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How do we control web page caching, across all browsers?


Question

Our investigations have shown us that not all browsers respect the HTTP cache directives in a uniform manner.

For security reasons we do not want certain pages in our application to be cached, ever, by the web browser. This must work for at least the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 6+
  • Firefox 1.5+
  • Safari 3+
  • Opera 9+
  • Chrome

Our requirement came from a security test. After logging out from our website you could press the back button and view cached pages.

2019/06/25
1
1595
6/25/2019 9:57:57 PM

Accepted Answer

Introduction

The correct minimum set of headers that works across all mentioned clients (and proxies):

Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate
Pragma: no-cache
Expires: 0

The Cache-Control is per the HTTP 1.1 spec for clients and proxies (and implicitly required by some clients next to Expires). The Pragma is per the HTTP 1.0 spec for prehistoric clients. The Expires is per the HTTP 1.0 and 1.1 specs for clients and proxies. In HTTP 1.1, the Cache-Control takes precedence over Expires, so it's after all for HTTP 1.0 proxies only.

If you don't care about IE6 and its broken caching when serving pages over HTTPS with only no-store, then you could omit Cache-Control: no-cache.

Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate
Pragma: no-cache
Expires: 0

If you don't care about IE6 nor HTTP 1.0 clients (HTTP 1.1 was introduced 1997), then you could omit Pragma.

Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate
Expires: 0

If you don't care about HTTP 1.0 proxies either, then you could omit Expires.

Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate

On the other hand, if the server auto-includes a valid Date header, then you could theoretically omit Cache-Control too and rely on Expires only.

Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2016 18:32:02 GMT
Expires: 0

But that may fail if e.g. the end-user manipulates the operating system date and the client software is relying on it.

Other Cache-Control parameters such as max-age are irrelevant if the abovementioned Cache-Control parameters are specified. The Last-Modified header as included in most other answers here is only interesting if you actually want to cache the request, so you don't need to specify it at all.

How to set it?

Using PHP:

header("Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate"); // HTTP 1.1.
header("Pragma: no-cache"); // HTTP 1.0.
header("Expires: 0"); // Proxies.

Using Java Servlet, or Node.js:

response.setHeader("Cache-Control", "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate"); // HTTP 1.1.
response.setHeader("Pragma", "no-cache"); // HTTP 1.0.
response.setHeader("Expires", "0"); // Proxies.

Using ASP.NET-MVC

Response.Cache.SetCacheability(HttpCacheability.NoCache);  // HTTP 1.1.
Response.Cache.AppendCacheExtension("no-store, must-revalidate");
Response.AppendHeader("Pragma", "no-cache"); // HTTP 1.0.
Response.AppendHeader("Expires", "0"); // Proxies.

Using ASP.NET Web API:

// `response` is an instance of System.Net.Http.HttpResponseMessage
response.Headers.CacheControl = new CacheControlHeaderValue
{
    NoCache = true,
    NoStore = true,
    MustRevalidate = true
};
response.Headers.Pragma.ParseAdd("no-cache");
// We can't use `response.Content.Headers.Expires` directly
// since it allows only `DateTimeOffset?` values.
response.Content?.Headers.TryAddWithoutValidation("Expires", 0.ToString()); 

Using ASP.NET:

Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate"); // HTTP 1.1.
Response.AppendHeader("Pragma", "no-cache"); // HTTP 1.0.
Response.AppendHeader("Expires", "0"); // Proxies.

Using ASP.NET Core v3

// using Microsoft.Net.Http.Headers
Response.Headers[HeaderNames.CacheControl] = "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate";
Response.Headers[HeaderNames.Expires] = "0";
Response.Headers[HeaderNames.Pragma] = "no-cache";

Using ASP:

Response.addHeader "Cache-Control", "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate" ' HTTP 1.1.
Response.addHeader "Pragma", "no-cache" ' HTTP 1.0.
Response.addHeader "Expires", "0" ' Proxies.

Using Ruby on Rails, or Python/Flask:

headers["Cache-Control"] = "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate" # HTTP 1.1.
headers["Pragma"] = "no-cache" # HTTP 1.0.
headers["Expires"] = "0" # Proxies.

Using Python/Django:

response["Cache-Control"] = "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate" # HTTP 1.1.
response["Pragma"] = "no-cache" # HTTP 1.0.
response["Expires"] = "0" # Proxies.

Using Python/Pyramid:

request.response.headerlist.extend(
    (
        ('Cache-Control', 'no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate'),
        ('Pragma', 'no-cache'),
        ('Expires', '0')
    )
)

Using Go:

responseWriter.Header().Set("Cache-Control", "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate") // HTTP 1.1.
responseWriter.Header().Set("Pragma", "no-cache") // HTTP 1.0.
responseWriter.Header().Set("Expires", "0") // Proxies.

