Juraj Blahunka

A Java enthusiast

© 2014. Juraj Blahunka All rights reserved.

Force automatic reload of "Expires: never" resources (css, js)

During website development, you have probably already experienced following situation:

  1. Make significant changes to website CSS
  2. Deploy changed CSS to webserver / app server
  3. Verify changed resource by navigating to website an pressing "Reload"
  4. Everything looks allright, you pack your bags and head home

And the story continues... You arrive home and you realize, that your CSS is not refreshed. What happened wrong? You start to investigate. Then you realize, that the resource was cached by your browser and doesn't change on a simple page request, because you are using a long resource expiration.

Handling resource cache expiration

What if you just decrease duration of cache expiration? You will not use never, but browser clients will redownload your resources every day.

This change shuld be very straight forward. Depending on your technology stack, you just provide correct configuration. In nginx, one day resource expiration would look like this:

location ~* \.(css)$ {
    expires 1d;
}

As you can see, it is not very flexible. Either you must always conform to a common filename pattern, or you will always have to enumerate all your resources by hand. What if you want to see changed resources in that instant without too much hassle?

Append URL query parameter to your resource

By adding a changing query parameter to your resource's URL you solve these 2 issues, which were present with previous solution:

Let's put it to the test. Create a website and add a <link> to your CSS in the <head> section. If you look into this website sources, you will see following stylesheet declaration:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="/public/css/custom.css?201405190923">

Notice the 201405190923 parameter in the end. It's the date and time of last build.

Every frontend technology handles resource output differently, but all have one thing in common:

Stylesheet resource is linked to the website by a URL. Guess what? You should have full control over this URL in all frontend stacks.

By defining a variable, which changes only from build to build, you have fine grained control over stylesheet resources expiration, which now expire as you please and you can distribute them with "Never" expiry policy.