Why do many websites use CloudFlare

Everything You Need To Know About Cloudflare (And Some You Didn't Know)

Cloudflare is best known as the Content Delivery Network (CDN). Today it has grown beyond that and offers a range of services mainly concerned with networking and security.

Their stated mission: to build a better internet.

To understand this, consider your previous experience with the Internet. I'm sure there have been cases where you have encountered slow or unresponsive websites. There are many reasons why this may be so, but the end result is the same - your browsing experience is affected.

Worse, you may not have been able to access the content you need. This is one of the main reasons Cloudflare and other similar companies exist.

TL; DR

Cloudflare owns and operates a huge network of servers. These are used to speed up websites and protect them from malicious attacks such as DDoS. Ultimately, websites that use services like Cloudflare are more secure and offer their users a better browsing experience.

Background: Project Honeypot and beyond

Cloudflare started out not like it does today, but as a project to discover the origins of email spam. Conceived by founders Lee Holloway and Matthew Prince, Project Honeypot was launched in 2004.

They were joined by current Chief Operating Officer Michelle Zatlyn by 2009. Together they embarked on a mission not only to track down web threats, but to defend websites against them. By the end of the year, they had raised just over $ 2 million in funding.

The Cloudflare team started privately in 2010 and initially worked with a few members of the honeypot community. In the middle of next year they got unexpected news. Threat prevention aside, Cloudflare actually increased the speed of the website - by an average of a third.

They decided to open up to the public and haven't looked back since. Today, Cloudflare is valued at around $ 4.4 billion - and growing.

Editor's note: Despite the success of Cloudflare, the story of Lee Holloway is really sad. Holloway suffers from frontotemporal dementia. The disease affected not only him, but profoundly all who were close to him. Read his story here.


How Cloudflare works

The heart of Cloudflare lies in the massive network of servers it has. The network spans 93 countries (that's almost half the countries in the world) and includes more than 200 locations. These act as both a data cache server and a large-scale firewall.

Technically, if you have a hosted website, all you have to do is sign up to Cloudflare. Then add your site to their control panel. It's pretty much hands-free from then on. Segments of data from your site are cached on Cloudflare servers in multiple locations around the world.

When a visitor makes a request for your website, Cloudflare sends them cached data from the closest location and communicates with your website at the same time. This often results in visitors receiving information much faster than if the request was made directly to your website.

At the same time, all data transmitted via Cloudflare servers are monitored. That way, they can block potential attacks, filter out bad actors (like bots), and anything else that will help make your website more secure.

Over the years, Cloudflare has improved its services significantly. More elements have been added each time, making it better, faster, and stronger for the users.

Benefits of Using Cloudflare

It's understandable that Cloudflare should create some confusion because of its size and evolution. In essence, they remain committed to their core goal of helping build a better internet.

This means that their focus is still on three key areas: security, performance, and reliability.

1. Security - Cloudflare helps protect websites

Once you've added your site to Cloudflare, any data going out or in will be transmitted through their servers. At this point, Cloudflare can analyze it to assess potential threats.

Elements that Cloudflare looks for are the visitor's IP address, the requirements, the frequency of the requests, and much more. Cloudflare also allows users to configure their firewall with custom rules.

Once your site is connected to Cloudflare, the DNS system is also protected. If someone looked up your domain name, they would only see the DNS set provided by Cloudflare and not, for example, your real nameservers.

Overall, using Cloudflare helps prevent bot traffic, malicious intrusions, DDoS attacks, and more. Think of it the same way as a pillow softening the blow that a blow would inflict on your body. Technically, it's more of a smart body protector than a pillow.

2. Speed ​​- Enhanced with distributed remote caching

With the way Google works today, speed is in great demand with website owners around the world. Faster websites mean higher search rankings, higher conversion rates, and an overall better visitor experience.

Imagine parts of your website are cached in multiple locations on Cloudflare servers. Every time a visitor tries to access your site, Cloudflare responds by serving your site from the cache location nearby.

The sheer power of Cloudflare servers and a shorter location for data travel mean your website loads into the visitor's browser faster than ever before. In the meantime, your own web server has time to serve everything else that isn't cached on Cloudflare servers.

The theory that Cloudflare follows is edge computing, which tries to bring data and computing resources as close as possible to visitors. This is done to reduce the time it takes for data to traverse the internet.

Side effect - savings in bandwidth costs

Because parts of your site are hosted on Cloudflare servers, you also save money on bandwidth costs. Websites keep running VPS, cloud, or dedicated hosting plans often pay for bandwidth and the cost savings can be significant.

How much of your site is cached depends on how it is designed. Cloudflare caches static elements (things that are unlikely to change) like images between. The more static content you have, the better the caching.

3. Reliability - Cloudflare virtually expands your resources

Thanks to the large number of assets, Cloudflare adds an extra element to your site structure. Since their servers help serve parts of your site, you gain redundancy.

