Imagine the scenario: your computer is running slow, so you have your tech-savvy friend or relative come take a look at it before giving in and taking it into the shop. No problem, your techie says, you just need to do some routine maintenance, clear your cache and cookies! Once your techie is done with their techno-wizardry, your computer is running at great speeds.
Then you get on your Internet browser and find that to your dismay, all those addresses that used to come up when you started typing them in the address bar are gone. When you get to the logins on sites you have accounts on, you have to login rather than being logged in already. What did your techie friend do?
Never fear! All they did was clear your cache, cookies, and browsing history, all of which can be easily found again.
But first, what do all these words mean?
Doubtless you’ve been to websites that notify you that they are using cookies; many of them have an “I Agree” button that you click to view the site. What is a “cookie” on the Internet? A cookie is a small piece of data that saves to your computer and remembers the site and what you browsed on it. Some cookies also remember that you have an account on the site and that you are logged into it.
Your browsing cache is also a record of all the websites you’ve visited, but is more of an archive that speeds up the loading time of the site by remembering what’s on it. It is the source of all those addresses your browser remembers, whether you are using Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or another web browser.
There are a few reasons to delete your cache and cookies, even though doing so also deletes your browsing history and forces you to log back on to your favorite websites. One reason is that eventually all that information collects, sort of piling up in your temporary internet files like garbage in your wastebasket. Cached images and files from your search history also get added when you visit a website that has them.
While your browser cache and cookies can help you find websites more easily, they can also compromise security. Cookies are a good idea to delete periodically because every website that remembers a password for you makes you more vulnerable to security breaches. Your cache contains all your browsing data, giving hackers clues where to look for your personal information. It’s really basic security.
So how do you find those websites that have been deleted from your cache? One way is to make an offline document with a list of every place you visit. You can find them by choosing “history” in your browser and copying the link, and even search for them by a specific time range if you want to remember a page you visited weeks ago. Some offline document programs, such as Microsoft Word, even turn these entries into hyperlinks automatically, allowing you to follow them. There is still a security risk, but hackers have to target your computer directly.
Another way is to use your browser’s “favorites” option. This might also be called “save”or “bookmark,” and can usually be found in your browser’s menu. The basic function is to give you access to websites you don’t want to forget and don’t want deleted from your browser. You can organize your saved links just like you organize the files on your computer. If your computer has multiple users, each user’s account can save its own links.
Since cookies save your passwords on websites you have accounts on, and clearing them logs you out, it’s a good idea to have a unified place for your passwords. Many people write passwords down in an offline document or a notebook. This is one way to handle it, but can also create a lot of clutter and make your information vulnerable to thieves.
Password managers are another way to save all your logins. These are apps that create encrypted passwords for you. You only need to remember your master password, and the password manager does the rest. It’s still a good idea to keep a record of the password somewhere in case your family needs access to your accounts, but using a password manager means you don’t have to remember the passwords to every single site you visit.
Clearing your cache and cookies is a basic maintenance function that helps your computer run faster and communicate faster on the Internet. It’s like changing the oil in your car or cleaning the dust from under your couch: a chore that occasionally needs to be done to clear out clutter. However, you don’t have to lose access to your favorite websites just because you can’t find them in your browser history once it’s cleared. Like all cleaning, you just need to be prepared to save the things you want to keep!