Cloudflare: Why you should use it?
Cloudflare is an American company that provides services such as DNS, a content delivery network (CDN), and many other services to make websites faster and more secure. Cloudflare is now used by more than 26 million websites, resulting in handling more than 1 billion IP addresses per day. Okay, this sounds like a lot and it is. But what makes it so popular? Why do we and so many other companies use it?
What is Cloudflare?
Cloudflare is a free Content Delivery Network (CDN) type product that protects against threats such as SQL injection and identity theft. Cloudflare also improves site performance and speeds up loading times by using its multiple data centers that are located around the world. The Cloudflare network acts like a giant VPN. This means that a site visitor will access your website by being physically redirected to the closest server. What this means is simple: the closer the data center, the faster your website will load for the user. This is unique to Cloudflare.
Another benefit is the reduction of bot crawls, which can be both helpful and harmful depending on their source. A bot crawl is typically used to go to websites and “crawl” for information on your web page. While these can be helpful when catching content thieves using your website design without permission, they can also generate false ad impressions, inject spam and malware through file backdoors, stealing website content and information. A good way to think about Cloudflare is to think of it as a web proxy. Because a cache of your website is available to the visitor, Cloudflare is able to block suspicious content and keep you safe from malicious viruses, spambots, and harmful traffic flow.
How does it work?
To understand how Cloudflare works, it is good to look at where things went wrong ‘in the past’ on many websites. In a situation without Cloudflare you’d visit a website, this website then makes a request to the server to retrieve content and show it to the visitor who is currently visiting the page. However, if too many visits arrived at the same time on the server, the server would become overloaded, resulting in a slow or non-working website. As the owner of a website or even as a web host, you don’t want this of course. And so Cloudflare came up with a solution.
Cloudflare placed its own service between the website and the web server in the form of a huge global network. Visitors to websites no longer communicate directly with the server, but with the Cloudflare network, which has already saved all information from the website once and loads it per location.
Suppose a website is hosted in Germany and someone from America tries to connect to this website, the request has to travel an enormous distance between the website and the web server. Cloudflare solves this by providing a huge network of servers around the world. That person from America no longer needs to connect completely to a server from Germany but does this with the nearest Cloudflare server somewhere in America.
Cloudflare thus relieves the servers and also ensures that visitors see the desired web page faster.
Why you should use Cloudflare
Using a network like Cloudflare is worth considering for a few reasons, the most obvious being the potential for faster content load times. That could be a blog, WordPress website, or an e-commerce website built with Shopify.
Speed is everything. No one wants to wait on a webpage to load. Besides, the paradigm of edge computing — bringing information and content closer to devices or consumers — is only growing.
You also get enhanced security and protection. Cloudflare can reduce bot activity, mitigate a DDoS attack and prevent comment spam. It can protect your online presence and uptime in the event of a DDoS attack thanks to the way that it separates good traffic from bad. You can learn more about that in our guide on DDoS attacks.
By going with an edge provider, you reduce server load and bandwidth, both of which are good things. Having a CDN in front of your website also helps process large volumes of traffic, reducing the risk of your website crashing during peak hours or traffic spikes.
Even if you’re not looking to get a website or blog off the ground and into the ether, Cloudflare’s DNS services provide another third-party option. Third-party DNS services are usually more focused on security and performance, and they can prevent ISP snooping, tracking, and targeted ads.
A third-party DNS service provides some of the features of a virtual private network’s security, but you should still use a VPN to maximize that security. We’ve mentioned DNS a few times. If you’re unsure what that is, you can read us what DNS records guide to learn more.
Advantages of Cloudflare
The main advantage of Cloudflare is that it provides security and performance for free at a larger scale, few other advantages are :
- Cloudflare has a free plan with most of its core features.
- It acts as CDN which increases the load speed of websites.
- Cloudflare protects from malicious bots and DDoS attacks.
- It provided Managed DNS with short TTL.
- It provides a free SSL certificate completely managed by Cloudflare, renewed annually.
- Cloudflare Provides forwarding rules and serverless functions.
- Cloudflare has different independent addons for different services.
- Cloudflare provides Domain Registrar Services.
- Provides API for managing most of the services.
Disadvantages of Cloudflare
The main problem of Cloudflare is a single-point failure, If Cloudflare goes down, your website sometimes email also goes down, and a few other disadvantages are :
- The free plan comes with many limits, and Paid plans are not cheap.
- DNS zones are managed which may not be useful for some users.
- Can’t use Custom Name servers in the free plan.
- SSL certificate will only be accepted which Cloudflare is active on that domain.
- SSL certificates are only one level deep and issued to sni.cloudflaressl.com with your domain in SAN’s field.
- Domain registration is not yet available for all users and comes with limited TLDs to register.
- Page rules and Worker sites are very limited in the Free plan.
How do you know that Cloudflare is right for you?
When you think about the amount of management that is required for managing the integrity of one website, imagine how much stress and time is involved in managing multiple sites. Cloudflare is a tool that is free to use as long as you are managing a single site. There are multiple paid options that provide more adaptability as well as plugin options so that you can provide the best experience to the visitors of your site.
Overall, this service offers many options for web management and precludes the chances of vulnerabilities in your server. For the money, it also offers the benefits of a web hosting service provider without the costly (and not always effective) CDN services that are sometimes available through low-end web hosting providers. With the added security and speed of the introductory-level plugins that are available through the free version, it is definitely worth a try.
Cloudflare was one of the first CDN providers to integrate security and performance enhancements into a single solution. With a reliable base of over 200 data centers, Cloudflare consistently hits over 7 billion requests. Cloudflare is also quick to plug security holes pointed out as has happened in the past. It also runs a reward program for pointing out a new vulnerability, showing a strong commitment to protecting customer data in all possible ways, and staying a market leader for some time to come.