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Tom VanAntwerp
Tom VanAntwerp

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I Broke the Refresh Button: Dealing with a Rogue Service Worker

I was quite happy to launch a new version of a website last week. I was less happy when, come Monday, people were still seeing the old version. The standard "have you tried refreshing" had no effect: no matter home many times people refreshed, the old content would keep coming back. This was some aggressive caching!

The culprit was an old service-worker.js file! The old site had been built with create-react-app, which included service worker registration by default and which I hadn't paid much attention to. The new site was built with Gatsby, which doesn't include one by default.

Service workers can help you to cache your site/PWA so that it still functions while offline. Typically, a service worker will check for a new version of itself whenever you visit the associated site after a 24 hour period. But when the old service worker checked for an update, it got a 404 response and defaulted to staying alive and serving cached content no matter what.

To get clients to stop relying on the old service worker, I had to add a new "updated" service-worker.js to the site's root (where it expected to find it).

The new service worker, in its entirety:

self.addEventListener('install', () => {

All this does is tell the browser: "Hey, I'm the new service worker, chuck out that old service worker, and, uh, that's it, we're done here."

Since this particular site never really needed a service worker in the first place, I'm happy with this no-op service worker as a quick and dirty solution. After clients grab this to replace the last service worker, a simple refresh will once again allow their browser to actually hit the Internet to grab things, and not just rely on a very stale cache.

Thanks to Jeff Posnick via StackOverflow for this simple solution! I've got a lot to learn about how service workers function, and a newfound respect for what happens if you're using them without really understanding them

jeffposnick image

Top comments (3)

guntbert profile image
Guntbert Reiter

Thank you for the insight.

Where would I (on the client side) find such a service worker? (asking for the benefit of and my own)

tvanantwerp profile image
Tom VanAntwerp Author

This page from Google lists ways to interact with service workers client side through your developer tools in different browsers.

guntbert profile image
Guntbert Reiter

Thx, I will make good use of that resource.

Just so you know why I asked: always shows me You are offline when I open a page and I have to CTRL+F5 refresh to actually see the page :sadface

🌚 Friends don't let friends browse without dark mode.

Sorry, it's true.