WordPress
Article

5 of the Most Popular WordPress Caching Plugins

By Jacco Blankenspoor

WordPress is a great CMS, but once you dress it up with a fancy theme and some plugins, it has the tendency to act like a diesel engine. You will get there, but don’t expect to go red light racing with it. So, unless you really like the default theme that WordPress comes with, and don’t use any plugins, you will probably want to spice it up a bit.

Say hello to caching; the magic word for speeding up your site. There are some great plugins available for your WordPress installation, and in this article I will list the five most popular ones. You basically can’t go wrong with any of these, but each have their own special way of doing things.

You are obviously free to try any of these caching plugins yourselves, but today I will shine a light on what makes these plugins different.

What Is Caching?

Caching is a collection of methods that speed up the loading of your site. What it basically does is make a static copy of your dynamic site to reduce server rendering times. The same goes for your database and compiled PHP code. This is all saved in a type of image, which is served every time the site is visited. When changes are made, this copy is stored in the server’s memory.

A good caching plugin goes even further, optimizing the JavaScript and CSS files by minifying and compressing them. These optimized files can also be served from the server’s memory or even or on a CDN. It should also take care of proper browser caching, along with some minor additional optimizations.

We all know web page speed is important. When properly set up, a good WordPress caching plugin can literally make your site fly, and allows for thousands of visitors per day without any problems (eventually it will come down to your server, magic can only do so much).

Now let’s see how some of the best WordPress caching plugins can make your site feel like a Ferrari. I will look at the results by using the plugins on recommended settings.

Default Settings

I will be using one of my own sites, more specifically this page about World War 1 Movies. Let’s say it’s all but optimized, taking over 3 seconds to load without caching. I use GTMetrix.com for measuring the results. There’s no CDN used, but most caching plugins are easy to set up with common CDNs. I did several test runs, and used the lowest time for the screenshots.

WP Super Cache

WP Super Cache Results

Let’s start with the leader in downloads, WP Super Cache (WPSC). Together with W3 Total Cache, this is the most popular caching plugin, even recommended in the WordPress codex.

WPSC shaves off about a second, but it doesn’t feel that fast. At least not superfast. Somehow it seems like most of the speed improvement comes from browser caching (even though this plugin doesn’t improve browser caching), with a fresh reload, the site is still feeling sluggish. It also increases the numbers of requests and the total page size, and doesn’t offer minification.

WP Super Cache Settings

WPSC comes with an ‘Easy’ tab, which allows you to turn it on at it’s most basic features. But, to make full use of WPSC, you need to head over to the ‘Advanced’ tab, and check all the recommended settings boxes.

Why Use WP Super Cache?

WPSC allows for easy configuration, which means that less technical users find it easy to work with. It does, however, feel like you are leaving some speed on the table.

W3 Total Cache

W3TC Results

Mr. Popular #2 comes in with better results, almost cutting the load time in half while reducing the total page size slightly. When browsing the site it also feels like you’re flying through, with all of the pages loading almost instantly. It allows for improved browser caching, and minifies all of your .js and .css files to a minimum size.

W3TC Settings

W3 Total Cache (W3TC) comes with a ton of very detailed settings to configure. For example, there are seven different page cache methods, and three different CSS minifiers to choose from.

There is one easy checkbox to turn on all of the different caching methods in one convenient swoop, on default settings. These settings caused the reduced loading time on my site right away, but you still have to test each of these settings.

Why Use W3 Total Cache?

Results are what matter in the end, and W3TC delivers. However, if you’re less technical, this might not be your cup of tea.

WordFence

WordFence Falcon Settings

This one was recommended in the comments of this WordPress speed article. WordFence isn’t primarily a caching plugin. It is actually a security plugin, designed to protect your site from various attacks. But with WordFence 5.0 came their Falcon Engine, which definitely is the coolest name for a caching plugin.

Falcon is the fastest caching plugin around, at least according to it’s makers who seem to put quite some thinking into it. Reading their pitch definitely makes you want this plugin to be really fast. With almost a second off it’s in line with most other plugins, but they are still working on it, so let’s hope it improves.

