Free CDN For Websites: CloudFlare

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CloudFlare provides free CDN type feature for websites. It caches the commonly accessed data on its servers, so that it does not have to be fetched from your server. CloudFlare also adds a layer of security to your website so that any malicious attacks to your website are foiled by CloudFlare.

CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. A CDN is used to store data of a website on servers across the world. When a visitor browses to a website on their browser, the request is redirected to the nearest server to the user’s location. This has two advantages. First the commonly accessed data is cached on some other servers from where it can be quickly sent to it visitor’s machine. Secondly, the content of website is served from the data center that is closest to visitor’s location. This greatly reduces network time.

There are many popular CND service providers. This website uses MaxCDN as the CDN provider. However there aren’t any good free CDN services. This is where CloudFlare comes in.

CloudFlare

Instead of being just a normal CDN, CloudFlare is actually much more. CloudFlare secures your website so that any malicious attacks to it can be foiled, and also provides free CDN like features.

Unlike other CDNs, CloudFlare works in a very interesting manner. What it does is that it takes over the name servers of your website. So if any request is sent to a website, it first goes to CloudFlare’s servers, and then CloudFlare redirects that to your website.

The advantage of this is all the requests first go to CloudFlare before going to your website. In this manner CloudFlare first serve content directly from its server before hitting your website, and it needs to hit your website only if it needs to fetch some content from a website.

There are many advantages of this approach:

Firstly if any malicious IP tries to access your website, CloudFlare first gets that request and it compares the IP to its list of known malicious IPs. If it sees that any IP is not suitable, it would not even let that request passed to your website.

Secondly, CloudFlare caches the frequently used content of the website on its servers. The data that it caches is like CSS files,  JavaScript files,  images and more. However it does not take caches HTML pages. When a visitor browses to your website, CloudFlare first serves this cached data from its own servers, and then fetches the remaining content from your website. This greatly reduces the bandwidth that your website uses and also ends up increasing the performance of the website.

Another major advantage of this approach offers is that in case your website is down, CloudFlare starts serving all the content from its own servers without even letting users know that your website is down.

CloudFlare comes with both free and paid plans,  but the free plan should work for most of the small website owners.

Setting up CloudFlare is extremely easy to do. It comes with a nice wizard like interface that guides you through the setup process. You start with creating a free account with CloudFlare. Then you provide the name of website that you want to integrate with  CloudFlare.

CloudFlare then scans name servers of your website to see how the website has been set up. It will then give you suggestions that how should you change nameserver entries of your website so that the traffic is directed to CloudFlare first before going directly to your website.

Once you’ve set the name servers of the website with your domain name registrar,  all your website traffic starts routing through CloudFlare. This process can take up to 24 hours. However, your website keeps working normally during that time.

I have integrated CloudFlare with my another website Netbook Freeware,  and found the setup process to be extremely easy.  I have setup the name servers just a few hours back, so DNS propagation is not complete yet. However I’m quite excited about this free CDN service, and believe that it will not only speed up my website but also secure my website; something that I’m constantly afraid of.

CloudFlare is an extremely good, useful and well thought of service and I’m really glad that it has such a decent free plan. If you experience performance problems with your website, and cannot afford a CDN you should definitely give CloudFlare a try.

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