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Is There a Difference Between Internet Cookies vs. Cache?

Tess Hansen By Tess Hansen March 31, 2022

Summary: Ever wondered what the difference is between internet cookies and cache (pronounced “cash”)? We’ll walk you through each, what makes them different, and how they work together to make your online experience as seamless as possible.

You’ve probably come across cookies and cache in your everyday online experience, whether you accepted cookies before entering a site or cleared your cache. But—you may be wondering—what exactly are they? Aren’t they the same thing? Well, no. Although both are vital to improving your overall internet experience, cookies and cache serve very different purposes. Let’s take a look behind the scenes to see what they are and how they work together to make browsing the internet a breeze.

What are Internet Cookies?

Internet cookies are text files that contain small pieces of data that are used to identify your device when you use a network. It’s kind of like an ID card: every time you visit a website, the server creates delicious cookies filled with user-specific information, such as IP address, passwords, preferences, payment information, etc. (think of these as the tasty chocolate chips inside the cookies!). The next time you visit a site, the server will remember your info and ensure your web experience is specifically tailored to you.

Cookies remember login information but a cache remembers things like your shopping cart

Cookies are what make it possible for sites to keep you logged in, track what you’ve looked at, save your shopping cart, provide product recommendations, create targeted ads, and more.

What is an Internet Cache?

Internet cache is a temporary storage area on your computer that holds information from web pages. In other words, whenever you visit a site, your browser “caches” (or stores) parts of the web page like images, videos, audio, HTML pages, JavaScript, CSS, etc. This improves loading time and allows you to open pages faster or go back and forth between pages without your browser having to download all that data from the internet again.

In other words, a cache is like grocery shopping: you buy all the food you need for the week, so you don’t have to go to the store every time you need a new ingredient.

Cookies vs. Cache: The Key Differences

Now that you can see why cookies and cache are so important for optimal web performance, let’s discuss how they’re different.

  • Purpose: Cookies are used to track user information and preferences; a cache stores information to improve loading time
  • Type of Data: Cookies contain bits of information about the device and user such as IP addresses, preferences, login and payment information, etc.; a cache stores images, videos, audio, HTML pages, JavaScript, CSS, etc.
  • Size: Cookies are small bits of information taking up only about 4 kilobytes; cached data is much larger since it’s copied site information, which can take up gigabytes
  • Life span: Cookies expire automatically or have a designated life span; cached data must be manually removed
  • Storage: Cookies are stored on both the browser and server; cached data is only stored on the browser

How Do Cookies and Cache Work Together?

Imagine that you’re planning a dream vacation to Hawaii, for example, and you visit Airbnb to check out some places to stay. Now that you’ve looked into it, you’ll start seeing targeted ads everywhere you look, whether on other websites or social media platforms, advertising Hawaiian rentals. You can thank cookies for this. Plus, the next time you visit Airbnb, it’ll be an even more seamless experience because the cache has already downloaded all the photographs and large-scale content from your first visit.

As you can see, both cookies and cache serve very different purposes, but together they make your browsing experience easy, fast, and foolproof.

Should I Clear Cookies and Cache?

There are a couple reasons you might want to clear your cookies, your cache, or both. First of all, it’s a great first step for any kind of troubleshooting or if you’re experiencing any glitching or formatting issues.

However, if you’re worried about privacy or you think your data has been compromised, you may want to clear your cookies. Cookies can be a security risk because hackers can use them to gather personal data. Be sure to prevent this by deleting cookies on a regular basis. Just remember you’re going to have to log back in to your most-visited sites.

Caches are much less likely to pose these problems; however, since they are so large, clearing your cache may help resolve any lagging issues or save some space on your phone or device. To note: it’ll take a little bit longer to load some sites after you delete your cache, since all of the content will need to be stored again onto your computer’s memory.

How To Clear Cookies and Cache

Clearing your cookies and cache differs by browser and app. With Google Chrome, for example, when you choose to clear browsing data, you’ll have the option of selecting “browsing history” (the sites you’ve visited), “cookies and other site data,” and “cached images and files.” Select one or all three depending on your preferences.

If you’re not sure how to clear your cookies or cache on other browsers, we recommend doing a quick Google search. When it comes to apps, check your settings or opt to delete and reinstall the app — that deletes all your personal data.

Now that you know all about cookies and cache and how to optimize your web experience to its fullest potential, get high-speed fiber internet to match. Find out if EarthLink Fiber Internet is available near you and get better internet now.

Tess Hansen

Tess Hansen

Tess Hansen is a freelance copywriter based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in English Language and Literature. She writes about all things digital for EarthLink, including how to make your life easier (and safer) through tech.

See all posts from Tess Hansen.

Filed Under: Internet

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