Using Apache .htaccess file:

<IfModule mod_headers.c>
    Header set Cache-Control "no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate"
    Header set Pragma "no-cache"
    Header set Expires 0
</IfModule>

Using HTML4:

<meta http-equiv="Cache-Control" content="no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate">
<meta http-equiv="Pragma" content="no-cache">
<meta http-equiv="Expires" content="0">

HTML meta tags vs HTTP response headers

Important to know is that when an HTML page is served over an HTTP connection, and a header is present in both the HTTP response headers and the HTML <meta http-equiv> tags, then the one specified in the HTTP response header will get precedence over the HTML meta tag. The HTML meta tag will only be used when the page is viewed from a local disk file system via a file:// URL. See also W3 HTML spec chapter 5.2.2. Take care with this when you don't specify them programmatically because the webserver can namely include some default values.

Generally, you'd better just not specify the HTML meta tags to avoid confusion by starters and rely on hard HTTP response headers. Moreover, specifically those <meta http-equiv> tags are invalid in HTML5. Only the http-equiv values listed in HTML5 specification are allowed.

Verifying the actual HTTP response headers

To verify the one and other, you can see/debug them in HTTP traffic monitor of webbrowser's developer toolset. You can get there by pressing F12 in Chrome/Firefox23+/IE9+, and then opening the "Network" or "Net" tab panel, and then clicking the HTTP request of interest to uncover all detail about the HTTP request and response. The below screenshot is from Chrome:

Chrome developer toolset HTTP traffic monitor showing HTTP response headers on stackoverflow.com

I want to set those headers on file downloads too

First of all, this question and answer are targeted on "web pages" (HTML pages), not "file downloads" (PDF, zip, Excel, etc). You'd better have them cached and make use of some file version identifier somewhere in URI path or querystring to force a redownload on a changed file. When applying those no-cache headers on file downloads anyway, then beware of the IE7/8 bug when serving a file download over HTTPS instead of HTTP. For detail, see IE cannot download foo.jsf. IE was not able to open this internet site. The requested site is either unavailable or cannot be found.

2020/03/18
2650
3/18/2020 8:01:14 PM

(hey, everyone: please don't just mindlessly copy&paste all headers you can find)

First of all, Back button history is not a cache:

The freshness model (Section 4.2) does not necessarily apply to history mechanisms. That is, a history mechanism can display a previous representation even if it has expired.

In the old HTTP spec the wording was even stronger, explicitly telling browsers to disregard cache directives for back button history.

Back is supposed to go back in time (to the time when the user was logged in). It does not navigate forward to a previously opened URL.

However, in practice, the cache can influence the back button, in very specific circumstances:

  • Page must be delivered over HTTPS, otherwise this cache-busting won't be reliable. Plus, if you're not using HTTPS, then your page is vulnerable to login stealing in many other ways.
  • You must send Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate (some browsers observe no-store and some observe must-revalidate)

You never need any of:

  • <meta> with cache headers — it doesn't work at all. Totally useless.
  • post-check/pre-check — it's IE-only directive that only applies to cachable resources.
  • Sending same header twice or in dozen parts. Some PHP snippets out there actually replace previous headers, resulting in only last one being sent.

If you want, you could add:

  • no-cache or max-age=0, which will make resource (URL) "stale" and require browsers to check with the server if there's a newer version (no-store already implies this even stronger).
  • Expires with a date in the past for HTTP/1.0 clients (although real HTTP/1.0-only clients are completely non-existent these days).

Bonus: The new HTTP caching RFC.

2016/07/19

As @Kornel stated, what you want is not to deactivate the cache, but to deactivate the history buffer. Different browsers have their own subtle ways to disable the history buffer.

In Chrome (v28.0.1500.95 m) we can do this only by Cache-Control: no-store.

In FireFox (v23.0.1) any one of these will work:

  1. Cache-Control: no-store

  2. Cache-Control: no-cache (https only)

  3. Pragma: no-cache (https only)

  4. Vary: * (https only)

In Opera (v12.15) we only can do this by Cache-Control: must-revalidate (https only).

In Safari (v5.1.7, 7534.57.2) any one of these will work:

  1. Cache-Control: no-store
    <body onunload=""> in html

  2. Cache-Control: no-store (https only)

In IE8 (v8.0.6001.18702IC) any one of these will work:

  1. Cache-Control: must-revalidate, max-age=0

  2. Cache-Control: no-cache

  3. Cache-Control: no-store

  4. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: 0

  5. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT

  6. Pragma: no-cache (https only)

  7. Vary: * (https only)

Combining the above gives us this solution which works for Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, and Opera 12.15: Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate (https only)

Note that https is needed because Opera wouldn't deactivate history buffer for plain http pages. If you really can't get https and you are prepared to ignore Opera, the best you can do is this:

