Caching and CDNs


W3 Total Cache Logo Cloudflare Logo

 

 

 

Everyone wants a site that loads quickly!  Slow sites are annoying and often result in visitors leaving quickly.  You can click to read more about potential causes for slow loading sites and ways to improve site performance.

To help sites load quickly, there are several tools available to site owners that can potentially add benefit.  However, these tools are sometimes suggested (or even sold) to site owners without the owner fully understanding what the tool is, how it works, it’s potential pitfalls and if the tool is truly necessary.  So that’s what we’d like to do here: explain what several of these tools are, how they work, and our recommendations for their use.  The items that we want to focus on specifically are caching plugins and Content Delivery Networks (or CDNs).

What is caching?

In the tech world, caching means the temporary storing of data.  For the purposes of websites, caching is valuable because it provides for the storing of information about a site and it’s content.  And this stored information is much easier and efficient for a web browser to pull and display when a site loads.  Without caching, the browser asks a website server to send all the code and images from scratch every single time the site is loaded.  When this happens, the server has to process more data, which can slow down the site loading speed.

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but think of it this way: say someone asked you yesterday what 123 x 456 was equal to and you did the equation by hand and gave them the answer.  Now suppose today, someone again asked you what 123 x 456 was equal to.  Would you rather have the saved answer from the prior day to give them right away (i.e. cached answer)?  Or would you want to redo the calculation by hand all over again?

Does ProPhoto utilize caching?

Yes, when it is possible, ProPhoto will cache or store certain information about your site for faster loading time. Without getting into all of the technical details of “how“, three of the main items in a ProPhoto site that ProPhoto caches are:

  • All of the customization settings made in “ProPhoto” > “Customize”
  • Any ProPhoto Grid displayed on the site
  • Any ProPhoto gallery displayed on the site

ProPhoto stores all of the information about these items in a way so that when a ProPhoto site is loaded in a browser, the stored information about these items is used, instead of the server having to recalculate/process all the information for these items each and every time. Considering how many customization options are available within ProPhoto and the amount of data within a grid or gallery, the caching that ProPhoto provides for these items helps alleviate additional server processing.

ProPhoto 5 users can also enable an experimental feature to take caching one step further, here:
“ProPhoto” > “Customize” > “Site Settings” > “Misc.” > “ProPhoto Caching (Experimental)”prophoto caching
You will need to load your page(s) at least once for ProPhoto to cache the content, and after that you may notice an improved loading speed.  In most cases we have seen the ProPhoto caching feature improves page load speed as much as a caching plugin.

NOTE: If you choose to enable the ProPhoto Caching feature, we suggest you turn off any other caching plugins in WordPress.

So what does a separate WordPress caching plugin do?  Are they helpful?

Caching plugins primarily store content information (i.e. posts and pages) for your site and serve that stored information when it is accessed.  So, if you have a post about “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” on your site with 20 images on it.  The caching plugin will store that post’s information for you so that every time the “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” post is loaded in a browser, the plugin serves up the post content directly from the stored information, rather than the server itself having to process the post from scratch every time.  As such, WordPress caching plugins can also help speed up your site’s load time. Just be aware that they are not a guarantee to make your site load faster, there are a lot of factors that come in to play with site load time.

Caching plugins generally utilize more complex methods then the ProPhoto caching feature and also over many more (sometimes confusing) options.  Most of these advanced options (e.g. minification) should be avoided as they duplicate something ProPhoto is already doing or they cause problems with the theme.  In spite of the potential to deliver content more quickly, our experience is that there is not a noticeable difference between using a caching plugin and using ProPhoto caching combined with sound methods for avoiding slow load times.

Should I use a caching plugin with ProPhoto? If so, which one?

If you are using ProPhoto 5, our recommendation is that you don’t use a caching plugin. In spite of our efforts to work with the plugin authors for the most popular caching plugins to achieve problem-free compatibility, we still see ProPhoto sites manifesting various problems from time to time that are a result of the caching plugin. These are various in nature but can include the wrong version (mobile vs. desktop) of a site being displayed, design settings from ProPhoto not applying and posts/pages not displaying updated content. In these cases, clearing the cache in the plugin settings often solves the problem, but not always.