If a Cloudflare node goes down for any reason, your site can still be served from the closest location.

Apart from that, the distributed system also acts as a load balancer. By serving parts of your site from different servers, you relieve your own web server. This can increase the number of concurrently supported visitors while maintaining the same level of performance.

What Cloudflare offers users

Content Delivery Network

Almost all Cloudflare services are built into the CDN product. This is what Cloudflare is famous for, and it offers most of the benefits outlined in the section above. DNS includes caching, traffic monitoring, HTTP / 2 and HTTP / 3 support, SSL, and much more.

Domain registration

This is something that most web hosting service providers usually offer. However, many simply resell on behalf of domain name registrars - one of them is now Cloudflare. The service is pretty new. While you can buy or transfer domains to be managed by them, the former is still in beta mode.

Hosting for streaming media

Media files, especially videos, are the main category of assets that are suitable for Cloudflare. The global server offering is ideal for those who want to set up such services. It also means that they can offer the service at extremely competitive prices.

DNS resolution over 1.1.1.1

Anyone with an Internet account uses DNS resolution. This helps translate domain names into their actual machine-readable format. Every time you type a site address into your browser and hit enter, you are using DNS resolution.

Most of the DNS resolutions are performed by our Internet Service Providers (ISPs). However, they don't always do a good job, which results in below average browsing experiences. On another level, some countries enforce web censorship through their ISPs.

By using Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 DNS resolution, you not only increase the speed of your browsing, but you also bypass rudimentary ISP-level blocks.

A major evolution on 1.1.1.1 is the addition of what Cloudflare calls WARP. This improvement is an attempt by the company to improve the security features of 1.1.1.1, essentially tuning it into something like a VPN.

Local network protection with Magic Transit

Not only does Cloudflare offer DDoS protection to websites, it also offers businesses direct. With a product called Magic Transit, Cloudflare can bring global network protection to the level you need.

Not only are they intended for online networks, but you can also use Magic Transit to protect your local networks. The solution is ideal for companies that may not have to invest a lot in network infrastructure like traditional hardware boxes.

Secure network access

Since they run a network of secure servers anyway, Cloudflare is perfectly positioned to offer services instead of traditional VPN (Virtual Private Network) providers for businesses.

Those whose employees are connecting from remote locations usually need to invest in a VPN to protect their local assets. Often these are cumbersome internal adjustments to VPN applications.

Cloudflare Access offers companies the opportunity to subscribe to a highly secure and user-friendly solution with the Software as a Service (SaaS) concept.

Network logging and analysis

With so many services offered across their network, Cloudflare can easily offer its users another by-product - analytics. When you can see exactly how your data is being used and how it flows, you can make adjustments to optimize the delivery of your content.

Cloudflare Analytics is very detailed so you can break down information about the exact resources that are being provisioned. The logs that analyze the data also provide security officers with a digital paper path to follow.

Deploy code without a server

For developers or companies that manage their own software resources at the macro level, Cloudflare can also help with deployment. Instead of having to invest in your own infrastructure, you can use Cloudflare Worker.

This means you can rely on resources to be available when you need them without having to worry about managing them. It's fast, powerful, and extremely inexpensive.

Using Cloudflare with Your Site

The first thing you need to understand is that Cloudflare is not a web hosting service provider. This means you must have an existing website with your own domain name and hosting before using Cloudflare.

First of all, you need to sign up for an account with them. Once that's done, you'll be given a number of name servers to use. To use Cloudflare, you need to visit the control panel for your domain name.

There, replace your existing DNS servers (usually called name servers) with those provided by Cloudflare. This will route traffic through Cloudflare servers and start caching your website at the same time.

Once you do, you can just leave the defaults alone and it will work. Once you are familiar with Cloudflare, there are a few settings you can try to change to optimize your website's performance and security.

In addition, Cloudflare integrates seamlessly with multiple applications, from content management systems to e-commerce platforms. Some examples of this are WordPress, Magento, and Google Cloud.

What Cloudflare can't help you with

Despite its fairly broad range of services, Cloudflare isn't everything. As a website owner, you need to understand that for you, Cloudflare is just a tool to improve the performance and security of your website.

Cloudflare does not:

Host your website - You still need a web hosting service provider to store and serve the files that make up your website.

Improve web hosting server speeds - Although Cloudflare improves performance by helping you to cache and serve some items, it cannot speed up your web hosting server by itself. If you've chosen a subpar hosting provider, the speed improvements Cloudflare offers are likely not enough to keep your visitors from getting frustrated.

Here is a list of the 10 best web hosting based on real world data and use cases.

Cloudflare cannot:

Manage your domain name - If you hosted your domain name with a Cloudflare partner, you will need to manage your domain name through the partner's control panel, not through Cloudflare.

