Cache-Control

The Cache-Control HTTP header field holds directives (instructions) — in both requests and responses — that control caching in browsers and shared caches (e.g. Proxies, CDNs).

Header type Request header, Response header
Forbidden header name no
CORS-safelisted response header yes

Syntax

Caching directives follow the validation rules below:

  • Case-insensitive — but lowercase is recommended, since some implementations do not recognize uppercase directives.
  • Multiple directives are comma-separated.
  • Some directives have an optional argument.

Cache directives

Standard Cache-Control directives are defined as follows.

Request Response
max-age max-age
max-stale -
min-fresh -
- s-maxage
no-cache no-cache
no-store no-store
no-transform no-transform
only-if-cached -
- must-revalidate
- proxy-revalidate
- must-understand
- private
- public
- immutable
- stale-while-revalidate
stale-if-error stale-if-error

Note: Check the compatibility table for their support; user agents that don't recognize them should ignore them.

Vocabulary

The following terms are used in this document; many but not all are from the specification.

(HTTP) cache

Implementation which holds requests and responses for reusing in subsequent requests. May be either a shared or private cache.

Shared cache

Cache that exists between the origin server and clients (e.g. Proxy, CDN). It stores a single response and reuses it with multiple users — so developers should avoid storing personalized contents to be cached in the shared cache.

Private cache

Cache that exists in the client. Also called local cache, or even just browser cache, etc. It can store and reuse personalized content for a single user.

Store response

Store a response in caches when it's cacheable. But it's not always reused as-is. (Usually "cache" means storing a response.)

Reuse response

Reuse cached responses for subsequent requests.

Revalidate response

Ask the origin server whether the stored response is still fresh or not. Usually it's done through a conditional request.

Fresh response

Indicates that the response is fresh. This usually means the response can be reused for subsequent requests, depending on request directives.

Stale response

Indicates that the response is stale. It usually means the response can't be reused as-is. Cache storage isn't required to remove stale responses immediately, because revalidation could change the response from being stale to being fresh again.

Age

The time since a response was generated. It is a criterion for whether a response is fresh or stale.

Directives

This section lists directives that affect caching — both response directives and request directives.

Response Directives

max-age

The max-age=N response directive indicates that the response remains fresh until N seconds after the response is generated.

Cache-Control: max-age=604800

Indicates that caches can store this response and reuse it for subsequent requests while it's fresh.

Note that max-age is not the elapsed time since the response was received, but instead the elapsed time since the response was generated on the origin server. So if the other cache(s) on the path the response takes store it for 100 seconds (indicated using the Age response header field), the browser cache would deduct 100 seconds from its freshness lifetime.

Cache-Control: max-age=604800
Age: 100

s-maxage

The s-maxage response directive also indicates how long the response is fresh for (similar to max-age) — but it is specific to shared caches, and they will ignore max-age when it is present.

Cache-Control: s-maxage=604800

no-cache

The no-cache response directive indicates that the response can be stored in caches, but must be validated with the origin server before each reuse — even when the cache is disconnected from the origin server.

Cache-Control: no-cache

If you want caches to always check for content updates while reusing stored content when it hasn't changed, no-cache is the directive to use. It does this by requiring caches to revalidate each request with the origin server.

Note that no-cache does not mean "don't cache". no-cache allows caches to store a response, but requires them to revalidate it before reuse. If the sense of "don't cache" that you want is actually "don't store", then no-store is the directive to use.

must-revalidate

The must-revalidate response directive indicates that the response can be stored in caches and can be reused while fresh. Once it becomes stale, it must be validated with the origin server before reuse.

Typically, must-revalidate is used with max-age.

Cache-Control: max-age=604800, must-revalidate

HTTP allows caches to reuse stale responses when they are disconnected from the origin server. must-revalidate is a way to prevent that, so that the cache either revalidates the stored response with the origin server, or if that's not possible it generates a 504 (Gateway Timeout) response.

proxy-revalidate

The proxy-revalidate response directive is the equivalent of must-revalidate, but specifically for shared caches only.

no-store

The no-store response directive indicates that any caches of any kind (private or shared) should not store this response.

Cache-Control: no-store

private

The private response directive indicates that the response can be stored only in a private cache (e.g. local caches in browsers).

Cache-Control: private

You should add the private directive for user-personalized content — in particular, responses received after login, and sessions managed via cookies.

