Have you ever had a problem with your website loading slowly? Or maybe have had experience with a security breach? Want to make your website run faster for free? Then a CDN is for your.
What is a CDN?
A CDN or Content Delivery Network is a system compromised of many parts that all work together to give you a better overall experience. Without knowing it you have most probably used a CDN service on a daily basis. The CDN is able to lower the latency (Page load time), and serve files faster to your viewers increasing the overall user experience.
How a CDN works?
To optimise the load time on your website a CDN does one of many things. First of all, files from your website are copied (cached) in multiple servers across the world. These files are updated when you update your website or even more often should you wish to.
Lets create a scenario to explain what happens between your web host, the CDN and the end user when the user visits your site. If your website is hosted on a server in the USA and your end user is in Europe… lets say London. The CDN will push the files to your website from the closest server to your end user. This means that the closer your end user is to a CDN server the better user experience they will have.
As already mentioned, the main use of a CDN is to provide low latency access to your websites, but this is not all. It can also help with distributing traffic by taking the main load off your main web server. This means that you will not need to have a super beefy web host at first since the CDN will handle a lot of the heavy lifting. In turn all of this will also reduce the bandwidth usage on your main server and all of this combined will keep your running costs low.
Other benefits of a CDN that are most of the time ignored are protection from spammers, and bad bots that can cause problems or slow down your website. Most CDN’s also have DDoS attack protection. Distributed Denial of Service attacks are more common than you think, these types of attacks gather a large number of (compromised, hacked) machines to visit your website all at once and cause your servers to get overwhelmed with a lot of hits and traffic all at once. Protection against this type of attack can put your mind at rest that your website will remain online and working at all times.
How to start using a CDN
There are many CDN services available both free and paid but the most popular and well known one is Cloudflare. With hundreds of serves in over 160 datacenter scattered around all corners of world you are guaranteed to have one close to your end user wherver they may be.
Their free plan is a good option to get started with with three paid options you can upgrade to should the need arise. The process of signing up and setting up your domain is quite easy to follow but we will show you how to do that just the same.
First of all you need to go to the Cloudflare Sign Up Page, enter your email and choose a password followed by the Create Account button.
Secondly enter your domain name and press add followed by the Free Plan on the next page and Confirm Plan button.
Cloudflare will now check your existing web server and fetch all the information it needs to verify that Cloudflare can be used with your server. Simply scroll all the way to the bottom and press Continue.
On the last screen you will be given a set of name servers that need to be changed out from the ones you have setup in your domain name. This is very easy to do and if you need help with this you can read our guide on Domains & Web Hosting.
If your read the above carefully it says that the change to Cloudflare can take approx 24 hours but most of the time this is far less. In the meantime it is a good idea to go to your emails and verify your email via the emails received from Cloudflare. For now thats it, congratulations your website is now running on a CDN using the Cloudflare service.
The free version of Cloudflare has many features you can explore. We will go trough the basics here and get to the more advanced features in another guide.
On the Analytics tab you will accumulate statistics about your websites traffic and bandwidth. On other sub tabs you can check out any detected attacks and threats and checkout response times.
The DNS tab will allow you to add, remove and change your DNS entries with ease. You will be able to make entries to point to different servers and changes are almost instant in most cases.
On the speed tab you can get an overview and test your page speed with and without Cloudflare. This will give you a clear idea of the benefits you are getting from using the CDN. You also have the various free optimisation options you can try and test.
Most of the other tabs and options are for the more advanced use but feel free to have a look at them. Just be sure to check out your website every time you make a change just in case some setting break your site and you would have to go back and undo all the changes you have made until you get the right one.
Using Cloudflare to get started is a great option… and why not, you have nothing to loose just give it a try. Just keep in mind that there are various other CDN services you can try that are also just as good.