Member Rara Avis
The issue of replies not appearing could be caused by two different things, which is why I asked Sunshine to post her question here. When you post a message and then see the "We're forwarding you to…" message after hitting the submit button, our server is still hard at work processing your request. Theoretically, she has a minimum of 3 seconds to finish everything before you actually see a new page (and 3 seconds is a LONG time to a computer). Nonetheless, I thought it just marginally possible this was Sunshine's problem, because if Ceres wasn't able to completely process the post before the "forward" happened, you might get the old HTML page before the new one had a chance to be generated. If this was the cause of the problem, I knew I could fix it. But, I'm afraid if this was the cause of the problem, it would be happening to a very large percentage of our Members and not just a relative few of you. After Sunshine reported the problem, I threw in a few lines of code to log the amount of time it took Ceres to process a post - and we ain't no where near that 3 second window yet.
That means the problem is likely caused by the second thing I mentioned - caching. Caching is simply geek talk for saving something you suspect you'll use again later. When you visit a web page on the Internet, there is a statistically excellent chance you will visit that same exact web page in the near future. Knowing this, your browser saves a copy of the page on your local hard disk and, when it detects you returning to the page, it gives you the local copy instead of asking a web server for the remote copy. Since your hard disk is substantially faster than even the fastest modem line, it makes a lot of sense. In fact, were it not for local caching - if every single web page had to be sent across the wires every single time it were requested - the Internet would quickly bog down and become unusable. So caching is a "good thing."
Unfortunately for us, the forums are a dynamic environment, where caching can quickly turn into a bad thing when everyone involved doesn't follow the rules. Rules? You mean there are rules to this sort of thing? Hey, I'm glad you asked!
Rule #1 - if the web page you visit ends in certain extensions, it should never be cached. In our case, that extension is .cgi and that's why when you visit the main page or a forum index page (all of which are cgi programs), you should see the reply count going up or the post you just replied to being moved to the top of the page. All Internet processes recognize that cgi pages are dynamic and shouldn't be cached, so you should always see the freshest view. Unfortunately, that's not true of .html pages, which are where we store the actual posts.
Rule #2 - if you look at the source for one of our html files, very near the top you'll see a line that says META HTTP-EQUIV="Pragma" CONTENT="no-cache". This is our server's way of telling the rest of the Internet world that this page SHOULD NOT BE CACHED. It's a warning that the content is dynamic and will change. Sadly, this is the "rule" that not everyone seems to be following. Ceres warns them, but is ignored, and you see a cached web page instead of the one sitting on our server.
We do, fortunately, have some control over what our browser does. It's slightly different for every one of the many browsers, but I'll give you some clues. In Netscape 4.61, for example, you go to the menu and select Edit and then Preferences. In the little popup window, click on the "+" sign next to "Advanced" and when it opens its hierarchy list, click on "Cache." The right hand side of the popup will change and you'll see an option telling Netscape when it should compare the network document with the cached document. The options are "once per session," "every time," or "never." You want to select "every time." In Internet Explorer 4.0, from the menu, you go to "View" and then "Internet Options." You'll see tabs at the top of the popup window and you should click on the "General" tab (unless you're already there). In the section where it says "Temporary Internet Files" click on the "Settings" button. You will again see the same three options (worded a bit differently), and you want to select "Every visit to the page" as your setting. In some browsers, after you click the OK button, you'll still have to close and then reopen your browser for the new setting to become active.
These setting effectively turn off caching in your browser. The down-side is it turns it off across the entire Internet, and not just our forums. Depending on the type of web sites you typically visit, you many have just substantially slowed down your Internet experience. The up-side, of course, is that you should now see dynamic pages refreshed, uh, dynamically.
Before we leave the topic of browsers, I want to mention one more thing. Many of you have mentioned clicking the "Reload" button in Netscape or the "Refresh" button in IE. Clicking these buttons, alone, does nothing more than reload the page out of your local cache. I suspect that's why many of you are finding them less than useful.
To force Netscape to ask our server for a fresh copy of a page, you should hold down the SHIFT key while you click on the "Reload" button.
To force Internet Explorer to ask for a fresh copy of a page, you need to hold down the CTRL key while clicking on the "Refresh" button (and please don't ask our browsers for something so simple as consistency).
I've listed those steps separately because they're important for our next discussion into the wonderful world of the Internet. If you are on a page you know is wrong (probably because you just posted a reply and it ain't there), and you cannot force the browser to reload it using one of the procedure above, then your caching problem is probably not being caused by your browser. Er, you mean someone else might be caching the page, Ron?
Yep. No one has a direct connection between their computer and our server, but rather is being routed through their ISP's computer (probably several of them, but let's keep it simple). When you request a page from Ceres, your request goes from your browser, to your ISP, and only then goes to Ceres. Some ISP's have come up with this great idea to intercept your requests and automatically simplify your life by - you guessed it - giving you back a cached copy of the page you just requested.
Two ISP's that are infamous for this are AOL and Mindspring, but many others are following suit. Why? Because it saves them money. In spite of rumors to the contrary, the Internet isn't really free. Bandwidth, those pipes we're all using to send our bits and bytes around the world, costs money. And many of the larger ISP's are realizing that disk space for caching is cheaper than bandwidth. So when you go to a web page they consider static, they save the page on their server (it's going through their computer any way, right?) and, when you go there again, give you that copy instead of asking Ceres for a fresh copy.
AOL actually does a pretty darn good job. With over 20 million users, they've had a lot of experience and, over the years, have fine-tuned their caching to work fairly well. Many of the new-comers, however, have been far less successful.
The bad news, unfortunately, is really bad. You have absolutely no control over the process. There are no settings in your browser, no short-cut keys to load fresh pages, no digital tricks to convince your ISP to again ask Ceres for a fresh page. The only choice you have is to wait. Because disk space is still limited, most ISP's cache visited pages only for a short time. When their cache times out, you will again have access to the "real" pages on Ceres. Your other alternative, of course, is to find a new ISP - one that doesn't cache.