That being said, there are also many folks who are using a caching plugin without a problem. If you would like to pursue that, click the link below to read our suggestion for using “w3 total cache” successfully.

What is a CDN?

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network is a series of connected servers, located in various locations around the world that have access to and deliver the same site content to visitors.  (One of the more popular ones out there that our customers run into is called Cloudflare.)  CDNs are marketed as a tool to enhance site load times and they do this in several ways.  First, and primarily, they can enhance load times by loading the site for a visitor from a server that is nearest the visitor’s location.  So, for example, if someone in Australia is trying to load a site that is originally based in the U.S., the CDN will determine where the visitor is located (in this case Australia) and will serve the site from a server located in Australia (if available), or the next nearest location, instead of serving it from the U.S.  The closer proximity of the server to the viewer’s location, the faster the site will load.

Another way that CDNs try to enhance website’s load time is by compressing, or minimizing a site’s source code.  Each CDN does this in their own unique way and how they do it exactly is not always clear.  But basically, a CDN will take a site’s source code and using it’s own methodology will find ways to compress the code into smaller bits, so that when the server has to provide it to a browser, it will load faster.

Additionally, CDN’s cache site content and provide this stored information when a request for a post/page is made, thereby alleviating server load.  In theory, once a post/page is cached, the cached version is updated on all of the different servers around the world on the CDN.

So should I use a CDN?

Our general recommendation is that a CDN is most likely not necessary, and can potentially do more harm then good.  Granted, there are a small number of ProPhoto users who travel the world and have visitors from all over the world visiting their sites.  And for these folks, a CDN may help site load times for their worldwide visitors.  But the vast majority of ProPhoto users are marketing to a specific domestic location, and have no need for a service like this.  If you are a wedding photographer located in Billings, Montana and you’re marketing to that city and the surrounding areas, you probably aren’t going to be too worried about site load times for visitors from Kyrgyzstan.  And because most CDNs are usually a paid service, it is hard to warrant spending extra for a service like this.

As for the other services a CDN offer, like the code compression and caching services, we have often experienced way more issues with these services than benefits.  Often times the way a CDN compresses or minimizes code can render certain functionality in ProPhoto sites inoperable.  Additionally, how and when a CDN updates their cache can be a bit of mystery.  Sometimes a CDN will load an older version of a post/page, even after an update has been made.  Additionally, while in theory all servers on the CDN should update their cache at the same time, we’ve heard reports of different versions of sites appearing on the different servers.

So all in all, our recommendation is to avoid using a CDN if you can.   For most site owners it’s really an unnecessary service, and in the end can cause more problems than it’s worth.  But….

What if I need/want to use a CDN anyway?  Is there anything I can do to avoid potential issues?

The instructions here are specifically for the CDN service called Cloudflare.  It is one of the most popular CDNs that our customers are exposed to and if you are using Cloudflare, you can use the instructions below.  If you are using a different CDN service, you’ll need to search around your CDN’s settings area to see if you have a similar option.  Or, you may need to contact their tech support directly to help you disable any code minification/compressing that their service is doing.

The first thing to do is to login to your Cloudflare settings area.  This can usually be accessed right through your webhost’s control panel area.  Once you’ve located it, click on the “Advanced” link in the Configuration area for your site.

Cloudflare Portal

In the “Advanced Settings” area that appears, find the “Minification” option, which by default is set to Javascript & CSS.  (This means that the CDN service is minifying/compressing all of the Javascript and CSS files used by your site, which is what can cause issues.)

Cloudflare Portal Minification Option

Change the “Minification” setting to Off, then click the “Purge” button next to “Cache Purge”.  This will clear Cloudflare’s cache of the site and keep the CDN from minifying your site’s Javascript & CSS coding.  This is not a guarantee that Cloudflare will work perfectly with your ProPhoto site, but changing this setting should help to avoid issues associated with code modification.


W3 Total Cache Logo Cloudflare Logo

 

 

Everyone wants a site that loads quickly!  Slow sites are annoying and often result in visitors leaving quickly.  You can read more about potential causes for slow loading sites and ways to improve site performance here.

