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Deleting cookies will clear up a little disk space, and may or may not actually free up a small amount of your computer's memory.

Will deleting cookies free up room in my computer's memory?

Yes, no, and maybe.

Yes, deleting cookies will free up room. No, not very much. And only maybe, depending on what you mean by memory.

Clear as mud? Let me explain...

The term "memory" is typically used to refer to your computer's RAM, or Random Access Memory. That's the memory that gets erased when you turn off your machine - it's typically made up of transistors that require power to keep whatever's stored. When you reboot your machine, for example, most that process is about loading the operating system into RAM. When you run a program, it is loaded into RAM. Common recommended sizes these days for RAM is anywhere from 128 megabytes (128 million bytes) to a couple of gigabytes (2 billion bytes).

Deleting cookies does not free up RAM. (*).

Sometimes people will refer to the hard drive as "memory" but while technically it's correct - sort of - it's not really the right term. Most folks refer to the hard drive as, well, the "hard drive" or "disk drive". Hard drives are platters of (hard) magnetic media that don't need power to retain information, though they of course need power to be written to and read from. Typical hard drives range in size these days from 40 to 250 gigabytes (40 to 250 billion bytes).

Cookies are stored on your hard drive. So when you delete cookies, you are freeing up space on your hard drive.

But ... cookies are small. Certainly in comparison to your hard drive size a single cookie might be 100 or 200 bytes. Even cleaning up 1,000 of those only recovers 100,000 bytes, or less than one thousandth of one percent of your hard drive space.

Security and privacy may be reasons to delete cookies, but space isn't.

(*): OK, technically a browser such as internet explorer might use a little memory for each cookie, so fewer cookies might mean that IE might use a little less RAM. Why all the mights? Because it's not something you can count on; it's an implementation detail within the browser that could change, or could be handled differently by another browser. Bottom line: don't worry about it.

Update: Since this article was published, I've had several people point out something that I completely overlooked. Most XP systems are formatted using NTFS, where the default allocation size is 512 bytes That means every file, including each cookie, would take up a minimum of 512 bytes. In addition NTFS can be formatted with larger allocation sizes, and on FAT formatted drives the allocation units are in fact typically larger. So the bottom line is that depending on the number of cookies, and the allocation size of the drive your cookies are stored on, deleting cookies can indeed free up some significant space.

Article C2155 - August 14, 2004 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Thomas Weatherly
October 1, 2004 1:30 PM

Clear, concise, and accurate explanation. I hope that it gets a wide readership. I will send the link to all my newbie friends. One note: you can get the best of firewalls and antivirus with Computer Associates' eTrust EZ Armor. I have the one year free trial lite version and it is really good. I was going to buy the full before the trial ended, but the person I spoke to at CA told me to use the whole trial. That is not the image of a greedy corporation. Armor's firewall is ZoneAlarm, Nuf said.

Der Dutchman
October 2, 2004 8:14 AM

Hi Leo,

Aren't you ignoring the fact that cookies are written as individual files? As such, each 100 to 200 byte cookie is really using the minimum allocation unit 32,768 bytes of your hard drive. 1000 of those cookies would really use up almost 33 million bytes of your hard drive - to me that's a significant encroachment on my resources for something I didn't give anybody permission to use.

Leo
October 2, 2004 8:46 AM

Yes, I've had several people point out that tidbit that I completely overlooked. Most XP systems are formatted using NTFS, where the default allocation size is 512 bytes, so each cookie would take up at least that much. On FAT formatted drives the allocation units are typically larger, and the the space savings of deleting cookies can, indeed, be significant.

Doreen
February 28, 2005 12:36 PM

how do I get to the cookies on my computer to remove them.

Leo
February 28, 2005 12:45 PM

As listed above, this article covers that: http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_delete_cookies_and_just_what_are_cookies_anyway.html

samantha wix
August 21, 2007 6:18 PM

My internet explorer will not work. It says it cannot find server. what is wrong? what can i do to fix it? Please respond. Thank you

mary
April 23, 2008 3:53 AM

i want to delete my cookies but which ones r safe to do so do u need to keep any of them for your computer n internet to work my disc space is low i need to free some space how do i do this

Shakti
April 30, 2010 1:22 AM

First you need to find out the unwanted files and obsolete programs in your computer and then delete it . Clear your browser history each day if you are using internet. One best software I use which has one click cleanup is CCleaner. Also don't forget to empty your recycle bin regularly. www.ordercomputer.com

don rees
January 14, 2011 9:43 PM

hi ,i run ,spyhunter.com which i consider to be an excellent anti spy/malware program,( it was the only thing that got rid of the serurity tool virus which rendered my laptop totally useless)
when i run spyhunter now it only seems to throw up "cookies" problems, tracking cookies spyware etc,what would happen if i turned cookies off- you can the off ?? thanks don

Turning cookies off completely will make some websites you visit not work, others will keep requiring you to login in repeatedly, and in general browsing the internet will become a pain. Cookies are important, and many anti-spyware programs are unreasonably obnoxious when it comes to cookies. More here: What are tracking cookies and should they concern me?
Leo
15-Jan-2011

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