aside, an online cookie is somewhat similar to a cookie in the real world. They are both small things but where one is made up from dough, an online cookie is made-up of data. Here is a simple analogy to better grasp the concept.
Imagine that you’re in your workshop and you want to make a chair. You already made a chair some time ago, but can’t remember all the details. Luckily, you left yourself notes throughout the workshop with recommendations, tips, preferences, tool settings, etc. In this example, those notes would be cookies.
When you’re browsing, cookies are simple packets of data (usually in text format) that travel between your device and the website’s server. They are the reason a website can remember preferences, choices, log clicks, session times, and other information that could be used to
  • Improve your browsing experience
  • Save time
  • Keep products in your cart/like list, etc.
  • Allow the website analytics to track unique data about its users
Here’s how cookies usually work.

Types of Cookies

You should also know that there are 5 main types of cookies. They all play individual roles in trying to enhance your browsing experience
  • Persistent
    . They stay on your device even after you close your browser, making it easier for websites to remember your preferences and settings the next time you visit. They are handy for things like remembering your login details or language preferences. Around 88% of persistent cookies are controlled by 3rd party hosts. The average lifespan of such cookies is around 1819 days (Cookiepedia).
  • HTTP-only
    . These cookies are like the shy kids at the party. They can only be accessed by the web server and not by JavaScript running on the page. This makes them more secure since it prevents malicious scripts from getting hold of sensitive information stored in the cookie.
  • Secure
    . Comparable to a very heavily fortified Medieval castle, these cookies only travel in an encrypted format via HTTPS connections. Such precaution protects the data in the cookie.
  • Third-Party
    . They come from other domains (have links in their code) from the one that you’re browsing. Around 99% of the time, 3rd party cookies are used for advertising. So, when you see ads following you around the internet, it's probably because of these little cookies. Keep in mind that there are also 1st party cookies that are active and stored directly by the website you’re on
  • Session
    . A great analogy would be short-term memory. These cookies are temporary and are erased from existence after you close your browsing session. Usually, the focus of session cookies is to help a website/platform/app remember the items you added to a list, cart, pages you visited, etc. It’s worth knowing that according to Cookiepedia, 64 % of all cookies are deleted when you close the session.
The illustration below summarizes the previous information for your convenience.

Should you allow cookies?

This question is becoming more and more relevant. If we take into account the fact that around 67 % of cookies serve an unknown purpose, it can become clear why users might want to have more control over their cookie preferences (Read more).
Allowing cookies is like inviting people into your party with the condition they help you prepare. Cookies can make your browsing experience (party) smoother and more personalized, remembering your preferences and login details. Plus, they help websites load faster and track things like your shopping cart items. However, just like any guests, some cookies can overstay their welcome and invade your privacy by tracking what you don’t want them to track.
So, it's totally cool to be selective and manage your cookie settings. You can allow the useful ones and block the intrusive ones. We recommend
  • Opting out from cookies by default
  • Alternatively, you can allow only necessary cookies
  • Only allow all cookies if you’re very confident in their safety and need the added functionality/convenience they provide

Privacy & security risks, associated with cookies

Even though most of the time, the intent associated with cookies
is to better tailor user experience and improve service, you can’t simply ignore the fact that such easy access to user data is going to become a target for exploits. Every time you click to accept cookies or consent to them, you can’t really be sure of how it goes down… Why? Because let’s be frank, who even reads the terms and conditions of each individual cookie…
But, that’s where problems begin. Hackers and malicious actors exploit the lack of user interest and can target sensitive data through cookie-focused exploits. This happened in early 2023 when 1.5 million WordPress sites were attacked (Read more). Such occurrences are getting more and more common…
This is why more and more people are becoming aware of the potential risks and trying to take better care of their cookies.
We recommend being cautious and taking control of your cookie settings. Clear them regularly, use browser extensions to manage them, or even go incognito to limit their impact. Stay savvy and keep your data secure!

GDPR & cookie regulations

Not so long ago, the EU launched a bloc-wide regulation that is known around the world as GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation (Read more). A lot of people label it as the superhero-esque solution that fights for transparency in how digital service providers manage your data as well as making it much more understandable for users. No more cryptic cookie policies written in lawyer-speak! They should tell you what data they collect, why they need it, and how long they'll keep it.
There are also CCPA (California) and the ePrivacy Directive which follow a similar goal as GDPR in terms of cookie compliance.
So, thanks to these legislative acts, you have more say in the cookie jar. You get to choose the cookies that make your browsing experience sweet, and you can say "no thanks" to the ones that don't sit right with you.

Cache – an overview

Remember our example with the workshop and the chair-making? So, if cookies are like notes that make the chair-making process easier, the cache
would be like the worktop where you have all these notes and tools laid out. It allows for simple access to everything you need for work.
The cache is a term used to define a convenient storage space on your browser where it keeps copies of web pages, images, and other stuff you've seen before. So, when you revisit a website, instead of trekking back to the internet kingdom to load, download and fetch everything again, your browser checks its cache and finds what it needs right there!
It makes browsing way faster and smoother. Just remember, like any worktop, over time it can get pretty cluttered. So, the cache needs a bit of cleaning now and then to keep things running smoothly!
Here‘s a simplified chart showing how your browser‘s cache usually works

What files are stored in the cache?

Your browser's cache houses all sorts of files. It keeps copies of web pages, images, CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, and even video or audio content you've seen or heard while surfing the web. It's like a digital backpack that can be opened any time something is needed again.
Pros of utilizing caching memory on a browser.

How much information can the browser cache hold?

The exact size can vary depending on your browser and settings, but it can range from a few megabytes to multiple gigabytes. Often, it’s super easy to check the size of your browser’s cache. If you use Chrome,
  • On Windows: Press the Ctrl ⇧, Shift, and Delete keys at the same time
  • On macOS: Press ⌘ Command, ⇧ Shift, and ⌦ Delete at the same time
The window shows just how many cached images and files it holds.

How to manage/clean the cache?

If you are using Chrome, refer to the screenshot above. Just tick the box with cached images and files and press Clear Data.
Remember, cleaning your cache is beneficial if you notice that your browser is slowing down.
If you’re using another browser, the option to clean/manage the cache is usually in the browser settings.

Cache vs. Cookies - Conclusion

The term cache vs cookies should be slightly changed. You shouldn’t focus on their rivalry or competition but instead, understand that they serve different purposes.
Remember - cache stores web files to speed up your browsing, and cookies are small bits of data websites use to remember things like your login info or preferences.
So, the cache is like a digital backpack filled with web goodies or a worktop where you keep tools for later use, and cookies are your friendly online helpers or notes with instructions that help make your browsing experience much better. They work hand in hand to make your internet adventures better.

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