WordFence Falcon Settings

The settings are the easiest you will see, and I like the fact that even here they want to emphasize the speed of their Falcon Engine. It puts the results in a better light, since you only need to select the Falcon option to get it to work. They are however exaggerating a bit.

Why Use Falcon?

Caching won’t get easier than this, and you can even get your security level upgraded too.

WP Rocket

WP Rocket is one of the newer kids on the block. At $39 for a single site licence, you would expect it to perform, which I found it definitely does. The interface is very simple to setup and use, in fact it’s one of the easiest caching plugins to configure that I’ve come across. As you can see below, main settings page is very uncluttered.

WP Rocket Caching Settings

In my testing I managed to improve page load time by 50%, just with the settings shown above.

WP Rocket also supports plenty of advanced features such as DNS Prefetching, CDNs and the ability to export and import settings.

Why Use WP Rocket?

A lot of people like WP Rocket and for good reason, it’s interface is very clean and straightforward. If you’re looking for something that’s both powerful and simple, and that includes support, WP Rocket is well worth looking at.

In-house and External Caching

I cheated a bit on this one, because I wanted to show you are some alternatives to using a self-installed plugin. So, it is more of a 5th caching solution instead of a real plugin.

AiScaler Caching

AiScaler is one way of doing caching yourself. I’ve written about it before, when it was called AiCache. It runs on its own server in front of your web server, serving a cached copy of your site. It is advised to deploy it on an Amazon AWS instance.

Costs for a basic setup adds up to around $250 a month for both AWS and the software. But it means that you are capable of serving tens of thousands of requests per minute at ease, severely reducing the load on your server. This is particularly handy if you have a very popular site.

There are literally tons of options to set up, which could easily costs you days in testing. It could be fun though, and it should be possible to achieve <1 second loading times.

Managed WordPress hosting is another way of reducing your loading times, without actually needing to do anything.

All of the premium WordPress hosting providers have built-in caching solutions (or pre-configured plugins), which will do the job in the background without you needing to set anything up. Because these guys are fighting for every millisecond of reduction, you can be sure you get the fastest loading times.

Conclusion

W3 Total Cache is my personal favorite, and I have seen great results on many sites. However, it might scare some people off with its extensive configuration options. WP Rocket achieved great results, however I have not spent as much time using this plugin yet.

For the other three plugins, the choice is between convenience and configuration, with WordFence (followed by WP Rocket) being the king of ease. You could also save yourself the hassle and go for managed WordPress hosting. Or use AiScaler if you really want to go pro all the way.

I did initially review Lite Cache but as per the official plugin page “The Lite Cache technology is now part of Hyper Cache. You should migrate to Hyper Cache, Lite Cache won’t be update anymore (other than important fixes)”. Hyper Cache is also another popular caching plugin that is worth investigating if you’re looking for other alternatives to try.

Please let me know in the comments which plugin you prefer and what results you are getting.

Free Guide:

7 Habits of Successful CTOs

"What makes a great CTO?" Engineering skills? Business savvy? An innate tendency to channel a mythical creature (ahem, unicorn)? All of the above? Discover the top traits of the most successful CTOs in this free guide.

  • http://mrxxiv.com/ Terrence Campbell

    Currently running WP Super Cache on an Nginx / PHP-FPM installation I’ve built on a Media Temple’s Enterprise DV – Developer. I configured my Nginx to use all 24 cores of the server. Should be able to handle well between 20,000-40,000 users at once as I record the traffic through Google Analytics. I’ll bench it later.

    I must say, that I’d recommend to make sure to minimize your code and make sure to combine some of your smaller code to reduce extra connections and render-blocking. HTML pages are being loaded directly from Nginx and the images are being loaded from WP’s CDN thanks to JetPack Photon. I still have a lot of work to do, but optimizing the theme you personally develop can really help.

    JavaScript is the biggest issue on a site, especially when loaded from another location. Ads are the worst.

    http://gtmetrix.com/reports/hyperbite.com/PRDSB38y

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Terrence, looks impressive, thanks for sharing and the advice!

