Overview

CloudFlare is a service that sits between the server and user of a website (like a proxy), which adds security and accelerates your website. It speeds up sites by limiting bots and crawlers from accessing them, saving bandwidth and server resources. It protects against threats ranging from comment spam to SQL injection and denial of service attacks. CloudFlare is free with limited options, but there are tiered plans for businesses and pro users. This blog article covers the main features of CloudFlare, and its disadvantages.

Features

CloudFlare operates out of 23 data centres around the world. It routes web traffic through its own servers and offsets much of the load to the site, especially in periods of heavy traffic. It uses a technology called Anycast to route your visitors to the nearest data centre, so loading times are much quicker for visitors, regardless of where they are located. Enabling a domain for CloudFlare only involves a simple modification to the DNS settings which will come into effect after a period of DNS propagation. It’s very simple to disable CloudFlare if any issues are experienced whilst using the service.

It caches static files which help towards faster load times when requesting a web page. Dynamic content caching isn’t enabled by default but can be used if required. It caches static resources like CSS, images and Javascript, and builds a cache based on traffic and what objects on the site are safe to serve. Through Page Rules, you can provide control of CloudFlare on each page of your site. You can also choose which subdomains are to be part of CloudFlare’s CDN (content distribution network).

CloudFlare’s optimisation is clever, by combining multiple JavaScript files into a single request to avoid the overhead of multiple network requests. It optimises HTML and doesn’t need to wait for slower scripts like advertising or widgets. And depending on the device your visitor uses, it automatically adjusts how the content is delivered.

CloudFlare detects and learns about new attacks and starts to block the attack for both your website and entire community of visitors. The longer you are on CloudFlare, the better the protection becomes. It provides the ability to block individual IPs, IP ranges and even countries, which eliminates the need for writing complicated server rules. It adds an extra layer of security for DoS (Denial of Service) attacks and can help mitigate many attacks. You can choose security settings for each of your websites.

There are lots of detailed reports for you to look at, too. It shows a list of threats that were stopped from reaching your site, creates a visitor reputation list and shows threat visitors by country, type, IP address and severity. An easy-to-read traffic report is provided (instead of going through log files). You can sort this by time, visitor type and traffic types, and even toggle between real time and daily updates. It is compatible with other analytics programmes, like Google Analytics.

There are hundreds of apps available that don’t change the code on your site (instead, a JavaScript is simply inserted in the right place and can be turned off and on). They include analytics, affiliate links, monitoring and site searches.

Disadvantages

Because CloudFlare caches static content from your website, whenever you make a change it may take a while before the change appears. This can be bypassed by enabling developer mode.

The basic (free) package doesn’t support SSL certified sites. You could either use CloudFlare on subdomains that are not SSL protected, or upgrade. The next plan, CloudFlare Pro, is only $20 for your first site, and $5 after that. And you can mix plan types within one account.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss CloudFlare. We’re here to help you get the most from your hosting.