Those of you who visit this site regularly might notice it’s running a little faster today. Hopefully (though harder to notice) it is more secure as well. This is all because I moved to CloudFlare last night and took me about 5 minutes worth of work.
What Is CloudFlare?
CloudFlare is a reverse proxy service that caches your website and then serves it back to visitors. Instead of pointing your domain directly to your website you point it to CloudFare’s service. When a user visits your site CloudFlare downloads your site to its servers and forwards them on the visitor. Then when the next visitor comes along it already has a copy of your site which it can send to them much faster than your own server could.
In addition to speed improvements CloudFlare also offers security benefits by anaylizing visitors across its network and using that data to help further protect each of its sites.
Finally, CloudFlare offers basic analytics capabilities and the option to integrate with various add-ons ranging from Google Analytics to Pingdom and others.
How Do I Set Up CloudFlare?
Setup is easy. Sign up for an account at CloudFlare.com, and change the DNS settings of your domain to point to the CloudFlare DNS servers (they have a pretty good tutorial on how to accomplish this when you sign up). They will do the rest.
Is There Anything I Should Watch Out For?
On this site I only had one problem. I use Amazon’s CloudFront as a CDN and at first CloudFlare tried to serve up my CDN data as well as my regular site data. Fortunately the fix was easy. All I had to do was go to the CloudFlare website and turn off my caching of my CDN domain in the DNS settings. Problem solved.
One other note is that improvements might not show up immediately due to how long servers on the web may have cached your DNS settings that were changed during sign-up. In addition, if you have a problem such as the one I had with the CDN domain you might not know it right away as some servers will pick up that DNS change faster than others. One suggestion is to start testing your site with a service like WebPagetest.org and WhoIsHostingThis.com shortly after you complete the setup. WebPatetest.org will give you a screen shot of your site and which, in my case, was quite a bit off of what it should have been (no images, CSS styling, etc). As I could see this happening on their screenshot before I could see the changes myself it was then rather easy to find and fix the problem.
Did It Work?
It’s early yet, but tests from WebPagetest.org have shown load times cut from a range of 4 to 8 seconds down to 2 or 3. If that holds up I would say it’s a great success. Watching their analytics I also find the number of potential threat visitors fairly interesting, comparing the number of threats CloudFlare sees to the complete absence of any new spam caught by Akismet since I turned on CloudFlare tells me it’s probably doing a pretty good job.
I’ve actually been so impressed with early results and the analytics in CloudFlare that I’ve shut off WordPress.com’s statistics entirely and turned off the Google Analytics plugin in WordPress in favor of the integration provided by CloudFlare. For me any service that can help me reduce the number of plugins I use on my site is almost always a good thing.
Do you use CloudFlare? What has been your experience with the service?