WordPress Plugins

Comparison of Popular WordPress Caching Solutions

WordPress has gotten a reputation of being, among other things, "slow". Is that true? Well, yes and no. One of the most important factors in website performance is "caching".  Caching is the act of saving things that are computed often in easy to access places. For example, rather than running a tough database query every time a web page is loaded, save the results of that database query the first time it's run. When that same query is about to be run later, use the previously saved version and skip the query. WordPress does not cache "out of the box" but provides a powerful underlying API (or interface) for plugins to accomplish this. This is a dramatic oversimplification of caching and website performance but is enough for my post.

Having a properly setup caching solution in WordPress is extremely important for providing fast page loads. This post will investigate some of the popular caching solutions for standard WordPress users. I’ll make a recommendation at the end of the post to aid in choosing the right plugin for you.

Note that I am only judging basic caching functionality – page, database, and object caching. I believe, and my extensive experience working with client shows, that cramming a ton of extra features into a plugin usually results in a less effective and harder to use plugin. I recommend finding separate, more focused, plugins for CDNs, file compression, minification, etc.

All plugins have been tested with WordPress 4.4.2, nginx 1.9.9, PHP-FPM 5.5.9, MySQL 5.5.46, and Ubuntu 14.04.

I am rating each plugin on the following categories:

  • Ease of Use – How easy is the plugin to use and configure for the average user?
  • Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard – Is the plugin settings page filled with links to irrelevant websites? Does it contain upsells or ads? Is the plugin settings page logically organized?
  • Page Caching – How effectively does the plugin provide page caching? Page caching is the act of caching entire pages so subsequent requests receive cached versions.
  • In-memory Object Caching – How effectively does the plugin provide in-memory object caching? In-memory object caching is the act of caching arbitrary chunks of data for use later in something like Memcached or Redis.
  • Free Support Quality – How effective is free support being provided?
  • Uninstall Clean Up – How effectively does the plugin clean up after itself? Many caching plugins add and/or modify a number of files in WordPress. These modifications and additions can cause problems if not cleaned up properly.
  • Security – How secure is the plugin to run?

W3 Total Cache

Ease of Use 2/10
Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard 2/10
Page Caching 4/10
In-memory Object Caching 8/10
Free Support Quality 4/10
Uninstall Clean Up 3/5
Security 9/10
Overall 4.9/10

W3 Total Cache does a LOT of stuff besides standard caching e.g. CDN support, Varnish, Google Page Speed, minification, site monitoring via New Relic, and more. There are a ton of options; 99% of which are not useful for most people. This makes the plugin more complicated to use.

The dashboard is cluttered with up-sells.

Disk and Memcached based page caching still resulted in MySQL queries being run according to my tests. Disk and Memcached based database query caching also still resulted in MySQL queries being run. These are either bugs or poorly explained functionality. Once I enabled the object cache, no more MySQL queries were ran.

After removing the plugin, all the cache files are left in my wp-content folder. The plugin did clean up important functional files.

A plugin audit revealed a good use of important code level security techniques such as escaping, nonces, permission checks, and sanitization. This plugin is safe to run on your website and does not make you vulnerable to hackers.

Regarding support, WP Tavern has reported some serious support concerns.

WP Super Cache

Ease of Use 7/10
Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard 8/10
Page Caching 9/10
In-memory Object Caching 0/10
Free Support Quality 6/10
Uninstall Clean Up 5/5
Security 9/10
Overall 6.7/10

WP Super Cache keeps things pretty simple with standard functionality. I really like how it has “easy” and “advanced” tabs. Besides basic caching, it supports CDNs and a number of advanced options.

The plugin dashboard is clean and uncluttered. There are no upsells.

Static file page caching works perfectly out of the box. No MySQL queries were ran in my testing of page caching. In-memory object caching on the other hand is not supported by the plugin at all. This is a huge disadvantage as the object cache API is very powerful allowing us to cache complex queries and utilize in memory caches such as Memcached.

The plugin authors (Automattic) seem to be responding to threads in the WordPress.org support forum.

The plugin is well-written. There are no obvious security flaws.

Uninstalling the plugin cleaned up all necessary files.

WP Fastest Cache

Ease of Use 5/10
Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard 0/10
Page Caching 7/10
In-memory Object Caching 0/10
Free Support Quality 8/10
Uninstall Clean Up 5/5
Security 0/10
Overall 3.8/10 

WP Fastest Cache is somewhat easy to use. All of it’s important features are easily visible. It could be made much clearer what is needed to be done to turn on basic caching.

The plugin has filled with upsells. About half the functionality requires a premium license. However, basic caching functionality is provided for free.

Enabling caching immediately threw a PHP warning. It isn’t exactly clear the type of caching the plugin enables. Is it disk based? Is it page caching? It’s not very clear. The plugin performs disk based page caching. An option must be read in the database before static output can occur. No in-memory object caching is provided.

The plugin author seem to be responding to threads in the WordPress.org support forum.

The plugin uses nonces properly. However, it has some sanitization issues. This plugin is not completely safe for use.

Uninstalling the plugin cleaned up all necessary files.

