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Fast as a CannonBall, in under 5 minutes!

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November 10th, 2011
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Blogging News, Weblog Add-Ons, WordPress FAQs

Notice anything different about Weblog Tools Collection? The name of the post probably gave it away. This blog is rocking in speed and deliverability! How you ask? Thanks to the fine work of the people over at Cloudflare.com

CloudFlare is a free(mium) service that was recommended to me by our own James. He had heard about it in conversations with some folks over dinner and wanted us to try it out. While this blog has gotten loaded over the years with JavaScript from various sources and code cruft of years, it has also gotten quite slow as a result. It is not the server (though Spam storms never help) and MySql running on the same server does not help. I had added caching thanks to WP Super Cache and had tweaked most of the settings to be tolerable on the server. I had even tried a CDN at one point but backed out because it turned out to be such a touchy beast.

The free CloudFlare product, which is what we use on here, is substantial enough to depend upon and is easy to set up. I might upgrade to their paid version once I am more comfortable with the results and have let it bake for a month or two. Signup was easy and it really took just under a few minutes to setup this blog. We have been running it for about three days now, with positive results and zero downtime. Let us go over some the details.

It takes just a few minutes to add your site to CloudFlare.com. Add it in, watch a video while it figures out all the details of your DNS, and then turn around and make the name server changes it asks you to make. There are instructions included on the page and it tries to help you make the best choices. It is worth noting that only self hosted WordPress blogs are capable of using CloudFlare. Since the actual change needs to happen at the registrar and name server level, TTL reduction will not help propagate it faster. While Go Daddy seemed to push the changes through quickly for us, it can take up to 48 hours for everything to work properly.

CloudFlare.com

Once the name server changes are made, you just sit back and watch. The free service from CloudFlare performs a bunch of automated magic, including using location aware technology to redirect your visitors to the right cache of your content. I know that the content is still live and interactive, but the seamless nature of the change makes this so easy and attractive. It speeds up your site using a variety of caching technologies and a CDN, including automatically minifying your scripts, reducing extra items in your HTML. It eventually reduces the amount of bandwidth you consume on your server and the number of requests actually hitting your server.

  • It works with static and dynamic content. Direct access is no sweat since a subdomain is created that goes directly to your site! For all of you using virtual hosts, let me calm your fears. CloudFlare works fine with virtual hosts.
  • It is always online, even buffeting traffic surges and reducing downtimes. (I have a concern about this. I turned off the MySql server by mistake and the blog displayed a DB error. I assume that if my server is down due to spam storm, the same thing will happen. I will have to investigate that.)
  • Reduces slowdown effect of third party tools and scripts such as FaceBook, Google AdSense or Analytics and Twitter. We have a lot of those!
  • Protects against network threats such as spammers, uses previously reported information for protection. This is fantastic, if it works.
  • Provides visitor analytics that are better than those based on JavaScript. I see a huge difference between thee results and those provided by StatCounter.
  • Provides a host of other third party plugins that can easily be installed. I use a couple of them.
Now to be honest, some of the more cool analytics and security features are behind a paywall. Some of us geeks will like the enhanced version better. The plugin ecosystem is also fantastic. Some of the plugins (apps) include Clicky, Google Analytics, Pingdom, Smartling and Blitz for load testing. The free version is enough for most needs and is substantial enough for us to recommend it to our readers. More about CloudFlare Features and Pricing.

Some recommendations for WordPress users:

  • There is a WordPress Plugin, use it to be safe. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/cloudflare/ Once it is installed, there is a setup page (which is not linked from the plugin page, fix?) that asks you to put in an API key and then lets you optimize your database.
  • Continue to use Akismet and any other Caching plugin you have. Instructions are everywhere. Be sure to mark spammers etc. All of it helps the ecosystem.
  • Be patient. In my case, the changes were up within an hour. It might take longer for you.
  • If all else fails, switch your name servers back and ask for help.
Have you used CloudFlare.com? How do you like it? Will you try it out?
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34
Responses

 

Comments

  1. Anne (6 comments.) says:

    I will check out Cloudflare.com later today. I also have some JavaScript files running and also use a WP caching plugin to speed up my blog. It’s not as fast as yours though.

