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Clear app cache or clear app data: what's the difference?

Anybody who has ever encountered an app or software problem on Android may have been given the advice “clear the app cache” or “clear the app data”. These two solutions are often thought of as miracle cures for Android but what is the difference between these seemingly similar operations? Let me explain.

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We explain the difference between clearing the cache and clearing app data. / © ANDROIDPIT

What is clearing the app cache?

The cache is a temporary storage area of a device which retains certain kinds of data. The aim of this is to speed up how quickly and smoothly your device operates and reduces how much data is processed and consumed.

After restarting your phone, have you ever noticed how slow your camera app is to first open, when 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. Once again, this is because files such as images have been previously stored in the cache.

There is often no need to manually manage cached data: Android is very capable of this on its own. However, if an app starts to misbehave or stop working, then you may wish to manually take this step.

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In your Apps menu, navigate to the All tab for a quick glance at stored data. / © ANDROIDPIT

When you clear an apps cached data, you remove the temporary files placed there, and you'd be surprised how often this acts as an effective solution. Also note, however, that it doesn't guarantee better performance, and the app may even be temporarily slower the next time it's used.

What is clearing app data?

Clearing app data is a more severe (for want of better word) step. While the cache can be cleared with little risk to app settings, preferences and save states, clearing the app data will delete/remove these.

Clearing data resets 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 in all likelihood – will. 

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From your Apps menu, you can tap on any app for a look at its vital statistics. / © ANDROIDPIT

When should they be applied?

There are a few circumstances in which you may wish to clear app or cache data. Firstly, to save storage space. Some apps can store gigabytes 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. 

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Going to Settings > Storage > Cached data gives you a one-tap solution to removing cached data. / © ANDROIDPIT

How do I clear app or cached data?

The process differs between device and operating system, but for most Lollipop devices, the steps will look something like this: 

  • Navigate to your Settings menu.
  • Scroll to Apps subhead and tap it.
  • Swipe to the All tab.
  • Tap on the app which you wish to remove data for.
  • On the following page, tap either clear cache or clear data, depending on which measure you wish to take.

For individual tutorials for specific devices, you can search the AndroidPIT site.

A word on "performance-boosting" apps

There are many apps which 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 of processes and clearing of 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, not habitually.

Final thoughts

There is no “better” or “worse” option when it comes to clearing the cache and clearing app data. Both processes have their own 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.

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