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What Is a Temporary Internet File?

What Is a Temporary Internet File?

A temporary Internet file is a file that is located on your hard drive that a browser uses to store Web site data for every Web page or URL address that you visit. When the Web server sends the Web page files to the browser, they are stored in a file so that the next time you visit the same Web site the browser takes the data from the temporary Internet file. Loading the Web site in this way from a temporary Internet file is called caching.

With this method, the page quickly displays in the browser instead of having to wait for response from the Web site's server all over again. Basically, the browser is opening the Web page from your hard drive instead of downloading the files from the Internet. Only the new content since your last visit would be downloaded on consecutive visits to a Web page. Not only is it faster to view the content from your temporary Internet files rather than from the Web server, but if your Internet connection is unavailable you can view the cached versions of recently visited Web pages while offline.

Where Are They Stored On My Computer?

On a Windows-based computer Temporary Internet Files is actually the name of the directory used by Internet Explorer to cache the pages you visit. Many different types of files are saved to the Temporary Internet Files folder when you visit a Web page, such as HTML, images, JavaScript, style sheets, video files, cookies and more. If you're using Firefox rather than Internet Explorer the term cache is used instead of Temporary Internet Files.

Privacy Issues

The name temporary Internet file is actually a bit misleading in that the files are not really temporary. These files will stay on your hard drive until you clear the cache.  The storage of temporary Internet files on your hard drive leads to two separate concerns. The first issue being one of privacy. Anyone with access to your computer can go into the Temporary Internet Files folder on your hard drive and see which Web sites you have visited. Looking through a person's temporary Internet files can tell you a lot about that person. In fact, in cyber forensics one part of the evidence gathering process will include searching a suspected criminal's temporary Internet files.

Getting Rid of Temporary Internet Files

Another area of concern with the storage of temporary Internet files on your hard drive is that a buildup of data in the temporary Internet file will eventually slow a processor down as it takes up valuable resource space. Fortunately, browsers that use a temporary Internet file also have methods for deleting the file. Here is how you locate and delete your temporary Internet files (or cache) when using Internet Explorer or Firefox on a Windows-based system:

Internet Explorer (version 7)

Tools > Internet Options > General > Browsing History > Settings
From this window you can choose how often newer versions of Web pages are stored, and also choose how much disk space you want to allocate to temporary Internet files. This screen will also show you where the Temporary Internet Files folder is on your hard drive. To delete the temporary Internet files from the "Browsing History" tab you simply click Delete then select Delete Files in the Temporary Internet Files tab in the next window.

Firefox (version 2)

Tools > Options > Privacy > Private Data > Settings
In the Settings window you can check the "cache" button and apply and save changes. In the future you can simply click "Clear Now" from the Private Data tab to remove your temp files.


Internet Explorer (version 7)

Firefox (version 2)
Screenshots showing how to clear the Temporary Internet Files and cache from within Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.
Click to view larger images.

 
Other Options

In addition to accessing the temporary Internet files through your browser or by locating the folder on your hard drive where they are stored and deleting the files manually, you can also invest in a third party software to handle the removal of these files from your computer. These tools will help you manage the deletion of your browsing history, temporary Internet files, cache, cookies and more. The "Links" section below lists several third party applications for deleting temporary Internet files from your hard drive.

DID YOU KNOW...
Temporary Internet files can also be removed automatically in "Disk Cleanup" as a part of your Disk Defragmenter routine. See "Learn How to Defrag Your Hard Drive" in the Did You Know...? section of Webopedia.

Key Terms To Understanding  Temporary Internet Files:

Related Articles on Webopedia:




Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.





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