Caching refers to the process of storing something to reuse later, so it’s got some pretty universal use cases.
It’s almost akin to keeping your most frequently used spices on the kitchen counter, instead of in the cupboard — so you can simply grab and go when you’re rustling up a feast.
But for a more technical (and perhaps, accurate) use case, consider a GPS navigation system like Google Maps. The application doesn’t constantly download the map data from the internet as you drive. To save time, it caches portions of the map locally on your device — something that’s doubly useful if you lose connectivity.
With that in mind, it’s worth exploring how caching is used to cut down the most time-consuming parts of a dev cycle and do away with those major bottlenecks in build times.
What is caching?
Broadly, caching is the process of storing multiple copies of data in a temporary location so they can be accessed faster at a later time.
It’s used for software applications, servers, web browsers and more. It ensures that users and apps don’t need to start from scratch whenever something is booted up.
Just like websites use caching to speed up the loading process for web pages, devs can use caching in some handy ways to speed up build times.
In software builds, whether they are being built incrementally or from scratch, this means that some build outputs and artifacts can be stored for reuse later.
How does it work in practice?
Let’s start with an example from a web browser.
The webpage will pre-load certain assets from cached files when you return after a first visit — this covers anything from images to apps and APIs.
Similarly, when you complete a build, the system will store outputs in file caches.
When a build is run again – for example, if the dev chooses to add some new code to an existing project and needs to run another build – the build environment will check stored build outputs first.
If any of the existing outputs match the current build, it can simply integrate those outputs and avoid having to double up the build’s work.
This way, there’s no need to start from scratch. Devs can simply run builds for parts of the code that haven’t been added to the build yet.
The benefits of this are multiplied for teams that work in the cloud. Teams that are working on a single project can reuse outputs from any team member to accelerate their own build processes.
While cloud computing environments can create unique challenges for teams, caching can address many of these challenges. Let’s explore some of these use cases now.
Caching in the cloud
In cloud environments, distributed resources are stored across multiple data centers and locations, which can slow things down when it comes to accessing key data. But caching helps mitigate the impact of this increased latency by storing data closer to the points of consumption — resulting in faster response times.
Additionally, by reducing the need to transmit redundant data over the network, caching can optimize the bandwidth required for a build.
The benefits of build caching in the cloud
In the context of software development and CI/CD processes, there are some serious advantages of caching in the cloud throughout the dev cycle.
Boosting developer productivity
Caching means devs don’t need to do full rebuilds whenever they switch branches or add new code to existing branches.
By minimizing wait times, reducing redundancy, and optimizing the use of resources, caching is a great way for devs to improve the overall software development process.
Caching in the cloud also enables devs working from multiple locations to all work seamlessly on the same project.
Enable true work from anywhere with no speed impact
Caching allows devs to rely on downstream bandwidth rather than upstream bandwidth, minimizing the impact of less reliable networks and latency – which means devs don’t need to be tied to the office while they’re working on a project.
Content Delivery Networks, edge caching, local data caching, file system caching and dynamic content caching are all examples of techniques that can facilitate more efficient project delivery for remote devs.
By enabling true work from anywhere, devs can mitigate the impact that remote and distributed work environments can otherwise have on a project.
Reusing cached data between CI builds
Using cached data across CI builds can help devs avoid wasting time, optimize resource utilization and create more efficient continuous integration processes.
By storing and retrieving previously downloaded artifacts and intermediate build states, devs can easily avoid repeating work in subsequent builds.
For example, since lots of projects rely on dependencies (like frameworks and libraries), these can be cached between CI builds — doing away with the need to download and reinstall them every time.
In the end, it’s all about speed and the ability to iterate faster.
Software builds, especially complex ones, can be time-consuming and complicated, with many different iterations and versions.
Build caching can significantly reduce the time it takes for devs to build software. Instead of building everything from scratch, devs can pull from the cached versions of previous builds.
Choose build caching for faster dev cycles
Caching in the cloud can be a valuable way for devs to optimize bandwidth usage, reduce latency and improve the scalability of builds with more ease.
By strategically storing and retrieving the most frequently used data, caching provides devs with a golden opportunity to keep on top of resources and, most importantly, save time.
In conclusion, devs should embrace caching in the cloud the same way the avid cooks among us have embraced keeping the most used spices in the easiest-to-reach places.