Cloudflare: what is it? And what can you do with it?
Cloudflare is an American company that delivers services like a DNS, a content delivery network (CDN) and many other additional services to make websites faster and more secure.
Cloudflare is used by more than 26 million sites, resulting in processing more than 1 billion IP-addresses each day.
Well, that sounds like a lot, and it actually is. But why is Cloudflare this popular? Why do we, and also a lot of other companies, use Cloudflare?
In this article, you read everything you wanted to know about Cloudflare.
The company Cloudflare was founded in 2009 by Matthew Price, Lee Holloway and Michelle Zatlyn. Their objective is to help build a better internet. To make this happen, they launched multiple free and paid services. It’s clear they are doing something well if we look at the results of 2019. In 2019 Cloudflare had a turnover of over 287 million dollars (!).
There are a lot of services Cloudflare offers, including the following:
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Domain Name System (DNS)
- Load Balancing
- Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Caching possibilities
- Video Streaming
- Web Application Firewall (WAF)
- Domain registrar
- Workers (for developers)
Beside their services Cloudflare has standard integration with well-known platforms such as IBM Cloud, WordPress, Google Cloud, Magento and Kubernates.
How does Cloudflare work?
In order to understand how Cloudflare works, it is necessary to look at the frequently made mistakes that websites in the past made.
When visiting a website without Cloudflare, the website visitor requests content from a server.
However, when there were too many visitors on the server at the same time, the server got overloaded with the consequences of a slow or non-working website.
As the owner of the website this is not something you would like to see. This is why Cloudflare invented a solution for this.
Cloudflare placed their own server, in the form of an enormous worldwide network, between the website and web server. Website visitors don’t communicate directly with the server anymore, but with the Cloudflare network which already has stored the website content and loads this via a server depending on the location of the visitor.
For instance: You have a website that’s hosted in Germany, and someone from the US tries to connect to your website. The request has tocover a big distance(between website and web server). Cloudflare solves this by offering a huge network of servers around the world.
The American doesn’t have to make a connection with the German server anymore, but he will connect with the nearest Cloudflare server somewhere in the United States.
By doing this, Cloudflare relieves the servers and ensures that visitors can see their requested web page faster.
Most important Cloudflare services explained
As mentioned before, Cloudflare offers a big range of services. All these services contribute to the mission of the company: helping to build a better internet.
DNS (Domain Name System) is the system and network protocol that is used on the internet to translate the names of computers to numeric addresses and controversy. Internet users don’t have to remember their IP-addresses when they want to visit a website, but just fill in a name.
Cloudflare offers its DNS-service that ensures, in its own words, the fastest response time (reaction time), unrivaled redundancy and advanced security measures like an integrated DDoS-blocker and DNSSEC.
Due to the worldwide distributed Cloudflare network, with more than 200 servers, there is anuptime of 100%.
By bringing your DNS under Cloudflare and make use of its SSL-certificates, you will automatically get their WAF (Web Application Firewall).
Because Cloudflare is the largest, they also scan the most IP-addresses worldwide and therefore have the quickest IP addresses with bad intentions visible which can then be blocked immediately.
Because Cloudflare is the largest, they scan the most IP addresses from a worldwide perspective. Therefore, they have, the quickest, visible all IP addresses with bad intentions which can be blocked immediately.
DDoS-attacks can’t be avoided, however they can be made harmless by blocking IP-addresses/ranges or even complete regions.
Web Application Firewall (WAF)
The WAF is a solution for every organization that wants to protect their website or other application against cyberattacks without making modifications to the existing infrastructure.
Cloudflare allows you to add rules via the WAF-dashboard to be protected even better.
Every request to enter the WAF will be checked by the rules you set in the rule engine. Suspicious requests will be blocked on time and recorded by the needs of the user, while ‘good’ requests will be directed to the right destination.
