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How soon do users see content after you’ve pressed ‘publish’?

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We often get asked how long it takes for content to appear on the GOV.UK site after it's been published in Whitehall publisher.

Publishing times: when does content go 'live'?

Always check our guidance on How to publish on GOV.UK for up-to-date information on publishing times.

All new content goes live pretty much at the moment you hit 'publish'.

However, changes to previously published content can take up to 15 minutes to go live. This time is reduced to 5 minutes for some frequently updated content types, such as topical events and organisation pages.

Why is there a delay in publishing some types of content?

The time lags in updating previously published content are caused by something called ‘caching’. This allows us to store website assets (content, images, attachments etc) at various points between our servers and our users’ browsers.

We do this so that GOV.UK can deliver content quickly and reliably to lots of users at the same time.

What if something must go live at a certain time?

Whitehall publisher lets you schedule publishing (for both new pages and content updates) at a specific time, without any delay. This means if you schedule a page to be published at 9am, it will go live at 9am.

Help! It looks like my changes haven't gone live

Sometimes it seems to government publishers that a particular page hasn’t updated, even though most users can see the new version.

Mostly, this happens because publishers are viewing cached versions of web pages that have been stored on a local ‘proxy server’.

Although these stored versions will update regularly, the timing of updates is controlled by individual IT teams.

There are 2 quick ways to check if you're seeing an old version of a page:

  • use a smart-phone or non-networked machine to access the page, instead of your desktop computer
  • do a ‘cache-bust’ by putting a question mark and some random text after the page URL, eg

Remember, never share cache-busted URLs.

Avoid the number one mistake: don’t give out URLs for unpublished pages

The most common reason we see for these timings 'not working' is when teams have given out URLs for pages before they’ve actually been published.

If a user tries a URL before the corresponding page is published, they'll see a ‘page not found (404)’ message - which will be stored in the cache for up to 30 minutes.

Avoid this by not sharing, publicising or linking to URLs before the corresponding content is live.

Is this guidance clear?

Shout if anything in the above guidance doesn't make any sense, and we'll review and clarify it.

And don't forget that our most up to date guidance will always be in the 'How to publish on GOV.UK' manual.

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  1. Comment by Lee Maguire posted on

    One method I sometimes ask people to use when determining if someone is still seeing a cached version is to enable the "developer mode" in a browser such as Safari or Firefox, open up the inspection panel, reload the page and check the resource information tab.

    The object response headers will usually indicate the status by, for example, "Last-Modified" or "Age" entries.

    It's quite technical and convoluted to use the first time, but if similar problems reoccur it can be a timesaver.

  2. Comment by Andrew Robertson posted on

    Hi Graham, have you considered adding a sentence such as "It can take up to 15 minutes for the changes to appear on the live site" in the "it's published" automatic emails?

    • Replies to Andrew Robertson>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Not a bad idea - or at least in those emails perhaps link people back to our guidance page on publishing times. I'll pass that one on.

  3. Comment by E. Brown posted on

    Hi Graham,

    Thank you for putting this in writing, explaining why we don't give URLs in advance, and how best to see changed content. This post gives me a current reference for providing answers, rather than the old Tumblr blog.

    • Replies to E. Brown>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      Hi Liz - thanks for this, that's fine. Do let us know if there's other similar stuff you need from us...