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I added a robots.txt file to one of my sites a week ago, which should have prevented googlebot from attempting to fetch certain URLs. However, this weekend I can see Googlebot loading those exact URLs.

Does Google cache robots.txt and, if so, should it?

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5 Answers

I would strongly recommend registering your site with Webmaster Tools. There is a crawler access section under site configuration that will tell you when your robots.txt was last downloaded. The tool also provides a lot of detail as to how the crawlers are seeing your site, what is blocked or not working, and where you are appearing in queries on Google.

From what I can tell, Google downloads the robots.txt often. The Webmaster Tools site will also let you specifically remove URLs from the index, so you can remove those ones you are now blocking.

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I checked webmaster tools: the robots.txt file is valid and it was most recently fetched 17 hours before the most recent visit to those pages by googlebot. I suspect it is a question of propagation through google's network - eventually all googlebot servers will catch up with the robots.txt instructions. –  Quog Aug 16 '10 at 14:31
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Yes, Google will obviously cache robots.txt to an extent - it won't download it every time it wants to look at a page. How long it caches it for, I don't know. However, if you have a long Expires header set, Googlebot may leave it much longer to check the file.

Another problem could be a misconfigured file. In the Webmaster Tools that danivovich suggests, there is a robots.txt checker. It will tell you which types of pages are blocked and which are fine.

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See comment on this answer webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/2272/… –  Quog Aug 16 '10 at 14:32
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@Quog: See this recent video: youtube.com/watch?v=I2giR-WKUfY Matt Cutts suggests that robots.txt is downloaded either once a day or about every 100 requests. –  DisgruntledGoat Aug 17 '10 at 10:36
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Yes. They say they typically update it once a day, but some have suggested they may also check it after a certain number of page hits (100?) so busier sites are checked more often.

See http://webmasters.stackexchange.com/a/29946 and the video that @DisgruntedGoat shared above http://youtube.com/watch?v=I2giR-WKUfY.

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Google's Documentation states that they will usually cache robots.txt for a day, but might use it for longer in if they get errors when trying to refresh it.

A robots.txt request is generally cached for up to one day, but may be cached longer in situations where refreshing the cached version is not possible (for example, due to timeouts or 5xx errors). The cached response may be shared by different crawlers. Google may increase or decrease the cache lifetime based on max-age Cache-Control HTTP headers.

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From what I can see on the user accessible cache they do, what you need to do is type the URL of your robots.txt file into a Google Search and then click the little green dropdown arrow and click 'cached' (see image below) this will give you the the latest version of that page from Googles servers.

enter image description here

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