  2. Amrut says:

    Sounds good! I’ve been using it for a while on my websites, and it’s been great.

    I’d suggest reducing the ‘Basic Security Level’ to a slightly lower level as it is quite aggresive in blocking out visitors. (you could try the options) I get a captcha unlock page when I visit this site – Cloudflare filters at IP Level (having a dynamic IP with BSNL in India doesn’t help)

    I’ve also found that Cloudflare plays better with ‘W3 Total Cache’ than ‘WP Super Cache’. I think W3 has been much more popular lately.

  3. Rev. Voodoo (5 comments.) says:

    I’m on godaddy as well, and this looks interesting. Is this going to require a dedicated IP? I know mine doesn’t change often…. but it does change.

  4. Otto (215 comments.) says:

    I took a look at it, but having to point my nameservers to them is a deal-breaker. I won’t give control over my DNS to anybody, for any reason whatsoever.

    • Mark Ghosh (386 comments.) says:

      That is a legitimate concern and I pondered that for a little bit. However, the benefits outweighed the downside for us. I figure that if everything goes south, I can revert within a max of 4 hours (TTL).

  5. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    “I took a look at it, but having to point my nameservers to them is a deal-breaker. I won’t give control over my DNS to anybody, for any reason whatsoever.”

    This is not required if you activate through one of our hosting partners (HostGator, MediaTemple, etc.) . We will also have CNAME pointing available in the future for people that don’t want to change DNS.

    “Is this going to require a dedicated IP? ”
    No.

    “I’ve also found that Cloudflare plays better with ‘W3 Total Cache’ than ‘WP Super Cache’. I think W3 has been much more popular lately.”
    One quick tip: Don’t turn on Minify in W3TC and on CloudFlare. This will likely cause issues.

    • Otto (215 comments.) says:

      CNAME pointing isn’t quite good enough either, since it means I can’t use it with a naked domain (no-www). Google’s Pagespeed service has that issue.

      The general problem with services like these that they are basically whole-site proxy services. It’s fine to try to make using a CDN simple, but guys, you’re really trying too hard. CDN’s do indeed need to be simplified, but when you’re making it all controlled by you, then that takes control away from me. Call me a control freak if you like, but I’m not going to give up that level of control over my content to anybody else.

      Make an option where those of us who are technically proficient and control-freaks can even *use* your services. Right now, I can’t even get into your site to see what you offer, because I can’t get past the sign up portion without read it and going “nope, not gonna friggin’ happen” and closing the browser tab. so I can’t use them, I can’t see how they work, I can’t recommend them to people who ask my advice… See where I’m headed? You might have the greatest service ever, but I will never know because the control-freak in me just closes the browser before ever getting that far.

      Explain what you do in tech terms. Hide it in a link if you have to do so. Heck, it took me *months* to find out what CloudFlare even did in the first place. All I got was “it makes your site faster”. How, exactly? Tech-people like me *love* details. Provide them. Don’t dumb it down.

      • Amrut B says:

        @Otto, you call yourself “technically proficient” when it took you “*months* to find out what CloudFlare even did in the first place.”??

        You’re probably just another pompous ass who over-estimates his knowledge. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it’s “dumb”.

        @Damon Billian: Great service, thanks.

  6. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    “Right now, I can’t even get into your site to see what you offer, because I can’t get past the sign up portion without read it and going “nope, not gonna friggin’ happen” and closing the browser tab.”

    What do you mean? There are tons of links on the bottom of the homepage that explain the service w/o having to sign in.

    “How, exactly? Tech-people like me *love* details. Provide them. Don’t dumb it down.”
    True. But we need to be sensitive that we don’t scare away regular users as well that aren’t so tech-savvy. Not every person that uses CloudFlare is a super webadmin or developer & a lot of our users are simply people that created a very basic blog. What do you find lacking re: details?

