CloudFlare is a service which sets just about any website up on a Content Delivery Network, more commonly referred to as a CDN. Even more than that, it acts as a ‘firewall in the cloud‘ to prevent malicious spam and hack attacks from even getting to your website. On top of this, their entry level service is free!
The free plan protects your site by working to block known malicious IP addresses from your website via the Project Honeypot service. Project Honeypot maintains a list of known IPs who have been caught spamming or attempting attacks either because they are actually malicious attackers or because their machine has a trojan installed on it.
For questionable sources it will present a CAPTCHA to prove that the visitor is a real human and not a spam bot. The upgraded plans which include better statistics and more advanced protection from cross site scripting and SQL injection attacks among others.
How To Set Up Your Website With CloudFlare
It takes minimal technical knowledge to get started with CloudFlare. The most important thing you need to have access to is your Domain Registrar’s Nameserver Settings. This can be reached from your domain’s control panel on most domain registration providers and the process differs for each registrar. If you do not know how to do this, check with support at your domain registrar or do a quick google on “How to change name server“.
Cloudflare is now in open beta and you can sign up here. After your initial username and password creation you then proceed to set up your site. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to set up a hobby forum/image gallery site where I have had some problems with spamming in the past.
Set Up DNS
Once you enter your domain in the ‘add site’ box, CloudFlare analyzes your DNS records for their current values. It checks commonly used ones – if you have any custom records set up, it is good to double check them before migrating over to the service since CloudFlare effectively takes over your DNS hosting as well. You can add the custom settings on the next page. They will automatically add a ‘direct’ which will allow you to bypass the CloudFlare network and access your website directly should you need to for testing or other purposes.
After confirming your settings, CloudFlare will assign two new nameservers for your website. Proceed to your domain registrar and update your name servers to the ones provided. Once you save them it will take some time for the settings to migrate out to the internet. This could take anywhere from instantly to 24 hours to fully propagate. CloudFlare will also email your old and new name server settings for your record.
Sit Back and Relax
That is it! Your domain will now be protected & sped up by CloudFlare’s services. If you are interested in more of the technical aspects of how CloudFlare works to speed up and secure your website, their CEO Matthew Prince has a great writeup on how CloudFlare works over at Quora.
After roughly 24 hours, you will be able to get all kinds of interesting stats about your website.
Simple & Secure
As you can see, the CloudFlare service makes it easy for ‘every’ website owner to add professional grade security and content delivery optimizations to their website. The service recently won the ‘Most Disruptive Company‘ at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference and is on track to becoming a big player in the web hosting field. If security is a huge concern for your website, I would definitely consider upgrading to the pro account – but for most website owners the free account is enough to offer basic protection and speed increases.
Another feature is that if your website goes down, CloudFlare will serve the last cached version of your page and files. This is useful if your webhost provider goes down a lot or if you are hosting it on an unsteady connection (like your home). Since CloudFlare serves most of the static content, it also saves on the bandwidth used by your site.
If there is one concern I have about that service, it is that is you are adding another layer of complexity onto the web hosting stack. If your site goes down, it gives another potential location where there could be a problem. I haven’t seen this happen yet, but from my experience in the web hosting field usually the simpler the setup the better. However in this case the security and speedup you receive from the service far outweigh any negatives.
Give CloudFlare a try today and let us know how it goes. I have set it up personally on 3 sites and have seen some decent speed increases on them. CloudFlare quotes an average of a 30% speed increase on websites on its network. This unique service is a great offering for website owners all over the world.