What even is Cloudflare?
According to Wikipedia…
“Cloudflare, Inc. is an American web infrastructure and website security company that provides content delivery network services, DDoS mitigation, Internet security, and distributed domain name server services. Cloudflare’s services sit between a website’s visitor and the Cloudflare user’s hosting provider, acting as a reverse proxy for websites. Cloudflare’s headquarters are in San Francisco.”
For those who aren’t giant nerds like we are, Cloudflare is an easy-to-set-up tool that turbocharges your website, protects it from the bad guys, and tells you where your audience is coming from. So, let’s talk about what all this really means.
Everyone likes a fast website, right? But did you know that there is a lot more to loading times than just a fast web host?
One common issue that causes sites to load slowly is having poor DNS lookup times. Cloudflare helps trim this time down by stepping in as your DNS manager. If you are migrating from a poor DNS manager, you could see your site load speeds reduced by as much as 2,000 milliseconds! For more information see Cloudflare DNS.
Ever heard of cache? A cache isn’t money misspelled, but when it’s properly configured, it can make you some.
I’ve covered caching in greater detail in Diagnosing a Slow WordPress Site, but the short answer is it helps your website load faster for all your users. A major factor of website load speeds is distance. In other words, how far away is your server from your audience?
The farther the user is from your host server, the longer it takes for your site to load for your users. Unlike caching solutions that are hosted on just your host server, Cloudflare provides you multiple cache servers distributed across the globe free!* In practice, if you have a global audience, they are served a copy of your website from a server that is closer to them. That means faster load times.
Bonus fact: Since Cloudflare can save a cached copy of your website, in the event your web server goes down, Cloudflare is able to continue to serve your users from its saved copy until your web services are restored. For more information see Cloudflare CDN.
Another major benefit that Cloudflare provides is in-depth analytics of all your site’s traffic out of the box. Knowing where your audience is coming from is helpful for your marketing strategy. Perhaps you didn’t know you were popular in Germany. These types of insights aid you in making more informed business decisions, such as opening up a version of your site in German or load balancing your website to be closer to your real customers.
If you are a fan of Google Analytics, you can still use it in conjunction with Cloudflare. For more information see Cloudflare Analytics.
While speed and analytics certainly are important, as a backend engineer, the biggest reason I love Cloudflare is for the security resources it provides. Better than a mall cop, Cloudflare provides free denial-of-service (DDOS) protection to all of its users.
A DDOS attack is when a bad actor wishes to make a website (or any network resource) unavailable to other users. One way this can be accomplished is when a pool of thousands of infected computers are instructed to load a particular website in the hopes of overwhelming that server’s capacity, and thus bring down the website.
The reasons why someone nefarious would do this are plenty; sufficed to say, it’s not a good thing to happen when your its next target. Being a leading provider of DDOS protection Cloudflare has a database of most bad actors and can block their requests from ever reaching your website, thus keeping it online. For more information see Cloudflare DDOS.
If you like your website to go faster, become more secure, and ultimately know where your customers are coming from I hope you give Cloudflare a consideration.
To address the asterisk after free earlier, all the services I mentioned in this article are provided free for all the sites you own and should be all smallest to mid-sized websites should need. Who doesn’t like free stuff? If, however, you are a larger enterprise client, Cloudflare provides an extended range of paid services to help you even more.
So, whether you’re leveling up your current website or launching a new web project, consider my advice. If you’re seeking a team of pros to help you with that, contact us!