What is Cloudflare?

What is Cloudflare

What Is Cloudflare?

Cloudflare is used for increasing the security and performance of websites. It is a type of CDN or a Content Delivery Network.

CloudFlare was founded by Matthew Prince, Michelle Zatlyn and Lee Holloway in 2009. They set out to create a solution that improved site performance while at the same time offering solid internet security protection. By the end of 2009 they had raised over $2 million in financing (approx. £1,444,043). So after working with a few members of the Honeypot Community, Cloudflare decided to go public, which after doing that, Cloudflare is now valued at $4.4 billion dollars (approx. £3747786.63) and they are still growing.

What Do CDN's Do?

A CDN is a geographically distributed group of servers that work together to deliver content to a user’s browser as fast as possible. A CDN cannot host content (that is still needed separately) – but it can cache content at the network edge to improve site performance.

Many websites see improvements in site speed as a result of installing a CDN.

Cloudflare’s network is spread over 93 countries, covering over 200 locations and the heart of Cloudflare is built around this massive network of servers, acting as both data cache servers and also as a firewall on a large scale.

Cloudflare network

How Does Cloudflare Work?

When a user requests a copy of your website from their web browser, Cloudflare sends them cached data from the nearest location whilst also communicating with your website, resulting in visitors receiving information much faster than if they had gone directly to your website without Cloudflare installed.

Due to your website being cached on multiple servers at any time, your website generally opens twice as fast as the average load time for a website that is not using Cloudflare CDN.

Cloudflare also monitors all data that passes through the servers. This is so they can block malicious attacks that might jeopardise your website or waste bandwidth and additional server resources. They also offer a host of security features that shield websites against security threats such as SQL injections, spamming, content scraping, blocking IP addresses by range or country, keeping threats at bay and protecting your site from DDoS attacks.

Furthermore, Cloudflare optimises site speed for visitors on an IPv6 network even if your server environment uses the old IPv4 infrastructure.

What is a DDoS Attack?

A DDoS attack aims to make a website unavailable by flooding it with traffic. These attacks typically happen against a specific website from an extensive network of computers.

A business that is targeted by a DDoS attack may lose vast sums of revenue when its website is unavailable.

Pricing and Plans

Users will be happy to know that Cloudflare offers both free version and several paid plans. The free plan offers complete access to the CDN, a comprehensive range of security features, SSL encryption, HTTP/2, and robust reports about site traffic.

The free version does come with some limitations but if you’re not wanting to pay for a plan, there are options to pay extra for just certain features.

Features Free Pro Business Enterprise
Globally Load Balanced CDN Yes Yes Yes Yes
Static Content Caching Yes Yes Yes Yes
Instant Full Cache Purge Yes Yes Yes Yes
Min Cache TTL Expiry 2 hrs 1 hr 30 mins 1 sec
Client Max Upload Size (MB) 100 100 200 500+
Mobile Optimisation No Yes Yes Yes
CNAME Setup No No Yes Yes
Chat Support No No Yes Yes
Price $0/mo $20/mo $200/mo Ask for Quote

Table source: https://www.webhostingsecretrevealed.net/blog/security/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cloudflare/

Alternatively, the paid plans particularly Pro, Business, and Enterprise all feature more dependable site protection, regular site crawling, varius mobile optimisations, and DDoS protection. The Pro plans cost $20 (approx. £14.44) per month and Business will cost you $200 (approx. £144.37) per month. The Enterprise plans are slightly different in the sense that they are customisable and users would discuss different options with Cloudflare staff.

Setting Up Cloudflare

Cloudflare has a wizard that you through everything step-by-step. There’s no need to change your site’s existing code or make any hardware or software changes.

Below are the basic steps:

  1. Go to cloudflare.com
  2. Add in the domain of the site, it should pull through the DNS records
  3. Choose the free plan
  4. Cloudflare wil try and pull through as much DNS entries as possible which need to be checked.
  5. Verify DNS details against those on the hosting provider / domain registrar,
  6. Check that whatever Cloudflare has added matches the original DNS records. If there are any gaps there could be downtime. Add any that are missing.
  7. Update the nameservers (provided by Cloudfare) with the web host. This should take a couple of hours to propagate globally. There’s zero downtime usually as the traffic trickles between the two DNS sources, but ultimately routes to the same place.

 

After setting up Cloudflare, you can start to monitor your traffic stats. Analytics data is ordinarily refreshed every 24 hours on the free plan and at 15-minute intervals if you choose a paid version.

Things Cloudflare Can't Do

Cloudflare can help with a very broad range of various services, but they can’t do everything. Knowing these limitations can help you make more effective use out of them. 

  1. Cloudflare’s main feature is that it caches your website data to allow faster loading speeds. Which is great, but it does mean if you have made changes to your site, it may not appear immediately.
  2. Also if your website data is continuously changing, the cache can actually end up working against you, and you want to avoid visitors to your site seeing stale data. 

 

These are however small issues which can be resolved in different ways, with disabling cache for any domain when needed, or using your DNS hosts’ file to access your server’s IP directly, instead of going through Cloudflare’s network.

Final Thoughts

Cloudflare is a hugely popular CDN and there are many others out there that are just as good, and as I’ve pointed out there are different pros and cons to using Cloudflare. It depends on where your site visitors are located and weighing up whether using this specific CDN would help you deliver your content to them how you would like. 

Another thing to consider is pricing and features and checking to make sure that you are getting the most out of what you are paying for and doing your research against other CDN’s.

If you are in need of help with Cloudflare installation or are in need of any general SEO support please do check out my consultancy services and come and have a chat.

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