Browser cache vs. cookies: Are they different?

Tips & tricks
6 mins

When you browse the internet, your browser stores bits of information to improve your experience. But there often needs to be more clarity between two types of stored data: browser cache and cookies. Let’s clarify how they’re different and how they relate to each other.

What is the browser cache?

The browser cache is a temporary memory bank for your web browser, which stores web pages, images, and other media content you’ve visited. The reason this is necessary may not be evident at first, but it makes sense: everything your browser displays must be stored in your device, even temporarily. This storage mainly includes static elements that don’t change often, such as:

  • Logos
  • Background images
  • Chunks of code like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

Caching this data aims to speed up your web browsing experience and save data. When you revisit a website, your browser can load the page from the cache rather than downloading everything again, saving time and reducing internet bandwidth usage.

For instance, let’s say you frequently visit a particular website such as On your first visit, your browser downloads and stores elements like the site’s logo. When you go to different product pages, the browser loads the logo from the cache instead of downloading it again to speed things up.

However, cached data can sometimes lead to issues, such as displaying outdated content or causing website elements to load incorrectly. This is why occasionally clearing your browser cache can help refresh web pages, ensuring you see the most current version of a site and resolving any display errors. Clearing the cache also helps free up storage space on devices with limited capacity, improving overall device performance.

What are website cookies?

Website cookies are small files that a website stores on your device to keep track of information about your visit. They allow websites to remember your preferences and actions on the site. For example, cookies can store details like your login information, what’s in your shopping cart, and preferences for a personalized experience.

Cookies come in two main types: transient (or session) cookies and persistent cookies. Transient cookies are temporary and get deleted once you close your browser. They are mainly used to manage your session during the visit. Persistent cookies, on the other hand, remain on your device between sessions, remembering your preferences or actions across multiple visits.

Cookies are essential for various website functionalities, such as:

  • Storing login states: This means you don’t have to sign in every time you visit a familiar website.
  • Remembering shopping cart contents: Even if you navigate away from the page, your chosen items remain in your cart.
  • Personalizing your browsing experience: Websites can display content that matches your interests and browsing habits.

However, not all cookies serve purely functional or user-centric purposes. Tracking cookies, a type of persistent cookie, collect data on your browsing behavior, supporting targeted advertising and personalized content, which can raise privacy concerns.

While cookies can provide a smooth web experience, knowing the privacy implications and managing your cookie settings according to your preferences is important. Most modern browsers offer options to control cookie settings, allowing you to balance convenience with privacy.

What’s the difference between cache and cookies?

As covered, both cache and cookies are files stored on your device by websites. To provide a better understanding, let’s compare browser cache and cookies.

FeatureBrowser cacheCookies
PurposeSpeeds up website loading times by storing parts of web pages, such as images and code, for future visits.Stores user preferences, login states, and tracking information to personalize the browsing experience.
Content storedStatic web page elements like HTML, CSS, JavaScript files, images, and videos.User-specific data such as IDs, session information, site preferences, shopping cart contents, IP address, and location.
Storage locationStored only on your device.Stored on your device but has a session counterpart on the web server.
Space usedCan take up a significant amount of space.Generally takes up very little space.
ManagementMust be cleared manually.Automatically expires but can also be manually cleared.
Data transmissionNot sent back to the website.Sent to the website with each request, facilitating personalized responses.
Impact on performanceReduces bandwidth usage and speeds up page loading by reusing stored data.Enhances user experience by remembering user actions and preferences, reducing the need to re-enter information.
Privacy concernsLess directly related to privacy; primarily affects loading speed.Directly impacts privacy; used for tracking user behavior and preferences.
Tracking potentialCan be used to track user preferences indirectly through persistent storage of site elements.Explicitly used for tracking and storing detailed information about user interactions and habits.
Effect of deletionRequires re-downloading web page elements, potentially slowing down initial page load times after clearing.Resets user preferences and login states, necessitating reconfiguration during subsequent visits.

Are caches or cookies dangerous?

Neither caches nor cookies are inherently dangerous; they are tools designed to enhance web browsing by making it faster and more personalized. However, how they store information and their use in practice can raise privacy and security concerns.

Caches store web page elements on your device, which could potentially be accessed by others using the same device, but this risk is relatively low. The main concern with caches is that they take up storage space and sometimes cause websites to load outdated content.

Conversely, cookies store more personal data, such as browsing habits, login details, and preferences. This information could be used by websites to track your online activities, leading to privacy issues. Moreover, if malicious actors access these cookies, they could hijack your sessions on websites, leading to security breaches.

To mitigate these risks, it’s important to regularly clear your cache and cookies, especially on shared devices, and to adjust your browser’s privacy settings to limit cookie tracking. Using secure, reputable websites and enabling HTTPS can also help protect the information stored in cookies and caches. While caches and cookies are not dangerous, responsible management and awareness of privacy settings are vital to maintaining your online security.

Should I clear the cache or cookies?

It’s a good practice to clear both regularly, depending on your privacy needs and the optimal browser function. Clearing the cache and cookies can help resolve website loading or formatting problems and for maintaining your privacy. Clearing the cache frees up storage space and forces the browser to load the latest versions of web pages. Deleting cookies logs you out of sites, removes personalized settings, and stops websites from tracking your activities.

How do I enable cookies and cache?

Cookies and cache are usually enabled by default. However, if you find yours aren’t, access your browser’s settings or preferences. Look for the Privacy or Security section, where you’ll find options to manage data storage. 

Enabling cookies allows sites to remember your information while the cache speeds up page loading. Each browser has its own settings menu, so the exact steps may vary. Still, the general process involves navigating to your browser’s privacy settings and adjusting the cookies and cache storage controls.

Is the cache the same as the browser history?

No, the cache and browser history are not the same. The cache stores copies of web pages, images, and other media content to load websites faster during future visits. In contrast, the browser history records the URLs of your visited sites. While both relate to your past browsing activities, the cache deals with content storage for performance, and history provides a log of your browsing destinations for easy access and review.


In summary, caches and cookies have many similarities in that they are files that websites store on your device to affect the browsing experience somehow. However, they also differ in their purpose, what behavior they cause, and how they are used in practice. While neither cache nor cookies are inherently dangerous, cookies are used to track your behavior online.

To mitigate these risks, it’s important to regularly clear your cache and cookies, especially on shared devices, and to adjust your browser’s privacy settings to limit cookie tracking. For an added layer of online privacy and security, consider using a top VPN like ExpressVPN to encrypt your internet connection and protect your browsing activities from being tracked.

FAQ: About cookies vs. cache

Is clearing cache or cookies bad?
Do all websites use cache or cookies?
Is deleting cache the same as deleting cookies?
Why do websites ask for cookie consent?
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