What is CloudFlare and why should I have it?

February 24, 2017
Posted in: Web Development, WordPress

More than 99% of the websites we design are built on WordPress – a fast, robust, easy to use Content Management System.  Since WordPress is built with PHP and stores data in a MySQL database, every time a user visits a page, quite a few requests are made to the website’s server, and assets and data are retrieved.  As long as you’re on a decent hosting plan, the site should be nice and quick, but all of these requests add up, and if you have a busy site, they can start to slow things down.

Caching

There are many ways to optimize a WordPress site, and while updating code, optimizing images, and removing unnecessary plugins can be quite helpful, the sure-fire way to lower your site’s response time is to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like CloudFlare.

CloudFlare (and other CDNs) basically work like this:  when a user visits your site, all requests get passed through CloudFlare, and it caches everything for next time.  This means that on the next page load, instead of your server having to process requests and send assets to the user, CloudFlare takes care of it.

This means that the total number of requests hitting your web server will drop quite dramatically, and since each page load no longer requires PHP processing and database queries, your site will be a LOT faster.

DNS

On top of offering a caching mechanism, CloudFlare also manages your site’s Domain Name System (DNS).  DNS is basically the phone book of the Internet, and helps translate www.yourdomain.com into a web server’s IP address.  Faster DNS means a faster initial lookup, which means a faster initial page load.

Security

Since CloudFlare manages DNS, they can see every incoming request and spot potential threats.  Sites and servers are constantly being scanned and attacked, and CloudFlare helps to limit the risk by rejecting traffic they deem dangerous.

Location-Based Blacklists

Much of the malicious traffic we see passes through a handful of countries.  Using CloudFlare, we can require users from those countries to pass a challenge before gaining access to a site.  This is generally a CAPTCHA, but can also be done secretly using a JavaScript challenge.  Either way, fewer bots will be hitting your site.

Cost

CloudFlare offers several paid options, but most clients can take advantage of the free plan.  The main limitation we’ve run into is the low number of page rules, but more can be added for as little as $5/month.

We can generally move a site to CloudFlare within a couple hours – all we need is access to your domain’s registrar or access to someone who can make the appropriate changes to your domain’s nameservers.

Give us a call or send us an email and we can get you started!