Setting the scene
As developers we are pulled in lots of conflicting directions; websites and applications have got bigger and more complicated, at the same time we expect these applications to be faster and faster. It is now standard practice to configure servers to instruct browsers to cache ‘static’ resources for very long periods of time and serve libraries such as jQuery from CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) – the rationale behind both of these practices is to try and ensure that these ‘static’ resources only need to be downloaded to the browser the first time a user requests the page.
Everything is good. The website is running fast and well and all those ‘static’ resources are safely cached away in the users browsers, reducing server load and bandwidth. One day the client comes in for a meeting. As a result you have to update some images and a stylesheet. You dutifully update the stylesheet and the images, upload the updated files to the server and email the client. A short time later the client phones up and says that they can’t see the changes.
What has happened? The problem is that you have already instructed the browser to cache the resources, therefore the browser isn’t downloading the updated files and the browser shows the old files.
‘Just click on settings in your browser and click the clear cache button’. This isn’t really an acceptable solution. Are you going to track down and tell every user of the website to clear their cache?
For quite a while the traditional PHP solution has been use Minify https://code.google.com/p/minify/ (first released in 2007). In a nutshell Minify will append a timestamp in a query string to each of your files and can also compress and combine them (fewer downloads is good). Minify is still a great choice, but there are now some powerful alternatives.
Assetic https://github.com/kriswallsmith/assetic is one alternative – it is a modern PHP asset management system, most commonly encountered in the context of Symphony2, although it is straightforward in any PHP application using composer https://getcomposer.org/ to manage dependencies.
Author: John Elliott
John has extensive knowledge of working on websites used by wide audiences. His experience means his design/web structures are all web 4.0 ready. John leads our in-house development team, ensuring processes are in place and our technology is robust.