Cache-Control: no-store
<body onunload="">

Below shows the raw logs of my tests:

HTTP:

  1. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  2. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  3. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8

  4. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8

  5. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  6. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  7. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  8. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  9. Cache-Control: no-store
    Fail: Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8

  10. Cache-Control: no-store
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  11. Cache-Control: no-cache
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  12. Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: none

  13. Pragma: no-cache
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: none

  14. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  15. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  16. Cache-Control: must-revalidate, max-age=0
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  17. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: 0
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  18. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: IE8

  19. Cache-Control: private, must-revalidate, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: none

HTTPS:

  1. Cache-Control: private, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: none

  2. Cache-Control: private, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: none

  3. Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  4. Pragma: no-cache
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  5. Cache-Control: no-cache
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  6. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  7. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  8. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  9. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: Opera 12.15

  10. Cache-Control: private, must-revalidate, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: Opera 12.15

  11. Cache-Control: must-revalidate, max-age=0
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: IE8, Opera 12.15

  12. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8, Opera 12.15

  13. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8, Opera 12.15

  14. Cache-Control: no-store
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  15. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  16. Cache-Control: private, no-cache, no-store, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Opera 12.15
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7

  17. Cache-Control: private, no-cache
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8

  18. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: 0
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7,
    Success: IE8, Opera 12.15

  19. Cache-Control: must-revalidate
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7,
    Success: IE8, Opera 12.15

  20. Cache-Control: private, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: 0
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7,
    Success: IE8, Opera 12.15

  21. Cache-Control: private, must-revalidate, max-age=0, proxy-revalidate, s-maxage=0
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    <body onunload="">
    Fail: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, Safari 5.1.7,
    Success: IE8, Opera 12.15

  22. Cache-Control: private, must-revalidate
    Expires: Sat, 12 Oct 1991 05:00:00 GMT
    Pragma: no-cache
    Vary: *
    Fail: Chrome 28, Safari 5.1.7
    Success: FireFox 23, IE8, Opera 12.15

  23. Cache-Control: no-store, must-revalidate
    Fail: none
    Success: Chrome 28, FireFox 23, IE8, Safari 5.1.7, Opera 12.15

2020/03/11

I found the web.config route useful (tried to add it to the answer but doesn't seem to have been accepted so posting here)

<configuration>
<system.webServer>
    <httpProtocol>
        <customHeaders>
            <add name="Cache-Control" value="no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate" />
            <!-- HTTP 1.1. -->
            <add name="Pragma" value="no-cache" />
            <!-- HTTP 1.0. -->
            <add name="Expires" value="0" />
            <!-- Proxies. -->
        </customHeaders>
    </httpProtocol>
</system.webServer>

And here is the express / node.js way of doing the same:

app.use(function(req, res, next) {
    res.setHeader('Cache-Control', 'no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate');
    res.setHeader('Pragma', 'no-cache');
    res.setHeader('Expires', '0');
    next();
});
2016/11/23

I found that all of the answers on this page still had problems. In particular, I noticed that none of them would stop IE8 from using a cached version of the page when you accessed it by hitting the back button.

After much research and testing, I found that the only two headers I really needed were:

Cache-Control: no-store
Vary: *

For an explanation of the Vary header, check out http://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec13.html#sec13.6

On IE6-8, FF1.5-3.5, Chrome 2-3, Safari 4, and Opera 9-10, these headers caused the page to be requested from the server when you click on a link to the page, or put the URL directly in the address bar. That covers about 99% of all browsers in use as of Jan '10.

On IE6, and Opera 9-10, hitting the back button still caused the cached version to be loaded. On all other browsers I tested, they did fetch a fresh version from the server. So far, I haven't found any set of headers that will cause those browsers to not return cached versions of pages when you hit the back button.

Update: After writing this answer, I realized that our web server is identifying itself as an HTTP 1.0 server. The headers I've listed are the correct ones in order for responses from an HTTP 1.0 server to not be cached by browsers. For an HTTP 1.1 server, look at BalusC's answer.

2017/05/23

After a bit of research we came up with the following list of headers that seemed to cover most browsers:

In ASP.NET we added these using the following snippet:

Response.ClearHeaders(); 
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "no-cache"); //HTTP 1.1
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "private"); // HTTP 1.1
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "no-store"); // HTTP 1.1
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "must-revalidate"); // HTTP 1.1
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "max-stale=0"); // HTTP 1.1 
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "post-check=0"); // HTTP 1.1 
Response.AppendHeader("Cache-Control", "pre-check=0"); // HTTP 1.1 
Response.AppendHeader("Pragma", "no-cache"); // HTTP 1.0 
Response.AppendHeader("Expires", "Mon, 26 Jul 1997 05:00:00 GMT"); // HTTP 1.0 

Found from: http://forums.asp.net/t/1013531.aspx

2008/09/08

Source: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/49547
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