It's not uncommon: you find a link to an interesting-sounding site or article, but when you try to access it you either find that the page has been removed or that the site itself seems not to be working. That's where Google's cache can help.
As part of its indexing process, Google essentially makes copies of the pages it indexes, which is stores in what's widely referred to as the "Google cache". While the main use of that data is for Google's own search algorithms -- the more it "knows" about any given site, the more effectively it can produce useful search results -- a by-product is that casual web surfers can also access the cached copy. That can be very handy if you're trying to access a site which doesn't actually work for some reason.
Assuming your own Internet connection is actually OK, there are two common reasons for this to happen. One is that there's a temporary problem with the site's hosting arrangements (you can check if that's the case by using Down or Not). The other is a temporary traffic surge meaning the site is struggling, something that (gulp) occasionally happens when a popular site like Lifehacker links to a new service. Either way, if you know the address you want to visit, Google's cache can often help you view it.
How to do it
- Make sure the address you want to access is stored on your clipboard. You can do this by right-clicking on a link to that address and selecting the 'Copy link' location, or by selecting the whole (failed) address in your browser's address bar and then copying it.
- Go to the Google home page.
- Make sure the search box is selected (it should be by default), and then enter the address stored on the clipboard by pasting it. The easiest way to do that is by using Control-V (Command-V on Macs); it should also be available as a right-click option, or if you look on the Edit menu.
- Hit Enter to begin your search.
- In virtually every case, the first result for this search will be the page you were looking for. To the right of the link address, most of the time you'll see the word 'Cached'. Click on this link and you'll be able to access the cached copy. As Google notes, this won't always be up-to-date, but it's often handy.
You can also use the structure cache:lifehacker.com.au to search for a particular site, but getting Google to search on the address is easier for most people. And if Google is set as your default search provider, you can paste the address straight into your browser search box (typically in the top right corner).
Using Google's Cache is not an infallible solution. Google updates its index very frequently -- it doesn't like to say exactly how frequently, but in recent years it has been emphasising news in its results, which requires near-real-time indexing. As a result, if you're looking for an old link, it may have been purged from Google's cache already, and the search won't be helpful. In some cases, there'll be no cache results at all, either because of high-frequency updates or because the site owner has configured their site to not store cached data.
Google also won't cache all the images and multimedia associated with a site, so attempting to view the cached copy might not actually highlight the stuff you want. And caches aren't any help at all if you're trying to access an in-demand service (such as tickets for a concert) which requires you to definitively be on the actual site.
One other nuisance with Google cache is that all the links on the cached page will still be from the original site, and hence won't work if the overall site is down. You can dodge that problem with the Google Cache Continue Redux script, which converts all the links on a page to Google cache references.
Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?