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Web page updates not displaying after pressing refresh or reload

Refresh or Reload symbolThis is a question that comes up so often, we’ve at last decided to add an explanatory post for everyone.

As web designers, one of our roles is to keep websites up to date. Nowadays many of the websites we design use a content management system such as WordPress (permitting the client to update content themselves). But many clients still rely upon us to make occasional manual updates for them. In fact, our reliability and promptness in actioning updates for clients is a key service we offer.

Because of ‘Web Caching’

This is ‘a mechanism for the temporary storage of web documents to increase performance’ (see Wikipedia). In the early days of the internet, we were reliant on very slow dial-up connections and one way of speeding up the browsing experience was for software (e.g. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox etc.) to temporarily store the content of pages you recently visited. If you went back to a page you had already visited (i.e. earlier in the same day), you wouldn’t have to download the page all over again.

But sometimes this ‘feature’ catches us out…

If the page you were revisiting was a time sensitive page, showing weather or stock prices for example, you could use the Refresh or Reload button (depending on which browser you use) to ask your browser to fetch the very latest version of the page. The button usually looks like the circular arrow (shown top right) or often you can press F5 as a keyboard alternative. And it still works like this, even today. Some savvy users change their software options to fetch a new version of a page every time but this isn’t the default setting.

Hence, it’s typical for our clients to email or telephone us (especially after their first ever batch of updates) questioning why the updates haven’t been actioned (when in fact, they have). Another issue is that clients don’t always understand that each and every page being checked must be refreshed individually. Pressing Refresh doesn’t refresh the entire website – only the page you’re currently viewing.

The next problem: ISP Caching

It gets worse! Some ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will cache (store) copies of pages on their own servers. When this happens, you can press Refresh as many times as you like and still get the same old page served to you. Most ISPs will reset their cached pages every 24 hours but in extreme circumstances we have seen it stretch beyond this.

Under these circumstances, if you still suspect the changes haven’t been implemented, the only other option is to ask a friend or colleague to check (at a separate location) – preferably someone who doesn’t use the same ISP.

This is just the way the web works!

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