CDNs vs. Caching: What Exactly Are They and How Do They Differ?

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Did you know that a web page that loads in 3 seconds has a 32% higher bounce rate than one that loads in 1 second? And at 10 seconds, you’re looking at a 123% visitor bounce rate.

To put the importance of fast load times into perspective, consider Amazon. Just a one-second delay in loading Amazon’s website would result in the company losing 1.6 billion dollars in sales!

Want to speed up your website and keep your visitors onsite longer? Two common ways to do this are through CDNs and caching. Both can help improve website performance, but they work in different ways. 

Here’s a look at how CDNs and caching differ and how you can use them together to give your website a speed boost.

What is Caching?

Caching is a way to make websites faster. How? By reducing the total amount of requests made to the server. Instead, serving static files from a local cache. 

This is especially helpful for users located far away from your server or with a slow internet connection.

There are two primary types:

  • Client-side Caching: The user’s browser stores data locally, so it doesn’t have to redownload from the server each time (Commonly called browser caching)
  • Server-side Caching: A web server stores the data instead (Referred to as site or page caching)

Client-side caching is the most common type and is what most people think of when they hear the word “caching.” 

When a user visits your site, the cached version gets served instead of having to fetch a fresh copy from the server each time. This information gets stored in your computer’s RAM the first time a website page loads.

Going forward, the website will load faster because the data is already in your RAM. There’s no need to download it from the server again.

Most internet browsers have a built-in cache option. To enable caching, go to your browser’s settings and look for the “cache” or “history” section.

You can then choose how much storage space you want to use for caching and how long you want to store the pages. Keep in mind that the pages get cached temporarily. They’re not stored permanently on your computer.

There’s always a chance that a website got an update since the last time you visited. In those cases, your computer will again download and cache the new data from the server.

Caching is easy to set up and can be very effective. However, it has some limitations. 

For example, if your website has a lot of content that often changes, relying on client-side caching might not be the best solution. The user’s browser will need to download the new content each time it’s updated, defeating the purpose.

Server-side caching is more complex to set up initially, but it’s more effective for sites with dynamic content that changes often. Most hosting providers offer page caching as an add-on service. 

If you need help, contact your provider to enable page caching and ask how to set it up.

Advantages of Caching

There are four main advantages of caching. Let’s look at each of these a little closer.

1. Reducing the number of requests made to the server

When you go to a web page, your browser makes a request to the server for each file it needs. If a website has ten files, ten requests get pushed to the server. 

Caching can reduce the number of requests by storing a copy of the files locally on your computer. 

2. Serving static files from a local cache

As we mentioned above, static files are those that don’t often change, like images and style sheets. 

When you go to a website, your browser downloads these static files and stores them in a cache. The next time you visit the same website, your browser loads the static files from the cache instead of making a new request to the server.

3. Reducing bandwidth usage

Every time someone visits your website, they download all the files they need to view the page. If your website is large, this can use a lot of bandwidth. Caching reduces bandwidth usage since you already have copies of the files on your computer.

4. Improving performance for repeat visitors

If a user visits a website often, their internet browser already has a cached copy of the files it needs. The website loads faster for them, and they stick around to view your content.

What is Page Caching?

Page caching, also called site caching, is a technique web developers use to make pages load faster. It’s similar to browser caching, but the temporary files get stored on a server instead.

If your website uses WordPress, there are plugins available for caching pages and files. Some examples include:

  • W3 Total Cache
  • WP Super Cache
  • Cache Enabler
  • WP Rocket
  • ShortPixel
  • Smush
  • Imagify

Search engines like Bing and Google employ page caching too. The cache includes images, web pages, multimedia, and other content for quick access. For example, Google creates a backup of each web page in its results.

Once a backup gets made, Google stores it on its own servers. A page backup is handy if the current version of a web page isn’t accessible when a visitor clicks on a search result. 

How Does a CDN Work?

A content delivery system is a series of servers that help deliver content to people faster based on the following:

  • The geographic location of the user
  • The origin of the web page
  • The location of the content delivery server

A content delivery network makes multiple copies of a website in the form of a cache. Then, it stores copies on different servers around the world.

CDNs work by looking at where the user is and the geographic location of the web page. It chooses a server closest to the user and serves up the cached website from there.

A CDN quickly transfers assets needed for loading content, including HTML, PHP, javascript files, stylesheets, images, and videos. CDNs improve the performance and availability of websites, applications, and gaming services.

However, CDNs are often more expensive than standard hosting and harder to configure.

There are two types of CDNs: private and public. Private CDNs are for companies or organizations, while public CDNs are open to anyone.

Several top-notch content delivery services exist. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Cloudflare
  • Cloud CDN by Google
  • Akamai
  • Amazon CloudFront
  • StackPath

Difference Between CDNs and Caching

The main difference between a CDN and page caching is that a CDN delivers content from multiple servers located around the world, while page caching only stores content on a single server. 

A CDN is a distributed server system that delivers content to users based on their geographic location. A CDN can provide users with faster content delivery, as more local servers are available to handle requests. 

Both page caching and CDNs can improve website performance, but they work in slightly different ways. There is no harm in using both site caching and a CDN together. 

In fact, they can even work together to improve website performance. A CDN will cache copies of your website on different servers around the world, while page caching will store files on a single server. 

When a user requests content from your website, the CDN will look for a cached copy of the file on one of its servers. If it doesn’t find the file, it will request it from the page caching server. This way, you get the benefits of both a CDN and page caching.

Wrapping it Up

In short, caching is a way to store files on your device so that the next time you visit a website, the site will load faster. 

Conversely, CDNs are a vast network of servers that deliver content based on the user’s location. A CDN provides faster content delivery to users and helps lower bounce rates, as more local servers are available to handle requests.

Both improve performance and load times. So, which one is right for you? 

If you’re looking for improved performance and don’t mind sacrificing some control over where your cached files get stored, then go with a CDN. If you want more control over your site’s performance or need to cache files in specific locations, use site caching instead.

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