If you forget to add private to a response with personalized content, then that response can be stored in a shared cache and end up being used by multiple users, which can cause personal information to leak.

public

Responses for requests with Authorization header fields must not be stored in a shared cache. But the public directive will cause such responses to be stored in a shared cache.

Cache-Control: public

In general, when pages are under Basic Auth or Digest Auth, the browser sends requests with the Authorization header. That means the response is access-controlled for restricted users (who have accounts), and it's fundamentally not shared-cacheable, even if it has max-age.

You can use the public directive to unlock that restriction.

Cache-Control: public, max-age=604800

Note that, s-maxage or must-revalidate also unlock that restriction.

If a request doesn’t have an Authorization header, or you are already using s-maxage or must-revalidate in the response, then you don't need to use public.

must-understand

The must-understand response directive indicates that a cache should store the response only if it understands the requirements for caching based on status code.

must-understand should be coupled with no-store, for fallback behavior.

Cache-Control: must-understand, no-store

If a cache doesn't support must-understand, it will be ignored. If no-store is also present, the response isn't stored.

If a cache supports must-understand, it stores the response with an understanding of cache requirements based on its status code.

no-transform

Some intermediaries transform content for various reasons. For example, some convert images to reduce transfer size. In some cases, this is undesirable for the content provider.

no-transform indicates that any intermediary (regardless of whether it implements a cache) shouldn't transform the response contents.

Note: Google’s Web Light is one kind of such an intermediary. It converts images to minimize data for a cache store or slow connection, and supports no-transform as an opt-out option.

immutable

The immutable response directive indicates that the response will not be updated while it's fresh.

Cache-Control: public, max-age=604800, immutable

A modern best practice for static resources is to include version/hashes in their URLs, while never modifying the resources — but instead, when necessary, updating the resources with newer versions that have new version-numbers/hashes, so that their URLs are different. That’s called the cache-busting pattern.

<script src=https://example.com/react.0.0.0.js></script>

When a user reloads the browser, the browser will send conditional requests for validating to the origin server. But it's not necessary to revalidate those kinds of static resources even when a user reloads the browser, because they're never modified. immutable tells a cache that the response is immutable while it's fresh, and avoids those kinds of unnecessary conditional requests to the server.

When you use a cache-busting pattern for resources and apply them to a long max-age, you can also add immutable to avoid revalidation.

stale-while-revalidate

The stale-while-revalidate response directive indicates that the cache could reuse a stale response while it revalidates it to a cache.

Cache-Control: max-age=604800, stale-while-revalidate=86400

In the example above, the response is fresh for 7 days (604800s). After 7 days, it becomes stale but the cache is allowed to reuse it for any requests that are made in the following day (86400s) — provided that they revalidate the response in the background.

Revalidation will make the cache be fresh again, so it appears to clients that it was always fresh during that period — effectively hiding the latency penalty of revalidation from them.

If no request happened during that period, the cache became stale and the next request will revalidate normally.

stale-if-error

The stale-if-error response directive indicates that the cache can reuse a stale response when an origin server responds with an error (500, 502, 503, or 504).

Cache-Control: max-age=604800, stale-if-error=86400

In the example above, the response is fresh for 7 days (604800s). After 7 days it becomes stale, but it can be used for an extra 1 day (86400s) if the server responds with an error.

After a period of time, the stored response became stale normally. That means the client will receive an error response as-is if the origin server sends it.

Request Directives

no-cache

The no-cache request directive asks caches to validate the response with the origin server before reuse.

Cache-Control: no-cache

no-cache allows clients to request the most up-to-date response even if the cache has a fresh response.

Browsers usually add no-cache to requests when users are force reloading a page.

no-store

The no-store request directive allows a client to request that caches refrain from storing the request and corresponding response — even if the origin server's response could be stored.

Cache-Control: no-store

Note that the major browsers do not support requests with no-store.

max-age

The max-age=N request directive indicates that the client allows a stored response that is generated on the origin server within N seconds.

Cache-Control: max-age=3600

In the case above, if the response with Cache-Control: max-age=604800 was stored in caches 3 hours ago, the cache couldn't reuse that response.

Many browsers use this directive for reloading, as explained below.

Cache-Control: max-age=0

max-age=0 is a workaround for no-cache, because many old (HTTP/1.0) cache implementations don't support no-cache. Recently browsers are still using max-age=0 in "reloading" — for backward compatibility — and alternatively using no-cache to cause a "force reloading".

max-stale

The max-stale=N request directive indicates that the client allows a stored response that is stale within N seconds.

