How To


Topic Making Sure Your Browser Displays the Most Recent Pages
Date 17 - Jul - 2011; updated 28Dec'13

Internet browsers like Internet Explorer (IE), FireFox (FF) and others have many settings to improve performance and/or customize the browsing experience as per the user's desires.  One such feature relates to how the browser decides to use cached files or always check for new files.

When you visit a web page, your browser "reads" a set of instructions for that page which tell the browser what things to display and how to display those things.  One of several special languages are used to define and describe everything you see.  All content (including the instructions themselves) is downloaded to your computer and displayed according to the instructions.  If you move to another web page and some of the elements on that page (for example, a picture) are files the browser previously downloaded, the browser can just use the current file it has rather than downloading the file again.  This can save considerable time particularly if the file is large and/or you do not have a really fast internet connection.  You may have noticed this when you looked at page "A", then looked at page "B" and then hit the back button to go back to "A".  "A" displays instantly because all the information is already on your computer. 

But what if page "A" changed between the first time you viewed it and some future time?  For example, when you hit the back button at some later point.  In most cases, you see the original "A", not the new version.  That is no a big problem because the chances that "A" changed in the last few minutes is pretty small.

But, most browsers are set up to check for newer versions only the first time they encounter the file during a session; and some are set up (inappropriately) to never check for a newer version.  So if you leave your browser running during the day, your sessions might be quite long and you may run into the old vs new file problem. 

How To Fix This Problem

There is no perfect solution.  Reloading every page every time will slow things down.  A reasonable solution is:

1)  Let your browser cache (save) pages and files and use the cached content when you hit the back button.  This is the default on all browsers and you do not need to do anything to get this.  If you want to make sure you have the most current version of the page at any time, right click and hit Refresh (for IE) or Reload (for FF).  This forces the browser to actually examine the target web page and check for newer content.

2)  Tell your browser to check for new content every time you visit a web page.  How you do that depends on the browser you are using:

Internet Explorer 4, 5, 6, 7:  These are obsolete versions and you should be running IE8 or higher

Internet Explorer 8

Navigate to Tools | Internet Options | General.  You should see something like the image below
















In the Browsing History area, click on the Settings box.  A window like the one below should appear

Check the button "Every time I visit the web page" and then click OK.  Although "Automatically" sounds good, it really is the same as "Every time I start Internet Explorer"

By-the-way, "Delete browsing history on exit" (1st image above) will delete selected content generated during the current session including cache, passwords, form data, cookies, etc.  You can control what is deleted.  (I recommend that you delete everything).  You can even tell IE to save cookies associated with your Favorite sites (nice feature)


FireFox 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, ... 20:  these are obsolete versions of FireFox; they are out of date and no longer supported

FireFox 20 or higher: 

enter "about:config" (without the quotes) into the url window and hit Enter.   You will get a warning message (see below); click on I'll be careful


Type "cache" (without the quotes) into the Filter window at the top of the page and you should see something like:

The key parameter is browser.cache.check_doc_frequency.    

This setting determines how often Firefox checks the page you're viewing against the cached version it holds:

0    only checks once per session

1    always check for a newer version of the page and reload if found

2    never check and always load the cached version (not recommended)

3    automatically checks and only reloads the page if it seems outdated (default).  Sounds good but the key is "seems outdated".  If the date on the file in cache is within the last day or so, FF will assume that it is OK.  Having tested this feature a number of times, it seems inconsistent.

In most cases the default of 3 is fine, but you may wish to set this to 1 if you want to ensure that Firefox always checks for and loads up the latest version of a page, though it may reduce browsing speed a little.  If you are connected via a standard telephone modem you will notice a difference.  But with a high-speed connection (including DSL), you probably will not.  To change the setting

Right click on browser.cache.check_doc_frequency and then on Modify.  Enter a 1 into the value window and then click on OK.  Then close the window.