Got cache? Or, why can’t I see the changes I’ve made on my website?

pic_disp.phpNowadays, many of us maintain our own blogs or websites, using various tools, either on our computer or online.  Over the past 3 or 4 years that I’ve been creating websites, one of the issues raised by many frustrated users in user forums is “I don’t see my changes!!!”.

When you are developing or editing your blog or website using online tools (such as WordPress, Joomla, Google Blogger) the answer usually comes down to one of two things, both related to cache:

  1. The web browser is presenting the older view of your page from the data saved in cache.
  2. You are using the back button on your browser instead of refreshing the page.

Or, (only occasionally) you’re too fast for the host server.

What does that mean, what does it do, and how do I overcome it, you ask?  Well, let me give you some background information and examples to illustrate.

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Style versus Substance

When web sites first starting popping up in the 1990s, they were mostly text, with some formatting and styling. Truth be known, many of those first websites were pretty ugly (my own among them.) We could choose colors, or make text bold, add a picture, and even (shudder) make words blink. To style our pages we applied formatting instructions to the HTML tags.

For example, if I wanted a sentence to be bold or red I could do this:

<p><b>This part is bold.</b></p>
or
<p><font color="red">This is red</font></p>

The basic approach was to lay out our web page and then apply some styles or formats to it – much like a painter might draw a picture.

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Bricks and Mortar – HTML

HTML

Web pages have a basic, bricks and mortar, foundation. It’s called HTML – short for HyperText Markup Language.

So, here’s a trivia/history question for fellow Mac enthusiasts. Do you remember an early Mac application called HyperCard? This was pre-Internet, and had some features of web pages as we know them now. The principle feature was that you could link a word or phrase on a card and the user could click on that link and be taken to another card. The only problem was that you had to use the computer where the HyperCard application was running. No one had figured out how to make it run over a network (unless our Alan Oppenheimer had gotten ahead of everyone else when working with AppleTalk.) I actually created a simple marketing game/simulation in HyperCard, and used it for marketing training for Kaiser Permanente reps in the late 1980s. (but I digress….)

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