Cache-Control: max-stale=3600

In the case above, if the response with Cache-Control: max-age=604800 was stored on caches 3 hours ago, the cache couldn't reuse that response.

Clients can use this header when the origin server is down or too slow and can accept cached responses from caches even if they are a bit old.

Note that the major browsers do not support requests with max-stale.

min-fresh

The min-fresh=N request directive indicates that the client allows a stored response that is fresh for at least N seconds.

Cache-Control: min-fresh=600

In the case above, if the response with Cache-Control: max-age=3600 was stored in caches 51 minutes ago, the cache couldn't reuse that response.

Clients can use this header when the user requires the response to not only be fresh, but also requires that it won't be updated for a period of time.

Note that the major browsers do not support requests with min-fresh.

no-transform

Same meaning that no-transform has for a response, but for a request instead.

only-if-cached

The client indicates that cache should obtain an already-cached response. If a cache has stored a response, it’s reused.

Use Cases

Preventing storing

If you don’t want a response stored in caches, use the no-store directive.

Cache-Control: no-store

Note that no-cache means "it can be stored but don't reuse before validating" — so it's not for preventing a response from being stored.

Cache-Control: no-cache

In theory, if directives are conflicted, the most restrictive directive should be honored. So the example below is basically meaningless, because private, no-cache, max-age=0 and must-revalidate conflict with no-store.

# conflicted
Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, max-age=0, must-revalidate

# equivalant to
Cache-Control: no-store

Caching static assets with “cache busting”

When you build static assets with versioning/hashing mechanisms, adding a version/hash to the filename or query string is a good way to manage caching.

For example:

<!-- index.html -->
<script src=/assets/react.min.js></script>
<img src=/assets/hero.png width=900 height=400>

The React library version will change when you update the library, and hero.png will also change when you edit the picture. So those are hard to store in a cache with max-age.

In such a case, you could address the caching needs by using a specific, numbered version of the library, and including the hash of the picture in its URL.

<!-- index.html -->
<script src=/assets/react.0.0.0min.js></script>
<img src=/assets/hero.png?hash=deadbeef width=900 height=400>

You can add a long max-age value, and immutable, because the content will never change.

# /assets/*
Cache-Control: max-age=31536000, immutable

When you update the library or edit the picture, new content should have a new URL, and caches aren't reused. That is called the “cache busting” pattern.

Use a long max-age to make sure that the HTML response itself is not cached. no-cache could cause revalidation, and the client will correctly receive a new version of the HTML response and static assets.

# /index.html
Cache-Control: no-cache

Note: If index.html is controlled under Basic Authentication or Digest Authentication, files under /assets are not stored in the shared cache. If /assets/ files are suitable for storing in a shared cache, you also need one of public, s-maxage or must-revalidate.

Up-to-date contents always

For content that’s generated dynamically, or that’s static but updated often, you want a user to always receive the most up-to-date version.

If you don't add a Cache-Control header because the response is not intended to be cached, that could cause an unexpected result. Cache storage is allowed to cache it heuristically — so if you have any requirements on caching, you should always indicate them explicitly, in the Cache-Control header.

Adding no-cache to the response causes revalidation to the server, so you can serve a fresh response every time — or if the client already has a new one, just respond 304 Not Modified.

Cache-Control: no-cache

Most HTTP/1.0 caches don't support no-cache directives, so historically max-age=0 was used as a workaround. But only max-age=0 could cause a stale response to be reused when caches disconnected from the origin server. must-revalidate addresses that. That’s why the example below is equivalent to no-cache.

Cache-Control: max-age=0, must-revalidate

But for now, you can simply use no-cache instead.

Clearing an already-stored cache

Unfortunately, there are no cache directives for clearing already-stored responses from caches.

Imagine that clients/caches store a fresh response for a path, with no request flight to the server. There is nothing a server could do to that path.

Alternatively, Clear-Site-Data can clear a browser cache for a site. But be careful: that clears every stored response for a site — and only in browsers, not for a shared cache.

Specifications

Specification
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Caching (HTTP/1.1)
# header.cache-control
HTTP Immutable Responses
# the-immutable-cache-control-extension

Browser compatibility

BCD tables only load in the browser

HTTP Caching RFC5861 - HTTP Cache-Control Extensions for Stale Content RFC8246 - HTTP Immutable Responses

See also