Anybody who has ever encountered an app or software problem on Android may have been given the advice “clear app cache” or “clear app data”. These two solutions are often thought of as miracle cures for Android, but what is the difference between these seemingly similar operations? Well, that is exactly what we try to explain in this article.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of app cache, let’s try to understand what ‘cache’ is. In the simplest of terms, the cache is a reserved storage space that stores temporary data. This data is primarily used to help apps, browsers, and websites to load faster. Another way to remember it is to think of cache as a tool to speed up and offer a faster experience. Apart from offering a faster, smoother user experience, the cache also helps you reduce the amount of data that is processed and consumed.
Let me try to help you understand this using an example.
After restarting your phone, have you ever noticed how slow your camera app is to open at first, while each subsequent attempt is quicker? The increase in speed after the initial launch of an app is thanks to this cached data. Similarly, you might find that websites load faster on a second visit. This is because files such as images have been previously stored in the cache.
Now that you understand what ‘cache’ really means, it is also easier to understand the term ‘clear app cache’. When you perform this step, what essentially happens is that all the temporary data related to an app is manually deleted.
Now, there is often no need to manually manage cached data on Android smartphones because the system is very capable of doing this on its own without you even noticing it. However, if an app starts to misbehave or stop working, then you may be required to take this step as part of troubleshooting.
When you clear an app’s cached data, you remove the temporary files placed there, and you’d be surprised how often this simple step works. You should also note, however, that it doesn’t guarantee better performance, and the app may even be temporarily slower the next time it’s used.
If you haven’t noticed yet, ‘clear app cache’ and ‘clear app data’ (‘clear app storage’ on newer phones) are two distinct steps. What you should note, however, is that clearing app data is a more severe step. While the cache can be cleared with little risk to app settings, preferences, and saved states, clearing the app data will delete/remove these entirely.
Clearing data essentially reset an app to its default state: it makes your app act like when you first downloaded and installed it. For example, say you make changes to the settings of your favorite fitness app. You change the length of exercises and sound settings.
Clearing the cache will not affect these saved settings. Clearing stored data may, and likely will.
There are a few circumstances in which you may wish to clear app or cached data.
- Firstly, to save storage space. Some apps can store several GBs of data that you no longer need (podcast apps are often guilty of this). In this case, you may wish to clear their data.
- The other and more common reason is to reset an app to a default state if it has become problematic, buggy, or otherwise disruptive.
On Android 11 and above follow these steps to clear app data or cached data.
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap on Storage.
- Select Apps or Other Apps.
This will open a list of apps currently installed on your phone. By default, it will show you the apps with the most data used at the top. On older Android versions, you also get the option to sort the apps by size.
- Select the app you want to clear the cache/data.
- You will see two options: Clear storage and Clear cache.
- Depending on your intention, choose between either of these options.
- Once again, do note that ‘clear app data’ or ‘clear app storage’ is the more drastic of the two options and should only be used if you have big issues with an app or if you are really running low on storage space.
If you are on an older version of Android, you have the option to clear all cached files with a single click. To do this, all you need to do is to go to Settings > Storage > Cached data and select Clear Cache. This option is no longer available on newer Android versions including Android 10 and 11.
There are many apps that claim to “boost device performance” but often this just isn’t true. In many cases, these apps merely provide a one-touch button for ending processes and clearing the cache, both of which are largely unnecessary on today’s Android platform.
You can, and should, do this manually if it is ever required, but don’t make it a habit.
So, cleaning your app when your phone is running slowly or the memory is full could seem like the best option in the short run, but it could have consequences in the long term, which is why you shouldn’t do it too often.
There is no “better” or “worse” option when it comes to clearing the cache and clearing app data. Both processes have their purpose.
Your first step towards fixing a problematic app should be clearing the cache, as this is the least intrusive method for quickly fixing apps. If that fails, or if you wish to free up a larger volume of storage space, then clear the data. Just remember that anything stored or saved in the app, including audio, video, or image files, will also be removed.
Has that cleared up your concerns regarding app data and cached data? If not, tell us in the comments.
This article was last updated in May 2022. Older comments have been preserved.