    “then that takes control away from me. Call me a control freak if you like, but I’m not going to give up that level of control over my content to anybody else”
    How are we controlling your content? All content is still on your origin servers, for example, so I’m not sure what concern I could address here. I’m also not sure how you would want to use the service without doing something, so I’m open to suggestions.

    • Otto (215 comments.) says:

      What do you mean? There are tons of links on the bottom of the homepage that explain the service w/o having to sign in.

      What do you find lacking re: details?

      I would say “any”, but that would be glib. ;)

      One notable problem that I just now noticed is that all the links at the bottom of the main cloudflare.com page are totally missing once you sign up and try (and fail) to do setup on a site. Without logging out, there’s no way to get those links back. So I’d never even seen those before now and had no idea that any of that even existed.

      So fair play, there’s more info on the wiki and such. It would have helped to had known that was there though.

      How are we controlling your content?

      If you control my DNS, then you control not just my content, but my email, my site, my means of communication with the world, my very livelihood. My domain and DNS are the keys to the kingdom. I’m *never* handing them over, to anybody. Ever.

      To put it simply, I do not trust you. Nothing personal, but I don’t trust anybody with my DNS. I don’t trust my webhost with my DNS either, for pretty much the same reasons. I have greater faith in my registrar to host my DNS, since they’re providing me the domain name in the first place.

      Whenever anybody says “point your nameservers to us”, then my initial recommendation is “run far, far away”. So your service, by using this approach with no alternate method available, does not inspire very much confidence.

  7. Rev. Voodoo (5 comments.) says:

    i dont normally jump into things, but @amrut b, are you serious?

    are you even part of the WP community? if so you would most certainly know who otto is, and understand the level of detail he is looking for.

    back to the topic, i activated th service for my personal blog. ill give it a try. setup was very simple

    • Amrut B says:

      Well sorry about the rant, Rev Voodoo. I think the core of Otto’s problem with CloudFlare is that he is hesitant to give over control of his DNS. In hindsight, it’s understandable.

      As Mark Ghosh said above, “the benefits outweighed the downside”,so I guess Otto will just have to trust them on that. Cloudflare has been around for a while (check them on Techcrunch) and I think they are mature enough as a company for me to trust them with my DNS. If anything, they’ve made managing DNS better.

      Simplicity is their value proposition and the service seems good for most, if not all the websites out there. If you need more flexibility, maybe Cloudflare isn’t for you.

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        I’ve seen people burned by too many webhosts far too often to be able to recommend entrusting one’s DNS to anybody, for any reason. It never, ever ends well.

        So no, I’m not going to trust CloudFlare with that. If that means that I can’t use their services, then that’s fine. I’m not complaining, merely observing why I can’t use or recommend them.

        I think they’d probably be interested in knowing that information though. Maybe they want to expand their reach a bit, perhaps even to people like me who are a bit paranoid about that sort of thing. :)

        They do offer greater levels of detail, BTW. It was just hidden from me by their site. When I logged out, the various links show up again at the bottom of their home page.

  8. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    “I think the core of Otto’s problem with CloudFlare is that he is hesitant to give over control of his DNS. In hindsight, it’s understandable.”

    Totally. We get asked about it all the time. If it helps ease any concerns, however, we have had rock solid DNS uptime for quite some time now.

  9. Miguel Dias (1 comments.) says:

    I’ve been using cloudflare for a while now for a couple of my sites, i would say, its still a hit and miss, but mostly a hit, even with hosting dns, using cloudflare always means losing your dns, but to be honest, unless you are paying for the really good dns hosting, cloudflare’s dns service is far superior, i know, cause i’ve used a lot of free and paid dns hosters and hosted my own.

  10. Chris (12 comments.) says:

    I’ve been using Cloudflare since it was in Beta, and once the original bugs were squashed, it has run quite well.
    While I understand the reluctance to turn over DNS duties to CF- so what? I still have complete control over the records, with full control over subdomains, naked domains, and indeed pretty much every dns setting (in fact- both rx4rv.com and bryantrv.com will not even let you use www. – because that is the way I want it.)

