Caches take advantage of the locality of reference principle: recently requested data is likely to be requested again. They are used in almost every layer of computing: hardware, operating systems, web browsers, web applications, and more. A cache is like short-term memory: it has a limited amount of space, but is typically faster than the original data source and contains the most recently accessed items. Caches can exist at all levels in architecture, but are often found at the level nearest to the frontend where they return data quickly without taxing downstream levels.

Information on this page comes from Educative's System Design course.


A cache directly on a request layer node enables the local storage of response data. Each time a request is made to the service, the node will quickly return local cached data if it exists (cache hit). If the requested information is not in the cache, the node will query the disk (cache miss).

A content distribution network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver web pages based on the geographic locations of the user. The edge locations of a CDN often cache static assets.

Cache Invalidation

Caching does require some maintenance to keep content coherent with the source of truth. If the data is modified in the database, it should probably be invalidated in the cache. Three main schemes exist for cache invalidation.

  • Write-through cache
    • Data is written to the cache and the database at the same time. This schema has the disadvantage of higher latency for write operations.
  • Write-around cache
    • Data is written to the database and bypasses the cache. A read request of recently written data will create a cache miss.
  • Write-back cache
    • Data is written to the cache alone. The write to permanent storage is done after specified intervals or under certain conditions. This approach increases the risk of data loss.

Cache Eviction

  • First In First Out (FIFO)
  • Last In First Out (LIFO)
  • Least Recently Used (LRU)
  • Most Recently Used (MRU)
  • Least Frequently Used (LFU)
  • Random Replacement (RR)