Go clean your cache

Reader Willy Chaplin found a problem with Internet Explorer and Outlook Express that I'm sure affects many other readers.

Willy Chaplin found a problem with Internet Explorer and Outlook Express that I’m sure affects many other readers. Here’s how he tells it:

“I own an older computer with a 1GB hard drive,” Chaplin writes. “Recently, the situation became critical. The hard drive became completely full. Programs were starting to fail in weird and unpredictable ways.

“I decided to use one of your latest tips, using the ‘last accessed’ date/time stamp to find files to delete. I wasn’t having much luck until I stumbled upon an obscure set of subdirectories: C:\Windows\Profiles

\Administrator\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5.

“This path was reachable by Windows Explorer but seemed invisible to MS-DOS, which I was using to search for deletable files. Using wild cards, I was able to list some of the subfolders on this path, with arcane names like ‘Opejs5uz’ and ‘Yrop212r’. What to my wondering eyes should appear but each and every email and attachment I had received in the past six years.

“I ended up freeing more than 800MB of space, out of a total of 1GB,” Chaplin concludes.

Chaplin found out the hard way that Internet Explorer (IE) and Outlook Express (OE) don’t always efficiently clean up the temporary files they create. But there’s a deeper story going on here: IE and OE can bog down a system.

A Microsoft development manager who asked not to be identified said names such as Opejs5uz are “for local controls or offline browsing of content. They’re temporary files. To test them, try to delete them. If they’re necessary, they’ll be rebuilt or you’ll be prevented from deleting them.”

I don’t recommend you delete files to see if they are needed. First you should use an IE dialogue box to clear the cache. To do this in IE 5, pull down the Tools menu, then click Internet Options, Delete Files, OK.

Even better is a free program called CacheSentry, which I recommended in three columns in 1998 (see www.infoworld.com/printlinks).

CacheSentry was created by developer David Pochron to deal with serious problems exhibited by IE 3 and 4. Although these versions of IE retained web files in a cache, files were deleted at random rather than by the oldest first. In IE 4, offline files you’d “subscribed” to could disappear mere minutes later.

This random behaviour was improved in IE 5. But Pochron says newer quirks can cause IE 5 to get out of sync with its cache’s index file. Furthermore, recent versions of OE store temp files in IE’s cache. These files can grow without IE ever completely pruning them.

As a freeware program, CacheSentry doesn’t have a real install routine, and you should carefully read all its documentation. Here’s a summary.

Step 1. Go to Mindspring. Download CacheSentry.zip Version 1.5. Save it to a temporary storage location.

Step 2. Unzip the file to a permanent folder, such as C:\Program Files. (Configure your unzip program to Use Folder Names. This creates separate CacheSentry and Docs folders.)

Step 3. Run IE, and then pull down its Tools menu. Click Internet Options, Settings. Set IE’s cache to its maximum value. This won’t consume your entire hard drive because we’re going to set up CacheSentry to manage the space. Close all instances of IE.

Step 4. Run CacheSentry.exe to load it into memory. Run it a second time to open its configuration dialogue box. CacheSentry analyses IE’s cache and removes “orphan” files. On one Windows 2000 machine I tested, which had never had any real OE use, CacheSentry cleaned up 16MB of junk right away.

Step 5. Set CacheSentry to the amount of disk space you wish to use for IE’s cache. Pochron recommends no more than 100MB, although you can go as high as 300MB or as low as you like.

Step 6. For IE 4 or 5 only, turn on CacheSentry’s check box called Enable Cache Index Bug Fix. Set the Cluster Size box to 4096 or whatever your file system uses. (If you don’t know how to check: Open a DOS window. In Windows 2000, run CHKDSK C: /I /C. In Windows Me, run CHKDSK C:, which will abort, but the brief resulting message will correctly report your cluster size, which is called an “allocation unit.”) Click CacheSentry’s Hide Window button to save your changes.

Step 7. Create a copy of CacheSentry.exe into your StartUp group so it runs automatically. Or just run it when you feel the need.

That’s it. Reader Chaplin will receive a free copy of Windows Me Secrets for being the first to send me his tip.

Brian Livingston’s latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to brian_livingston@infoworld.com.

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