  11. Josh McCoy (5 comments.) says:

    I’m not much on Cloudflare right now. Still too many issues. :(

    • Jos (5 comments.) says:

      Come on, at least say what kind of issues. You can’t drop a bomb like that, when everyone else seems quite enthusiastic, without specifying what problems you encountered.

    • Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

      Hi Josh,

      What kind of issues have you experienced? We should honestly be helping you save a fair amount of bandwidth & wouldn’t lead to any increase from switching DNS to us.

  12. Josh McCoy (5 comments.) says:

    I have constant bandwidth issues and have no time to find an alternative. Really put me in a bind. Glad you’re having so much luck with it.

  13. David (1 comments.) says:

    Well, it seems like mixed reviews, but I am going to give it a try and see how it goes. Worst case scenario – I gotta switch back my dns – no biggy. Thanks for letting me know about CF!

  14. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    Hi David,

    Please let us know if you have any questions about CloudFlare. Have a ton of helpful tips to minimize confusion/issues here: http://blog.cloudflare.com/top.....lare-users

  15. Matt says:

    I used Cloudflare for 4 months and was quite happy but about a month ago I would start seeing constant the ‘site is offline’ Cloudflare page when using my site or maintaining it, half dozen times a day. My site was definitively not offline. I switched to Incapsula ( http://www.incapsula.com/ ) and no issues. Incapsula also doesn’t require you to alter your Nameservers.
    I like Cloudflare and will return if it improves but I can’t afford for my visitors to experience these constant Cloudflare offline pages.

  16. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    Hi Matt,

    Was your server actually offline or having issues? If not, it means that the requests from CloudFlare ips were being blocked or limited at the host or server level.

    Were the issues only happening in the back end? We have seen where some long requests in admin panel cause a timeout, so the solution right now is to temporarily deactivate CloudFlare while working in back end (we’re working on excluding the admin pages from our proxy/cache soon).

    “doesn’t require you to alter your Nameservers”
    We will also offer CNAME pointing in the future. Changing nameservers is also not required when you activate through a hosting partner (HostGator, MediaTemple, etc.).

    • Matt says:

      “Was your server actually offline or having issues? If not, it means that the requests from CloudFlare ips were being blocked or limited at the host or server level.”

      Server was always online and the issues started with no change of configuration at our end.

      “Were the issues only happening in the back end? We have seen where some long requests in admin panel cause a timeout, so the solution right now is to temporarily deactivate CloudFlare while working in back end (we’re working on excluding the admin pages from our proxy/cache soon).”

      90% of the issues were experienced on the back end.

      ““doesn’t require you to alter your Nameservers”
      We will also offer CNAME pointing in the future. Changing nameservers is also not required when you activate through a hosting partner (HostGator, MediaTemple, etc.).”

      I’m with HostGator but chose the manual method for various reasons.

  17. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    “90% of the issues were experienced on the back end.”

    Sorry about that. Something is causing a timeout & that’s why the offline is getting triggered. We’re working on an exclude by URL option, one that we hope to have available shortly, so you can temp. deactivate CloudFlare in the interim (settings->deactivate)

    “I’m with HostGator but chose the manual method for various reasons.”

    One of the limitations of the hosting partnerships is that A records can’t be established, only CNAMEs:(

    • Matt says:

      I’ll keep an eye out for the changes and give Cloudflare another crack when so. Thanks

  18. Richard (1 comments.) says:

    We need to be sensitive that we don’t scare away regular users as well that aren’t so tech-savvy. Not every person that uses Cloud Flare is a super web admin or developer & a lot of our users are simply people that created a very basic blog.

  19. Jordan (3 comments.) says:

    Been using it for a few days now, really liking the service so far!

  20. Damon Billian (8 comments.) says:

    “I think they’d probably be interested in knowing that information though. Maybe they want to expand their reach a bit, perhaps even to people like me who are a bit paranoid about that sort of thing. :)”

    Of course we like to hear that & that’s one of the reasons we are going to offer CNAME pointing. How would you like to have us do it for people that don’t want to move DNS or via the CNAME that requires www? Curious as to what you think the solution could be.



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