Cloudflare is one of the largest networks in the world trying to improve the Internet through greater speed and security. However, this answer is only the most superficial aspect of what Cloudflare actually is.
There are three fundamental things when you have an online business:
- Have a fast site
- Stay safe from attackers
- Increase your traffic
Cloudflare can help you in all three cases. But what exactly is it and how can a CDN like Cloudflare improve the speed, security, and scalability of a website?
Let’s find out together.
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What is CloudFlare?
Cloudflare is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) made up of hundreds of data centers located in more than 100 countries. Founded by Matthew Prince in 2009, it has grown to handle five to ten percent of global internet traffic, becoming one of the largest CDNs in the world
How does Cloudflare work?
A CDN like Cloudflare uses a process called caching. The cache is where frequently viewed data is stored to speed up retrieval.
Think when you check the time: if someone asks you what time it is, it will take some time to take the phone out of your pocket and check. If someone else asks you a few seconds later, you can simply tell the time you remember seeing before. In this case, the time you remember is the cache. Obviously, over time this cache will no longer be very accurate, so it’s important to update it as needed.
Cloudflare will check your website (also known as the origin) from time to time to keep the cache up to date. The Cloudflare CDN will then serve that cache to all visitors requesting your website.
The main advantage of using Cloudflare is that visitors from all over the world will download your website from a location physically closer to them, therefore with faster loading times. It also means that since some of the requests are handled entirely by the CDN, your server will experience less load so your site can be viewed by more visitors at the same time.
Filtering of incoming traffic
Another capability offered by the Content Delivery Networks is the filtering of incoming traffic. This serves as an extra layer of protection against external threats, along with the firewall and other security measures you may have implemented.
Cloudflare CDN is known for implementing some of the most powerful filtering techniques on its network that your site can take advantage of.
Cloudflare is not just a CDN but also manages the world’s best performing Domain Name System (DNS) network.
The DNS system is what translates your domain name into an IP address that a computer can understand and use to communicate with a server. Your domain registrar first specifies an Authoritative Name Server (usually called a nameserver, which stores all relevant DNS records.
The DNS resolution process happens before a connection can be established, so it’s another important factor in your website’s loading speed.
By default, Cloudflare is set as your domain’s nameserver, so your visitors will appreciate Cloudflare’s quick DNS resolution.
What are the benefits of Cloudflare CDN?
Cloudflare has a free plan that allows you to try many of the benefits without obligation. The only thing you need to get started is changing your nameservers to point to Cloudflare CDN. This will allow you to use Cloudflare DNS resolution. Also, the free plan offers valuable improvements in both performance and security.
Here are four key benefits of using Cloudflare:
Business and enterprise plans
Changing the nameservers may not be ideal if you already have a custom DNS configuration. If you are using a custom DNS configuration, you can use the Business or Enterprise plans to configure your own custom nameservers while still taking advantage of the Cloudflare CDN.
In addition to the custom nameserver, there are other special features provided by the Business and Enterprise plans, such as additional page-by-page rules and custom SSL certificates.
What are the limits of Cloudflare?
Content delivery networks like Cloudflare aren’t a magic bullet, and being aware of its limitations can help you make more effective use of them.
Here are two cases where you may not want to enable Cloudflare:
One of the main features of Cloudflare is the caching of your website data to allow for faster loading. This, in turn, means that changes made to your site may not appear immediately.
Fortunately, Cloudflare has the ability to disable caching for any domain when needed. Keep in mind that this will affect all visitors to your site. One option to get around this problem without having to completely disable the cache is to use the DNS hosts file to access the server IP directly, instead of going through the Cloudflare network.
For real-time data
Just like before, the cache can work against you if your website data is constantly changing and you want to prevent your visitors from seeing outdated data. Instead of disabling Cloudflare for the entire site, you can use cache-control directives to tell Cloudflare how long to keep your site’s resources.
How do I get started with Cloudflare?
Setting up a Cloudflare account is free and easy to do. The only requirement to add a domain to this account is to be able to change the nameservers set up at the domain registrar. This ensures that anyone who visits your site goes through the Cloudflare network instead of going directly to the server.
Using a CDN is a great way to speed up your web content. Whether it’s a local blog or an e-commerce website, CDNs, like Cloudflare, can help improve performance and accessibility. Cloudflare is unique in that it can also improve your security.
Cloudflare is not the only CDN available, but it is one of the most important. It is consistently ranked in the Forbes Cloud 100 and has become one of the most popular CDNs in the world. It continues to be a prime example of how edge computing and networking are changing the Internet.
We hope to have helped you understand what Cloudflare is and what CDNs are in general.