A simple setting that can be made in WAF is turning on the OWASP Core Ruleset. This gives you standard protection against attacks that have to do something with, for example, SQLi and XSS.Cloudflare CDN
In this article, we already wrote about the function of CDN. Cloudflare’s Content Delivery Network is the biggest service they offer.
The advantage of this CDN feature is that this feature lets the visitor communicate with the nearest Cloudflare server. This ensures faster websites. An absolute must-have for internationally oriented websites.
The CDN of Cloudflare offers even more advantages. There is a built-in caching module. This caching module ensures that not every visited page has to be loaded again by the server.
With Cloudflare, you have maximum control over your caching. You decide which pages to cache, make special rules and set the time for how long certain content has to be cached.
How good and fast the DNS of Cloudflare is, is researched by Medium. Big registrars like Quad9, Google, Norton DNS, Yandex, Comodo and for sure Cloudflare are tested and compared to each other within their research.
In 72% of the cases, Cloudflare was the fastest, averaging 4.98 ms.
Cloudflare was the fastest DNS for 72% of all the locations
It had an amazingly low average of 4.98 ms across the globe.
Yes, when you make use of Cloudflare, you also get this. Security Socket Layer (SSL) is the standard protocol that is used for establishing a secured connection.
Every website should have an SSL-certificate nowadays. Google has mentioned that websites with no valid SSL-certificate, suffer from it in the search results. Moreover, the visitors of this website will have a mention that the site is not secured.
As an owner of a website, you can get an SSL certificate via Cloudflare. Of course, this contributes directly to the mission: built a better internet.
You can find more information about SSL-certificates via Cloudflare on the Cloudflare website.
The costs of Cloudflare
Basically, you will get many features you can use in the free version of Cloudflare. You get access to the CDN, basic caching and DDoS protection.
However, when you want to make use of all the Cloudflare services, you have to subscribe to the Pro version. At a cost of $20 a month you will get a lot of extra features with the Pro version, like automatic compression of images on your website, the Cloudflare WAF, automatically mobile automation and more.
It’s also possible to buy add-ons separately.
The following list shows all the prices of possible Cloudflare’s subscriptions:
- Pro: $20
- Business: $200
- Enterprise: on request
Which known websites make use of Cloudflare?
Which website does not make use of Cloudflare? Well, there are quite a lot, but there are also many websites that do make use of Cloudflare nowadays!
Some of the biggest websites are:
And of course, our own website and the website of most of our customers are making use of Cloudflare.
Alternatives for Cloudflare
Although we think Cloudflare is the best all-in-one solution at the moment, there are some alternatives available:
Akamai exists way longer than Cloudflare and, due to this, Akamai has a bigger market share than Cloudflare. Compared to Cloudflare, Akamai is also a CDN and offers a lot of security measures for web applications. Akamai is more restricted, and therefore it will take some more time to configure it well.
2. Imperva Incapsula
Incapsula launched around the same time as Cloudflare. They see themselves as one of the bigger competitors of Cloudflare. Fundamentally, it offers the same features as Cloudflare. Known websites as WiX, Trello, General Electric, SendGrid and MOZ use Imperva Incapsula.
3. Amazon CloudFront
Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront have the same ambitions regarding making websites more secure and faster. The advantage (or a disadvantage for some technicians) is that Amazon CloudFront is very simple. Amazon CloudFront can be seen as a traditional CDN, while Cloudflare is seen as a CDN with a reverse proxy.
How to install Cloudflare
The first thing you have to do is create a free account on Cloudflare’s website.
For installing/configuring Cloudflare, you have multiple options. The easiest option is to watch this video:
If you can’t find your way out, Cloudflare has a great set of documentation. If that isn’t enough their support department is ready to assist.
Nowadays almost every webhoster offers support for Cloudflare in the form of documentation.
When you still don’t use Cloudflare, or another CDN, consider the services Cloudflare offers.
Cloudflare is secure, extremely stable, ensures a better performance of your web application and it is not expensive or even free.
Cloudflare protects you against DDoS attacks, has an extremely fast DNS-service and extensive caching possibilities.