Inside DreamHost

Here’s Why You Should Start Using CloudFlare Today

Written by ellice

We learned so much at today’s DreamUp with CloudFlare! Brent Coco, a trainer at CloudFlare, joined our DreamUp to provide a ton of information about the web performance and security company — including how it works, and the benefits it can have on your site! Bonus feature for DreamHost customers: its basic service is FREE when you have an account with us!

Watch our DreamUp with CloudFlare below to learn all the fascinating features you can use to better your site today!

How does CloudFlare work?

CloudFlare is a network of data centers that sits between your web server and the rest of the internet. As a DreamHost user, your customers web content will live on a DreamHost web server, or what I’ll call an origin server. Visitors wanting to visit your customers’ web pages will navigate their browser to their site and instead of going direct to the origin server, websites with CloudFlare will direct traffic to the CloudFlare network instead.

This does two things: CloudFlare can serve cached static web content to the visitor, and screen visitors to make certain they are good and not traffic coming from an attack, malicious bots, or other bad things. Because CloudFlare’s network is made up of 32 global data centers, that means we can serve your visitors web content very fast regardless of the distance between your origin server and the viewer.

What is static content and why would I want it cached?

Static content is really anything on a web page that doesn’t change very often. Javascript, CSS framing, images are all great examples as these typically are not changed from visitor to visitor. The advantage of having it cached, and cached around the world, is that your website loading performance is greatly increased. On average, websites on CloudFlare load twice as fast and because that traffic isn’t coming from your origin server, CloudFlare can save 65% of bandwidth.

Who can use CloudFlare?

Anyone who has a web page who wants to increase performance and security. That can be WordPress blogs (or any kind of CMS platform), eCommerce sites, personal websites, company websites. Just about anything.

How do you know who is bad traffic and how do you protect me from it?

CloudFlare sees a lot of internet traffic, over 5% of the internet. We can tell what traffic is coming from what IPs and if we detect that and IP address is causing attack traffic, like a DDoS attack, we can rank it for security risk. We use our own IP reputation ranking in conjunction with 3rd party rankings to develop a threat ranking and depending on what settings you select, will screen out or challenge some of those visitors.
What’s even better, CloudFlare is very robust and works as an Anycast network. This means that web traffic is routed through CloudFlare in the most efficient way possible and isn’t dependent on certain pathways. So if, for instance, someone on CloudFlare is getting DDoS attacked, we can keep their website up and available because we have a lot of flexibility on how we get the good traffic to their origin server.

Are there different plans with CloudFlare?

First, everyone who has a website with DreamHost can sign up to use CloudFlare for free. That means your web content performance is increased, your bandwidth usage is lowered, and you’re protected from malicious web traffic and DDoS attacks.

For those users who have a lot of mobile content or who are more sensitive to security issues should consider the CloudFlare Plus plan. The Plus plan adds our technologies called Mirage and Polish, which optimize images for mobile delivery. Nothing is worse for a mobile site visitor when they have to wait for content to load. They’re already on the go and don’t want to wait around, so CloudFlare makes it easy optimize content delivery by doing all this for you automatically. Mirage chooses the right image size for your visitor’s device and Polish reduces the image size to make delivery as lightweight as possible.

Additionally, the Plus plan gives your customers SSL. Flexible SSL, where the visitor to CloudFlare connection is encrypted is turned on. And Full SSL where, the connection between CloudFlare and DreamHost servers are also encrypted is available if the customer has the Secure Hosting option activated as well.

How do I activate CloudFlare?

It’s easily done through the DreamHost control panel. Under the Manage Domains section you can either edit a current domain or add a new domain and choose the CloudFlare options from here. And that’s pretty much it. You’ll have more granular options at w​ww.cloudflare.com​once you’ve activated the service.

You cache static content, but what if a website has content that’s customized or constantly changing?
That’s correct, CloudFlare is designed as a next-generation CDN which caches and serves up at each data center around the world, so visitors are very close to your website regardless of where they are. But we also have a way to greatly increase delivery of dynamic content as well. We call it Railgun.

Railgun is a dynamic content accelerator by acting as a WAN, creating a secure tunnel connection between a DreamHost server and the CloudFlare network. This means we don’t waste time by creating new handshakes, setting up new routing protocols as CloudFlare is updating. What’s more, Railgun works similar to video compression where only the changed bits are updated. This greatly reduces the amount of data that’s transferred and speeds up the dynamic content delivery. That content is then refreshed in CloudFlare and served to your visitor along with the static content which was already cached at the network edge.

Bottom line, Railgun can speed up that hard to cache dynamic content by 200x and does so with a 99.6% compression rate. And Railgun is free for all DreamHost users.

Does CloudFlare do anything else to speed up delivery of web content?

In addition to eliminating speed of light restrictions by moving the web content closer to your visitors via a CDN, CloudFlare also optimizes the way the content loads for your visitor. We have a few neat technologies which streamline the data. For example, we use AutoMinify, a method to remove all the extraneous html code such as comments and whitespace from web content before the data is sent over. This minimizes the space needed and speeds up delivery.

Another example is Rocket Loader. Rocket Loader asynchronously delivers web content to the visitor and combines multiple JavaScript files into a single request to avoid the overhead of multiple network requests. This speeds up page delivery.

For mobile sites, our network pre-formats images to fit whatever device is requesting the content in a technique we call Polish. Mobile devices are sent over smaller images which fit best and decreases the amount of data transfer. This is coupled with another technology called Mirage, which quickly loads the viewable content first and then fills in the rest – the unviewable page – later. This gives rapid loading for the needed content to keep the user experience consistent.

My site gets intermittent traffic spikes, can CloudFlare help with this?

Absolutely. We have a lot of customers who depend on us for jumps in traffic, caused by advertising campaigns or seasonality. Because CloudFlare doesn’t charge for bandwidth, there’s no extra or unexpected cost. What’s more, CloudFlare’s caching technology reduces your bandwidth usage.

How can CloudFlare help me if I’m under attack?

If you believe that you are undergoing a DDoS attack, CloudFlare offers all customers the option of ‘I’m under attack mode’. This will immediately put in place a challenge captcha page for all visitors. Outside of those times, CloudFlare’s Threat Control means you can select different security levels based on our IP reputation database. In addition, CloudFlare allows you to block countries or IP ranges if you don’t wish to have traffic from those sources.

What should I do when I make edits to my webpage?

If you are making edits to your web pages and want to refresh what is currently cached in CloudFlare, you can manually purge the cache from your account at www.cloudflare.com.​Once you’ve logged in, you can navigate to the General Preferences area of your account and click the green Purge button. This will erase your cache that is currently on CloudFlare almost instantly. Now your new content will begin to cache!

About the author

ellice

Ellice comes to us from House DreamHost, the first of her name, Gatekeeper of All Things Content, Protector of the Brand and Ruler of Social Realms.

tl;dr - Ellice is the Content Marketing Manager at DreamHost and oversees all social media and content efforts.