Cloudflare comes with almost every host these days. It functions as a CDN, and a proxy server, a firewall, and many other things. It’s free, and for a long while, I fell prey to the mindset that it must not be as good as other paid CDN services. After all, if something is free, then it must be lacking, right?
Except that’s not true. Cloudflare is most likely the best CDN you’ll ever come across at a retail level. Enterprise level customers might have different needs, but for the vast majority of websites, Cloudflare is not just adequate, but actively “best in class”.
So, what makes Cloudflare so good?
1. It’s Free
Kind of obvious, but also the main reason why it’s so universal. Cloudflare relies on its “Pro”, “Business”, and “Enterprise” plans for actual revenue. They must be doing well because they can offer an excellent free tier to their customers! And Cloudflare has been around for so long, that they’re practically a staple player in the Internet infrastructure by now.
Even if your web hosting doesn’t explicitly support Cloudflare, you can integrate with their services by switching your DNS records. This has the added benefit of using Cloudflare’s DNS servers which are several times faster than what your web host uses. I know – I’ve checked!
So the first reason to use Cloudflare is that it’s free.
2. Cloudflare Cache Retention Policies are the Same as Other CDNs
CDNs don’t store your data indefinitely. Nor do they always respect the “Expires” header. In fact, even if you specifically tell your CDN to store a static file for a week, they will discard it from their servers if it’s not accessed frequently enough.
I used to think that paid CDNs would retain your files for longer. But I tested the numbers from BunnyCDN, and KeyCDN – two leading CDN providers in the retail space and compared it to Cloudflare. The results were exactly the same. Cloudflare’s free tier doesn’t jettison your data any faster than a paid service – which is around two days.
It might come as a surprise to you that CDNs don’t always retain their data as per your instructions. But I assure you that it’s standard practice everywhere!
3. Cloudflare Doesn’t Always use POPs in the Same Country – And That’s a Good Thing!
Most CDN providers have POPs in all major continents. Often more than one. But sometimes, you don’t want your data to be served from a CDN in the same continent. Africa is a great example of this.
All CDN providers have a token presence in Africa. Data costs are too high, and the infrastructure is often too unstable to offer more. So they usually have one in Johannesburg, South Africa. The problem is that Africa is huge, and many countries are much further away from Johannesburg than Europe.
Most CDN providers will service Egyptian customers for example, from the Johannesburg data center. But Cloudflare serves them from France or Italy, or Germany. Same for Morocco and Nigeria. The result is that viewers can get their data much faster from a CDN outside Africa, than if it came from within.
4. Cloudflare Doesn’t Cause an Additional DNS Lookup
Speed wise, Cloudflare beats all traditional CDNs for one simple reason – it works as a reverse proxy. So no need to rewrite your URLs for static files, and no need for the visitor’s browser to resolve an additional DNS entry.
This might not seem like a big deal, but I’ve seen the results with my own eyes. This alone makes Cloudflare much faster than a traditional CDN.
Cloudflare might be free, but it’s still probably your best option. It’s an exception to the rule of “Nothing is free”. For the reasons outlined above, Cloudflare is a superior CDN to most other paid services!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!