Cloudflare, what is it? And what are the pros and cons?

Cloudflare - Cloudflare

Cloudflare seems like a panacea. It makes your website super fast, safe via HTTPS without an SSL certificate! And also keeps spammers and hackers out. What are the pros and cons?

Cloudflare significantly speeds up your website’s loading, ensures a (secure) HTTPS connection without having to purchase an SSL certificate, and keeps hackers and spammers away from your website. Sounds good, right? We thought so too. We have been using Cloudflare for some time now. This article will explain how it works, the pros and cons, and how to switch smoothly to Cloudflare.

How does it work?

Cloudflare does not operate at the website or web server level but is located between the visitor and your website. When a visitor goes to your website, your DNS server usually points the visitor to your web server. A DNS server is, as it were, a switching station that links domain names and servers together. If you want to use Cloudflare, replace your DNS server with that of Cloudflare.

Cloudflare naturally sends the visitor to your web server, but not before it can perform its “magic.”

Cloudflare - Reverse proxy

The benefits of Cloudflare

Cloudflare is constantly expanding and offers a lot of features and extensions. More options and integrations are added every day. That is, of course, nice, but in our opinion, these are the most important advantages:

It makes your website super fast.

An important advantage of Cloudflare is the caching and compression techniques that are used. Before the visitor goes to your website, they will first see the cache of the requested page located at Cloudflare. This page will, of course, load much faster than your own website and is also compressed. 

In addition to caching and compression, your website’s images are loaded and compressed on the Cloudflare network. These images are offered to the visitor via a so-called CDN (content delivery network).

A CDN is a network that offers content, and that is spread all over the world. Someone who views the website in Hong Kong loads the pictures from Asia, and someone here in the Netherlands loads them from Europe.

Cloudflare offers many advantages for the real speed optimization freaks, and you immediately score more points with Google. Literally, because you get a better score on Google’s Pagespeed Insights. Would you like to know more about this? 

Free HTTPS

Another handy feature of Cloudflare is the flexible SSL function. Because Cloudflare operates before the web server, it can create a secure connection between the visitor and Cloudflare. Without having to purchase an SSL certificate. This makes your website work via the HTTPS protocol, which is safer for visitors who leave data behind. Think of a contact form or a login. 

Recently, the use of HTTPS has become extra popular because Google values ​​secure websites and places them higher in search results.

Extra security

Cloudflare’s bonus is that it can also look for unwanted visitors and deny them access to your website. For example, Cloudflare compares your visitors’ IP numbers with a list of IP numbers of known hackers and spammers.

World - Globe

Cloudflare has even more security measures. For example, you can set whether you use one of the well-known open-source CMSs, such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.

Cloudflare prevents hackers who access specific URLs from this CMS from entering.

Cloudflare can immediately block all these unwanted visitors, but you can also set them to see a captcha first.

What are the drawbacks?

We and a number of our clients have been using Cloudflare for a while now, and we have encountered a few problems. The drawbacks we have encountered are:

Another extra cache layer

One point may be that in addition to your CMS’s cache, an extra cache layer is created, namely that of Cloudflare. Especially if you make any adjustments to your website, emptying two cache systems can become annoying.

As a content manager, you will not have to do this often. Still, as a developer, we often make adjustments to the PHP or CSS code of a website. It is wise to clear the cache of the Cloudflare cache in addition to the cache of your website.

Where is your data located?

Modern companies probably have less trouble with the ‘cloud.’ But the questions about privacy and data that you can ask about the ‘cloud’ and Cloudflare are well-founded. After all, where is that content that is being cached? What happens to the IP data of the visitors to your website? 

You have no insight into that, and just like with so many other cloud services, you simply have to trust that your data will not be out on the street.

Payment methods are limited.

Cloudflare is limited in payment (if you choose an account with more options) to pay by credit card. This can be a problem for some organizations.

Depending on Cloudflare

Furthermore, there is the disadvantage that if Cloudflare goes down, which we have not yet experienced, your website will be inaccessible. The same goes for the DNS server you are using now, and in that sense, there is little difference. But it is still something to consider. In 2013, things went badly at Cloudflare, and 800,000 websites were down for two hours. 

Since this downtime, we no longer see any reports of problems at Cloudflare.

Tips for a smooth transition

We also use Cloudflare ourselves, and these are some of the things we learned ourselves during the transition.

  1. Cloudflare works at the DNS level. You must therefore change the nameservers of your domain. The main consequence is that all your DNS records will be managed at Cloudflare from that moment on. Map well in advance which DNS records you have and to which IP numbers they refer. newsletter.yourdomain.nl, ftp.yourdomainname.nl, etc.
  2. Suppose you want to take maximum advantage of Cloudflare’s minify techniques. In that case, your HTML code must contain as few errors as possible. An error causes the compression process to stop. You can check how many errors your HTML code contains by validating it at https://validator.w3.org/.
  3. If you are struggling to redirect your traffic, Cloudflare’s Page Rules functionality can help. You can use this to redirect all your traffic to the secure URL of your website.

Do you have questions or comments about Cloudflare? Then I’d be happy to see or answer those below in the comment section.

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