Pricing and Plans - How Cloudflare Makes Money

Cloudflare has four different tier pricing plans. In the simplest case, it offers users a free service. This plan is limited in some ways, but most basic websites should be able to take advantage of the free tier too. Most importantly, there are no bandwidth limits placed on users for the free plan.

propertiesFreePerbusinessCompanies
Global Load Balanced CDN
Caching of static content
Immediate full cache cleaning
Min. Expiry of the cache TTL2 hours1 hr30 min.1 sec
Maximum client upload size (MB)100100200Over 500
Mobile optimization
CNAME setup
Chat support
price $ 0 / mo$ 20 / mo$ 200 / moRequest quote

Paid plans for Cloudflare are Pro, Business, and Enterprise. Each includes an increasing number of features, with Pro costing $ 20 per month and Business $ 200 per month. Business plans are customizable, and users must discuss options and pricing with Cloudflare's sales reps.

If you're not a paid plan user or a feature you want isn't available in your plan, you often have the option of using it as a paid extra. For example, Agro, a service that helps optimize traffic routes to further improve speed, is not included in the free plan.

Users who just want to take advantage of this additional feature can pay $ 5 per website (about $ 0.10 per GB) depending on the bandwidth used.

Finance & Investment

Cloudflare has an estimated customer base of around 2.8 million. The number is a combination of free and paying customers. In 2019, its revenue was $ 287 million with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 50%.

In recent years, a very constant average gross profit of around 78% has been achieved. For a company with over 1,000 employees and a large investment in infrastructure, that's certainly impressive.

Cloudflare milestones, updates and news

Initial public offering

After roughly a decade officially in business, Cloudflare finally went public with an IPO in late 2019. The stock originally traded at $ 15, but rose to $ 17.90 at the end of the first day of trading. It has since climbed to over $ 36 (mostly on the back of the coronavirus pandemic) and things are looking good for her.

8chan incident

In August 2019, Cloudflare made the decision to remove the infamous Forum 8chan as a customer. Matthew Prince, CEO and co-founder of CLoudflare, called the website "a cesspool of hatred".

Widespread service outage

Despite its massive size, Cloudflare is not entirely immune to problems. One such incident (self-induced) occurred in mid-2019 and resulted in widespread outages that lasted over 30 minutes.The problem? A software deployment failed.

Spamhaus DDoS

In March 2013, the Cloudflare network successfully fended off a concentrated multi-day attack against Spamhaus. At the time, it was the largest DDoS attack ever, although there have been larger and more significant attacks since then.


Final Thoughts: Is Cloudflare Right For You?

For the majority of us, Cloudflare is simply a CDN. This means that you can speed up your blog or even improve the performance of your small business website.

In this context, owning one of the most powerful global server networks seems a bit ridiculous. Is It Really Necessary? To answer that question simply - yes. It is precisely the size of this network that makes it a viable solution for so many websites today.

Also, keep in mind that it gives many small website owners a free ride on their network. To do this, it must be able to offer significant services to customers on a corporate scale in order to cover costs, so to speak.

Because of this business model, Cloudflare helps small website owners and businesses by offering them a service that they otherwise could not easily afford or justify. After all, it's free for many.

From a more strategic point of view, it is also about a problem that appears more and more frequently over time. The internet has become an increasingly dangerous place. Not only for normal browsers, but especially for website owners.

Combining speed, reliability, and security, I would say that Cloudflare has actually delivered on its promise so far. The search for a better internet.

That makes it good for everyone.


frequently asked Questions

Is Cloudflare free?

Cloudflare offers a free tier of its CDN service with no bandwidth restrictions. It also includes various services like rudimentary bot protection, HTTP / 2, free SSL, and more. However, some features have limitations while others have to be paid for.

What is Cloudflare Edge?

Cloudflare Edge refers to the concept they use for content delivery. This means that the data is brought as close as possible to the delivery point (“the edge”). The result is lower turnaround time and bandwidth savings for websites.

What is a CDN?

A content delivery network is the use of multiple linked servers to store data in a variety of locations. This helps websites deliver their files faster and more reliably, which improves the user experience of their visitors.

Which companies use Cloudflare?

Cloudflare supports around 13% of all websites currently in existence. While the list of users is complete, it includes several major brand names such as Roche, ZenDesk, Mozilla, UpWork, 9GAG, US Xpress, and more.

Are there alternatives to Cloudflare?

There are quite a few CND providers out there today. Notable among them are Akamai, StackPath, and Sucuri. Everyone often follows their own marketing path and looks at a specific consumer segment. Akamai, for example, is more active in the extremely high traffic segment.

Is Cloudflare the only free CDN provider?

No, there are other free CDN service providers as well. An example of this is Amazon Cloudfront with a free service tier (for one year). It should be noted, however, that most other free service providers typically have more restrictions.

About Timothy Shim

Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. He began his career in the information technology field and quickly found his way into the print media. Since then he has worked with international, regional and local media outlets such as ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in technology from both a consumer and business perspective.

Connect: