Windows caught in the cookie jar

Question: On several occasions, I’ve had difficulty deleting files in the “Temporary Internet Files” folder under the Windows directory in Windows 95. Eventually they go, but it takes several tries. I’ve also noticed that, even though no files show up in Explorer’s contents window, the Properties window shows the “Temporary Internet Files” folder as containing nine files and four folders totaling 4.5Mb. Even when Internet Explorer 3.02 is enabled to show all files, it shows none in the content window. Could it be that I am doing something to invoke the folder’s awful wrath? –S.D.

Answer: There’s a bit of Windows hide-and-seek going on here. Let me explain how MS Internet Explorer works.

Internet Explorer, which is Microsoft’s web browser, stores temporary internet files in a four-folder system with folders named cache1 through cache4. Web page data, as well as multimedia files, are stored within these folders which, thanks to a little bit of technical trickery, are hidden to you the user.

In fact, even if you ask Windows Explorer to show them to you, they may initially not be viewable. With some configuration, you can get them to be displayed as one big lump of files and not partitioned in the cache folders.

The idea is that, when you go to a web page, Explorer checks to see whether you’ve visited it before. If you have, instead of retrieving the data down through your skinny 28.8 Kbs modem connection all over again, Explorer simply grabs a copy from these folders which are easily accessible on your hard drive. Much faster.

Previous versions of Internet Explorer used a single folder to cache web data. Version 3.0 uses multiple folders to improve browser performance.

Each folder contains an index file that tracks the contents of the folder. When a new page is added to a cache folder, information about the page is added to the folder’s index file. When Internet Explorer looks to see if a page is stored in the cache, it uses the index file to determine if the page is stored. This improves browsing performance by allowing Internet Explorer to search the cache for the index without actually having to look at each individual page stored in the cache.

To view the contents of these folders, here’s what you do:

  1. Go into Internet Explorer (or right click on the Internet Explorer 3 icon) and bring up the Properties.
  2. Go to the Advanced tab, and click on View Files under the Temporary Internet Files sub-heading. It will show as one big folder, even though it is a combination of the four. The advanced tab can also be found under the options area of the View menu pull-down.

You can also see the contents of the temporary internet files directory through Windows Explorer, but it takes a bit of clicking. It’s likely that, if you locate the directory through this method, it will appear as though the directory is empty. You’ll want explore the different switches and buttons under the Options item under the View menu to see all the file data.

The data files that won’t go away (even after you’ve asked nicely for Explorer to delete all the cache files) stick around for a reason. “The nine files you are likely to see under there are a series of cookies,” Jeremy Schmuland, a help desk tech at GE Capital in Edmonton, explained.

In fact, these aren’t even cookie files as such — they’re references to cookies stored in the windowscookies directory. So to delete them, you have to go there.

Cookies contain information about sites visited, and are used to tell a web server what you did last time you were on its page. Explorer “assumes that you will probably want those in case you go back to that site, and therefore does not delete them,” said Schmuland.

Each cookie has an expiration date, and they are eventually deleted by the system.

If you really want to physically see the cache directories, then go into DOS mode, navigate to the temporary internet files directory under C:Windows, and use the dir/a command to reveal them.

If after reading all of this you want a simple easy to use software that does most of what was just mentioned above, in one click, I recommend Evidence Sweeper.