To help sites load quickly, there are several tools available to site owners that can potentially add benefit.  However, these tools are sometimes suggested (or even sold) to site owners without the owner fully understanding what the tool is, how it works, it’s potential pitfalls and if the tool is truly necessary.  So that’s what we’d like to do here; explain what several of these tools are, how they work, and our recommendations for their use.  The items that we want to focus on specifically are caching plugins and Content Delivery Networks (or CDNs).

What is caching?

In the tech world, caching means the storing of data.  For the purposes of websites, caching is valuable because it provides for the storing of information about a site and it’s content.  And this stored information is much easier and efficient for a web browser to pull and display when a site loads.  The alternative is the browser asking a website’s server to load the code from scratch every single time the site is loaded.  When this happens, the server has to process more data, which can slow the site down.

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but think of it this way, say someone asked you yesterday what 123 x 456 was equal to and you did the equation by hand and gave them the answer.  Now suppose today, someone again asked you what 123 x 456 was equal to.  Would you rather have the saved answer from the prior day to give them right away (i.e. cached answer)?  Or would you want to redo the calculation by hand all over again?

Does ProPhoto utilize caching?

Yes, when it is possible, ProPhoto will cache or store certain information about your site.  Without getting into all of the technical details of the “how,” three of the main items in a ProPhoto site that ProPhoto caches are:

  • All of the customization settings made in “ProPhoto” > “Customize”
  • Any ProPhoto Grid displayed on the site
  • Any ProPhoto gallery displayed on the site

ProPhoto stores all of the information about these items in a way so that when a ProPhoto site is loaded in a browser, the stored information about these items is used, instead of the server having to recalculate/process all the information for these items each and every time.  Considering how many customization options are available within ProPhoto and the amount of data within a grid or gallery, the caching that ProPhoto provides for these items definitely helps alleviate additional server processing.

So what does a WordPress caching plugin do?  Are they helpful?

Caching plugins primarily store content information (i.e. posts and pages) for your site and serve that stored information when it is accessed.  So, if you have a post about “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” on your site with 20 images on it.  The caching plugin will store that post’s information for you so that every time the “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” post is loaded in a browser, the plugin serves up the post content directly from the stored information, rather than the server itself having to process the post from scratch every time.  As such, WordPress caching plugins can certainly help speed up your site’s load time.  Just be aware that they are not a guarantee to make your site load faster, there are a lot of factors that come in to play with site load time.

Which caching plugin should I use with ProPhoto?

What is a CDN?

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network is a series of connected servers, located in various locations around the world that have access to and deliver the same site content to visitors.  (One of the more popular ones out there that our customers run into is called Cloudflare.)  CDNs are marketed as a tool to enhance site load times and they do this in several ways.  First, and primarily, they can enhance load times by loading the site for a visitor from a server that is nearest the visitor’s location.  So, for example, if someone in Australia is trying to load a site that is originally based in the U.S., the CDN will determine where the visitor is located (in this case Australia) and will serve the site from a server located in Australia (if available), or the next nearest location, instead of serving it from the U.S.  The closer proximity of the server to the viewer’s location, the faster the site will load.

Another way that CDNs try to enhance website’s load time is by compressing, or minimizing a site’s source code.  Each CDN does this in their own unique way and how they do it exactly is not always clear.  But basically, a CDN will take a site’s source code and using it’s own methodology will find ways to compress the code into smaller bits, so that when the server has to provide it to a browser, it will load faster.

Additionally, CDN’s cache site content and provide this stored information when a request for a post/page is made, thereby alleviating server load.  In theory, once a post/page is cached, the cached version is updated on all of the different servers around the world on the CDN.

So should I use a CDN?

Our general recommendation is that a CDN is most likely not necessary, and can potentially do more harm then good.  Granted, there are a small number of ProPhoto users who travel the world and have visitors from all over the world visiting their sites.  And for these folks, a CDN may help site load times for their worldwide visitors.  But the vast majority of ProPhoto users are marketing to a specific domestic location, and have no need for a service like this.  If you are a wedding photographer located in Billings, Montana and you’re marketing to that city and the surrounding areas, you probably aren’t going to be too worried about site load times for visitors from Kyrgyzstan.  And because most CDNs are usually a paid service, it is hard to warrant spending extra for a service like this.

