In modern computing, a data cache is generally used to store temporary data for short-term usage by the operating system (OS) or another program. While it's located in a reserved section of your hard drive, making it slower than RAM, the cache actually offers higher performance than the other sectors of the drive.
As such, the cache is used to store small amounts of data that have been recently or frequently accessed - either by a user, OS, or an app. This improves the overall performance and reduces the workload of other devices, such as the CPU, in your computer.
How Are Caches Used in Modern Computing?
Caches are used by nearly every modern OS today, but they're also used by many other programs, apps, and utilities. These include:
Now that you have a better understanding of caches and their usage in modern computing, it's time to look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of these data repositories.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Data Caches
The biggest and most noticeable benefit of using a cache to store data revolves around performance. When used by a specific program or application, the cache generally results in increased performance. The OS cache, however, has the potential to affect the performance of your entire system.
But there are some drawbacks to consider, too. If a cache grows too large, or if it's not properly maintained, you could actually experience a decrease in system performance. The cache could also have a negative effect on system RAM, too.
Data within a cache is also susceptible to standard drive issues, including data corruption, virus infection, and more. In extreme cases, the affected programs could experience regular lag, stuttering, or frequent crashes.
Is it Safe to Clear a Data Cache?
Most modern operating systems and programs automatically clear the data cache at certain intervals. In some cases, this occurs when the user exits the program. Other times, it might be scheduled for a specific data or time.
Generally speaking, it is safe to clear the cache of a specific program, including your OS. In fact, most applications include the ability to clear the cache from within the software itself. Some programs even give you the option of disabling your cache or changing its location on the disk, although doing so might result in decreased performance - at least until the cache is re-enabled or re-built.
You may read more about temporary files in Wikipedia: Cache (computing).