  • http://www.maximejobin.com/ Maxime Jobin

    I am a fan of speed and caching. I actually run Nginx and PHP-FPM built on Digital Ocean. I took a couple of days configuring and testing W3 Total Cache and found multiple bugs (even reported one) and had difficulty to understand what the options really meant. I had to look at the code to figure things out… that was bad.

    Then, I met 2 of the developers from WP Rocket. They convince me to try it and refund me if not statisfied. I did. I activated the plugin and checked a couple of checkboxes… that’s it. Here are the result:

    http://gtmetrix.com/reports/www.maximejobin.com/HtFxw9u3

    Time is money. WP Rocket is totally worth it.

    I must say the plugin is not as complete as it could be and things could run a little faster by serving static files directly without even calling PHP. That being said, do I really have to try to optimize it and take time with the score I got ? You decide!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Wow, those are excellent results. Those are some of the best scores I’ve ever seen, great job!

  • lucasrolff

    “Or use AiScaler if you really want to go pro all the way.” – Or you could also use varnish, nginx or other reverse proxies to cache your pages – which is also going pro all the way, and is proven to work just perfect for some of the biggest sites in the world.

    When can we get quality content on sitepoint.com again.

  • wp fastest cache

    Hi Maxime, why didn’t you think to add Wp Fastest Cache?

    https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-fastest-cache/

    WP Fastest Cache changes the result of gtmetrix more than all cache plugins.

  • http://commonstupidman.com/ Shahnawaz Sadique

    word-fence is best in security but when it comes to caching it hampers to site a lot.. To setting it up no technical experience is required but I wont recommend any one wordfence for caching.. W3 Total Cache is the best cache plugin so far and it would be more better if you upload a post with full setting of w3 total cache..
    I have used wordfence on http://commonstupidman.com and trust me it screw me up …

  • Fastest Cache

    I think that you need to replace Wp Rocket with Wp Fastest Cache. The other free cache plugins are better than WP rocket.

  • alexneuelex

    What is the best way to mesure the speed of my website and compare it after a cache plugin installation ? Do you have a method ?

  • http://www.cloudways.com/ Fahad M Rafiq

    You can tweak your website in more than hundred ways to make it load faster, however installing a cache plugin is the most effective way to reduce your loading time. Cloudways have listed 5 of the best WP Cache Plugins here: http://www.cloudways.com/blog/best-wordpress-caching-plugins/.

    These Plugins are listed:

    W3 Total Cache by Frederick Townes

    WP Super Cache by Donncha O Caoimh and Automattic

    WP Fastest Cache by EmreVona

    ZenCache by WebSharks, JasWSInc, and RaamDev

    WP Rocket by Jean-Baptiste Marchand-Arvier, Jonathan Buttigieg, and Julio Potier

  • Ruud

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the information. Does it make sense to use Supercache next to Wordfence (both active)?

  • Rynaldo

    Super cache is good one. W3 (in my personal opinion), is a bit over-complex and not ‘newbie-friendly’. WP Rocket is a good paid solution. However, so is WP Superformance – which is still newly launched. We needed a simple solution without the hassle and learning curve so we opted for WP Superformance. The results were amazing. Includes browser caching, GZIP, HTML, CSS, JS minification and a whole load of other features. I’d like to see this one on the list: http://wp-superformance.com/

  • http://www.cygnet-infotech.com/ Hemang Rindani

    Nice article. For an amazing user experience and of-course to improve search results, every business needs a website that loads quickly and accurately. WordPress is a great enterprise web content management solution that offers wide range of services for fulfilling any business requirement. Built-in tools of WordPress can efficiently satisfy any business need, a developer just has to search for the most relevant plugin. For improving site speed, WordPress’ W3 Total cache plugin is the most efficient plugin which is a part of WP performance optimization framework that improves the user experience by increasing server performance and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration. It save the information on remote servers that loads the page from the last stored impression without any hustle. This plugin is reliable and secure and thus can be the first choice option.
    To improve site performance it is important to use plugins that comes with CDN (set of dispersedly located servers) and are secured. WordFence and WP super cache are other worthy alternatives.

Recommended
Sponsors
Because We Like You
Free Ebooks!

Grab SitePoint's top 10 web dev and design ebooks, completely free!

Get the latest in WordPress, once a week, for free.