As for the other services a CDN offer, like the code compression and caching services, we have often experienced way more issues with these services than benefits.  Often times the way a CDN compresses or minimizes code can render certain functionality in ProPhoto sites inoperable.  Additionally, how and when a CDN updates their cache can be a bit of mystery.  Sometimes a CDN will load an older version of a post/page, even after an update has been made.  Additionally, while in theory all servers on the CDN should update their cache at the same time, we’ve heard reports of different versions of sites appearing on the different servers.

So all in all, our recommendation is to avoid using a CDN if you can.   For most site owners it’s really an unnecessary service, and in the end can cause more problems than it’s worth.  But….

What if I need/want to use a CDN anyway?  Is there anything I can do to avoid potential issues?

The instructions here are specifically for the CDN service called Cloudflare.  It is one of the most popular CDNs that our customers are exposed to and if you are using Cloudflare, you can use the instructions below.  If you are using a different CDN service, you’ll need to search around your CDN’s settings area to see if you have a similar option.  Or, you may need to contact their tech support directly to help you disable any code minification/compressing that their service is doing.

The first thing to do is to login to your Cloudflare settings area.  This can usually be accessed right through your webhost’s control panel area.  Once you’ve located it, click on the “Advanced” link in the Configuration area for your site.

Cloudflare Portal

In the “Advanced Settings” area that appears, find the “Minification” option, which by default is set to Javascript & CSS.  (This means that the CDN service is minifying/compressing all of the Javascript and CSS files used by your site, which is what can cause issues.)

Cloudflare Portal Minification Option

Change the “Minification” setting to Off, then click the “Purge” button next to “Cache Purge”.  This will clear Cloudflare’s cache of the site and keep the CDN from minifying your site’s Javascript & CSS coding.  This is not a guarantee that Cloudflare will work perfectly with your ProPhoto site, but changing this setting should help to avoid issues associated with code modification.


W3 Total Cache Logo Cloudflare Logo

 

 

Everyone wants a site that loads quickly!  Slow sites are annoying and often result in visitors leaving quickly.  You can read more about potential causes for slow loading sites and ways to improve site performance here.

To help sites load quickly, there are several tools available to site owners that can potentially add benefit.  However, these tools are sometimes suggested (or even sold) to site owners without the owner fully understanding what the tool is, how it works, it’s potential pitfalls and if the tool is truly necessary.  So that’s what we’d like to do here; explain what several of these tools are, how they work, and our recommendations for their use.  The items that we want to focus on specifically are caching plugins and Content Delivery Networks (or CDNs).

What is caching?

In the tech world, caching means the storing of data.  For the purposes of websites, caching is valuable because it provides for the storing of information about a site and it’s content.  And this stored information is much easier and efficient for a web browser to pull and display when a site loads.  The alternative is the browser asking a website’s server to load the code from scratch every single time the site is loaded.  When this happens, the server has to process more data, which can slow the site down.

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but think of it this way, say someone asked you yesterday what 123 x 456 was equal to and you did the equation by hand and gave them the answer.  Now suppose today, someone again asked you what 123 x 456 was equal to.  Would you rather have the saved answer from the prior day to give them right away (i.e. cached answer)?  Or would you want to redo the calculation by hand all over again?

Does ProPhoto utilize caching?

Yes, when it is possible, ProPhoto will cache or store certain information about your site.  Without getting into all of the technical details of the “how,” three of the main items in a ProPhoto site that ProPhoto caches are:

  • All of the customization settings made in “ProPhoto” > “Customize”
  • Any ProPhoto Grid displayed on the site
  • Any ProPhoto gallery displayed on the site

ProPhoto stores all of the information about these items in a way so that when a ProPhoto site is loaded in a browser, the stored information about these items is used, instead of the server having to recalculate/process all the information for these items each and every time.  Considering how many customization options are available within ProPhoto and the amount of data within a grid or gallery, the caching that ProPhoto provides for these items definitely helps alleviate additional server processing.

So what does a WordPress caching plugin do?  Are they helpful?

