Temporary Internet Files - Deleting from Internet Explorer

windows logoIn as much as website developers spend an exorbitant amount of time complaining about them, modern day web browsers are actually remarkable pieces of software. It wasn't that terribly long ago that the entire concept of a software program that was capable of interacting with a wide variety of computers and operating systems was completely revolutionary, the 'holy grail' of software development. Granted, this magic takes more than just a browser to achieve, but I have to admit there are times when I am just amazed that it actually works. This could just be the programmer in me, because I know what it takes to actually get things to work (I think sometimes that programmers are the people that are the most surprised when software programs actually work).

Anyway, one thing that every programmer understands is that the average user has an undeniable need for speed when it comes to interacting with their computer. Time is measured in fractions of seconds, and the longer the user has to wait for their computer to respond to their request the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with whatever piece of software they are using, and with the computer in general. This can become a difficult challenge, especially for browser programmers that have to overcome variables that are not within their control. A very important one of which is the user's connection speed to the internet.

In a perfect world we would all have blazing broadband connections to the internet, but this isn't a perfect world and not all of us have that luxury. In order to compensate for this the writers of browser software use some tricks to make your connection appear to be faster than it really is. One of these tricks is to take some of the information on the web page that you're currently looking at, and to store that information locally on your computer's hard drive. That way the next time you look at that same web page your computer can pull those pieces of information (primarily images) from your computer's hard drive, instead of needing to once again download them from the internet using your painfully slow modem. While this is generally a really good idea, there are a couple of unfortunate side effects from doing this.

This is not meant as a tutorial for keeping your travels through the internet a secret. Completely eliminating your computer's history of the web pages that you've visited and items that you've looked at or downloaded is actually quite a complex task, and is certainly beyond the scope of this article.

The first side effect is that you leave a trail on your computer of the places you've been visiting on the internet, mostly in the way of images that have been saved from those websites. For most people this is a good thing, because it can be nice to be able to find places you've been to, and your browser will store pieces of this history for you. However, if you're looking to buy yourself a new car and you don't really want your husband to know what you're up to, well then I guess this could be a bad thing.

Another potential problem is that these files can build up on your computer and start taking up quite a lot of storage space. You should know where these files are, and how to get rid of them. It's not a bad idea to do this occasionally just as routine maintenance, but you should also delete these files before you do any kind of hard drive maintenance or manipulation.

I'm going to show how to do this using Internet Explorer, as this is the most common browser used by visitors to this site. Also, to be frank by the time folks get comfortable enough with their computer to install additional browsers (like Firefox or Opera) they usually know how to do this. If you are using one of those other browsers and aren't sure how to do this feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

Anyway, assuming that you're using Internet Explorer 5.5 or above, simply go to the main menu and select Tools->Internet Options...:


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Now, if you're curious like me, you may want to look at what is being stored on your computer before you delete it. To do this make sure that the 'General' tab is selected, then click on the 'Settings' button from the center 'Temporary Internet files' section:


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When you do you'll get another pop-up dialog box that will allow you to change some of the settings for these temporary files. You can select when (or if) you want them to be updated, where you want them stored, and how much space on your hard drive you want to allocate for them. The amount of space Windows allocates is dependent on your system, but you can tweak it if you feel so inclined. To view the actual files click on the 'View Files...' button:


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I am always a little surprised to see the files that are stored here when I look at this. If you share your computer with other people, or are working on someone else's computer you may be downright amazed at what you find here. I manage the IT group at my real job, and part of what we do is maintain the laptops for our sales reps, all of whom are true road warriors. When we get these laptops in for updates, repairs or replacements sometimes we'll snoop around a little, and the things we find stored in the temporary files are, well, certainly not describable here, and not for the faint of heart. These guys spend too much time away from their wives and families...

Anyhooo.... after you're done looking around you can close the Windows Explorer pane, then cancel out of the settings dialog. If you still want to delete those files click on the button 'Delete files...' from the center Temporary Internet files section. When you do that you'll get another pop up box, from which you should check the option 'Delete all offline content', then click on OK:


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This may take awhile, depending on how many files you have saved (I've seen it take up to several minutes on some of the computers I've worked on). It's worth noting that these files will be deleted directly, and will not go into the Recycle bin. The downside of doing this is that websites that you visit frequently will take some additional time to load the first time you revisit them. This will vary depending on the speed of your internet connection, and is usually a small price to pay for freeing up the space and getting rid of the files from sites you will never visit again.