Ye fabled IE hidden cache

Okay this is something that has been circulating since the beginning of Creation and I want to know if it’s really true (at least currently), both for the heck of it and because I use IE at work. I’ve done my own research and I can’t find to be true the claims that IE doesn’t clean its whole cache when asked to, but I’d like your input guys and gals. I don’t know if the hidden and undeletable cache is just part of Microsoft’s Black Legend (I deem that most likely), if it was once true but no longer, or if I’m wrong.

NOTE: For beginner users (for anyone for that matter), I do not recommended messing up with anything described here. Feel free to browse the contents of the folders I speak about but don’t delete or modify anything by extraordinay means.

I’ve checked both IE6 at home and IE7 at work, both in WinXPSP2. My findings won’t be new to many of you but here they are. In "\Documents and Settings_____" (where “_____” is the user you’re logged in as), there’s a folder called “Local Settings” which is hidden but can be seen if hidden files and folders visibility is enabled in “Tools > Folder Options, View” in Windows Explorer (not the Internet browser but the file manager accessible through “Start > Programs > Accessories”). This folder contains plenty of user info, not only IE’s cache, and much of it is sensitive for your programs’ working order so again I recommend not messing up with anything.

If I remember right in Windows 9X the cache was located in "\WINDOWS\Temporary Internet Files"; since Windows XP is a multiuser OS every user has his own cache at "\Documents and Settings_____\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files".

Now I’ve found that the cached objects you’ll see here are not real files but homonym references (kind of reminds me of OS/2’s shadows) to files stored elsewhere in the hard drive. Advanced users will have no problem finding the real files but I won’t tell where they’re located because again it’s not advisable messing up.

Now if you go to IE and tell it to flush the cache as usual you’ll see that the visible content of the “Temporary Internet Files” folder is gone. I’ve checked the real files’ location and nothing from the Internet remains there. So it doesn’t look like IE tries to save a hidden record of your Internet navigation.

True, this is not all, the “Temporary Internet Files” folder has further content that is not only hidden, but in a way that it can’t be seen even enabling any option in Windows Explorer. It can be seen from the command line though. Actually in the command line we can confirm that the visible content of the folder was not real files. The only files within it containing Internet cached content (there are others but they’re not related to your Internet navigation AFAIK) are in a subfolder called “Content.IE5”. The cached files are classified in further subfolders and there’s a file called “index.dat” which stores the visited URLs. Yes Windows throughly hides all this from the average user, BUT if we go to IE and flush the cache by normal means all the cached files within “Content.IE5” are deleted, and although “index.dat” is not deleted it now contains just a header and the URL history has been deleted from the file.

So as far as I can tell, it’s not true that IE stores your Internet history without your consent even after you’ve told it to clear it. What may have happened to many is that they cleared the URL history without clearing the temporay cached files, or the other way around, or didn’t clear the cookies or anything alse. In IE in “Tools > Internet Options” you can clear any single kind of cached content selectively, or the whole of it. If you tell IE to clear all, nothing is kept behind you back as far as I know.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, thanks in advace for your comments.

UPDATE: The index.dat described above is a URL cache (likely the URLs you get in a pull-down menu when you click on the arrow at the right of the URL bar) but there are others within "\Documents and Settings_____\Local Settings\History" that store the navigation history. Again Windows Explorer won’t show the real content of that folder, but upon closer examination I’ve found that they don’t keep that info after telling IE to flush it.

However they also keep some info about files on your system. But it doesn’t seem info on recently opened files. (That info is kept elsewhere and can be flushed from the task bar’s properties.) This is a wild guess but it looked to me like these files registered changes, and a hypothesis would be that it has something to do with System Restore.

I’m not sure about some of the stuff I’ve read on the net about hidden files that cannot be found in the file system, but only in DOS, and can’t be accessed by filepath but only by name, etc…

However, I do know from experience that if you set IE to not keep history, and not keep cookies, that all it does is not show them to you. The files do still remain, unless you manually hunt them down and remove them. It will keep them until the cows come home, without intervention…


I actually had to go through that tedious experience and deleting them through the DOS screen… It wasn’t easy to the say the least because the filenames and paths can be very long and confusing, I also had to end explorer.exe to complete some of it. It’s true that upon reboot these files will be re-created (but not ALL of them). That’s why several cleaning programs like the popular CCleaner has options to for scheduled deletions. I think the only ones that are “permanent” or re-created are just the index.dat files, and I have about 4-5 (the others can be simply deleted by clearing IE’s cache).

The thing is that I found data from Internet browsing in these locations I talk about, but after simply telling IE to flush all, I checked and it was gone, either the cached files themselves disappeared, or the various index.dat files had lost the data they kept before. So as far as I’ve been able to check there’s nothing fishy going on. But if I’ve missed something elsewhere I’d like to know where is it. :slight_smile:

PS: This doesn’t mean I recommend using IE… :o