Caching plugins primarily store content information (i.e. posts and pages) for your site and serve that stored information when it is accessed.  So, if you have a post about “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” on your site with 20 images on it.  The caching plugin will store that post’s information for you so that every time the “Fred & Jane’s Wedding” post is loaded in a browser, the plugin serves up the post content directly from the stored information, rather than the server itself having to process the post from scratch every time.  As such, WordPress caching plugins can certainly help speed up your site’s load time.  Just be aware that they are not a guarantee to make your site load faster, there are a lot of factors that come in to play with site load time.

Which caching plugin should I use with ProPhoto?

What is a CDN?

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network is a series of connected servers, located in various locations around the world that have access to and deliver the same site content to visitors.  (One of the more popular ones out there that our customers run into is called Cloudflare.)  CDNs are marketed as a tool to enhance site load times and they do this in several ways.  First, and primarily, they can enhance load times by loading the site for a visitor from a server that is nearest the visitor’s location.  So, for example, if someone in Australia is trying to load a site that is originally based in the U.S., the CDN will determine where the visitor is located (in this case Australia) and will serve the site from a server located in Australia (if available), or the next nearest location, instead of serving it from the U.S.  The closer proximity of the server to the viewer’s location, the faster the site will load.

Another way that CDNs try to enhance website’s load time is by compressing, or minimizing a site’s source code.  Each CDN does this in their own unique way and how they do it exactly is not always clear.  But basically, a CDN will take a site’s source code and using it’s own methodology will find ways to compress the code into smaller bits, so that when the server has to provide it to a browser, it will load faster.

Additionally, CDN’s cache site content and provide this stored information when a request for a post/page is made, thereby alleviating server load.  In theory, once a post/page is cached, the cached version is updated on all of the different servers around the world on the CDN.

So should I use a CDN?

Our general recommendation is that a CDN is most likely not necessary, and can potentially do more harm then good.  Granted, there are a small number of ProPhoto users who travel the world and have visitors from all over the world visiting their sites.  And for these folks, a CDN may help site load times for their worldwide visitors.  But the vast majority of ProPhoto users are marketing to a specific domestic location, and have no need for a service like this.  If you are a wedding photographer located in Billings, Montana and you’re marketing to that city and the surrounding areas, you probably aren’t going to be too worried about site load times for visitors from Kyrgyzstan.  And because most CDNs are usually a paid service, it is hard to warrant spending extra for a service like this.

As for the other services a CDN offer, like the code compression and caching services, we have often experienced way more issues with these services than benefits.  Often times the way a CDN compresses or minimizes code can render certain functionality in ProPhoto sites inoperable.  Additionally, how and when a CDN updates their cache can be a bit of mystery.  Sometimes a CDN will load an older version of a post/page, even after an update has been made.  Additionally, while in theory all servers on the CDN should update their cache at the same time, we’ve heard reports of different versions of sites appearing on the different servers.

So all in all, our recommendation is to avoid using a CDN if you can.   For most site owners it’s really an unnecessary service, and in the end can cause more problems than it’s worth.  But….

What if I need/want to use a CDN anyway?  Is there anything I can do to avoid potential issues?

The instructions here are specifically for the CDN service called Cloudflare.  It is one of the most popular CDNs that our customers are exposed to and if you are using Cloudflare, you can use the instructions below.  If you are using a different CDN service, you’ll need to search around your CDN’s settings area to see if you have a similar option.  Or, you may need to contact their tech support directly to help you disable any code minification/compressing that their service is doing.

The first thing to do is to login to your Cloudflare settings area.  This can usually be accessed right through your webhost’s control panel area.  Once you’ve located it, click on the “Advanced” link in the Configuration area for your site.

Cloudflare Portal

In the “Advanced Settings” area that appears, find the “Minification” option, which by default is set to Javascript & CSS.  (This means that the CDN service is minifying/compressing all of the Javascript and CSS files used by your site, which is what can cause issues.)

Cloudflare Portal Minification Option

Change the “Minification” setting to Off, then click the “Purge” button next to “Cache Purge”.  This will clear Cloudflare’s cache of the site and keep the CDN from minifying your site’s Javascript & CSS coding.  This is not a guarantee that Cloudflare will work perfectly with your ProPhoto site, but changing this setting should help to avoid issues associated with code modification.

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