Hyper Cache

Ease of Use 4/10
Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard 5/10
Page Caching 7/10
In-memory Object Caching 0/10
Free Support Quality 3/10
Uninstall Clean Up 3/5
Security 0/10
Overall 3.3/10 

Hyper Cache is confusing to use. There is no option to enable caching. Instead you have to click save in the settings page without changing anything. Very strange. The first option shown on the settings page is “Disable Translations” which seems pretty unimportant.

There is some clutter in the dashboard for other plugins by the author, but there are no upsells.

Up front, it isn’t exactly clear the type of caching the plugin employs. Is it disk based? Is it page caching? After testing, I found out the plugin performs disk based page caching. No MySQL queries were ran when the cached page was served. There is no in-memory object caching unfortunately.

Regarding support, the plugin author does not seem to be actively responding to support threads. There also does not seem to be community members providing support.

The plugin has serious sanitization issues and poses a security threat when installed.

Uninstalling the plugin cleaned up important functional files but did not remove everything properly.

Comet Cache

Ease of Use 4/10
Clutter and Upsell Free Dashboard 2/10
Page Caching 7/10
In-memory Object Caching 0/10
Free Support Quality 7/10
Uninstall Clean Up 4/5
Security 0/10
Overall 3.7/10 

Comet Cache makes it very clear how to enable caching. This is a huge plus. Enabling caching gives me an error message to update my nginx configuration. However, after looking at the configuration updates, they are not necessary for basic caching. The plugin has a lot of useful help text. The plugin is not compatible with PHP 5.2; there fore it is not compatible with all versions of WordPress.

The plugin dashboard is cluttered with plugin author promotions as well as upsells. The clutter makes the plugin harder to navigate.

Like many caching plugins, it isn’t 100% clear what type of caching the plugin employs. After testing, I found out the plugin performs disk based page caching. No MySQL queries were run when the page cache was served. There is no in-memory object caching unfortunately.

Regarding support, the plugin authors seem to be actively involved in the support forums. There are also people volunteering their time for assisting others.

The plugin seems to properly sanitize and escape data. However, it is doing some slightly scary things with direct database queries.

The plugin has an option for uninstall method. You can either just delete the plugin or delete the plugin and all it’s data.

Recommendation

If you are looking for easy to use caching that “just works”, WP Super Cache is for you. The plugin provides disk based page caching that will dramatically speed up the vast majority of websites. The support community is vibrant, and the plugin is well maintained.

If you want in-memory object caching and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, install the Memcached and Batcache drop in plugins. Both of those plugins require manually moving files into your wp-content folder. Neither plugin has a settings page as they are both plug and play. They can be somewhat unforgiving if you run into an issue. If you want in-memory object caching but want something easier, I recommend W3 Total Cache.

Spirited comments around these recommendations as well as new ones are welcome 🙂

 


 

EDIT: Lot’s of people recommended I review WP Rocket which is a premium file based page caching plugin. Overall, WP Rocket is a solid plugin. It’s written well and “just works”. However, it is not free and only offers file based page caching. It does not support object caching. I also think the plugin’s UI could be a bit simpler.

Based on my experience with all these plugins, I wrote my own called Simple Cache. Simple Cache offers file based page caching. The plugin literally only has one setting “on or off” unless you turn on advanced mode. Advanced mode let’s you do object caching and in-memory page caching. The plugin is written securely and is extremely performant. Anyone looking for a caching plugin should give Simple Cache a try and leave me some feedback below 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Comparison of Popular WordPress Caching Solutions

  1. Hello taylor
    It seems that your forgot a very good cache plugin WPROCKET not very know in english market (built by a french team) and that many sites that compare all these plugins put Wprocket first.
    Yes I know it is a paid plugin. and yes I am french 😀
    No, I am not from the wprocket team. I am just a very satisfied user since 2 years and I install this plugin on all my wp sites. Just google “compare wprocket cache plugins ” and you will find some very interesting articles out there 😉
    regards
    bernard

  2. richard d says:

    Thanks for the analysis.

    What do you think of just skipping all of those and configuring nginx to use microcaching or setting a permanent cache and using nginx plus and nginx helper to purge caching as needed?

    • Taylor Lovett says:

      This post was meant for basic WordPress users. Configuring nginx is pretty complex.

      That being said, I use nginx microcaching in combination with Batcache and Redis/Memcached. I think it’s easier to purge items with the Redis/Memcached drop in than with nginx microcaching. Also, the Redis/Memcached drop in allows us to do fragment caching.

  3. Hi Taylor
    Just saw this on the WordPress Tavern site and loved the idea of a one click caching plugin.

    Have you tested Simple Cache against any of the other plugins?

    At the moment I’m using Comet Cache but I notice that it gets a 0/10 for security!

    I’ll give Simple Cache a try on a local install and see how it goes.

    Many thanks for taking the time to produce a simple caching plugin.

  4. René says:

    Nice work. Your plugin is filling a niche.
    Especially the object caching dropins are something which interests me a lot. So i will give it a try today.

  5. Cziv says:

    “The plugin authors (Automattic) seem to be responding to threads in the WordPress.org support forum.”

    I think you are just joking about support.

    As fo the rest of your article, i think it is not neutral. Comet Cache is a winner in all respects, code, support, updates, performance.

  6. Pingback: EP181 – Recommended WordPress Caching Plugins | Wordpress Tutes

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