No matter how big or small, your website can always expect at least some activity from spammers if appropriate measures are not in place. This can significantly decrease productivity for you as a webmaster or developer and sometimes more extreme methods are needed to combat these online threats.
Enter, CloudFlare. CloudFlare acts as a proxy between your visitors and your website – ensuring security and the fairly successful prevention of spam as well as decreasing load times greatly. Read on to see how to setup CloudFlare for your site.
CloudFlare is a web application that provides you with a solution to easily decrease spam on your site as well as significantly increasing the load time for your visitors. CloudFlare employs its own independent caching methods to make sure that all useless requests to your website’s assets like images and stylesheets are prevented, ultimately saving bandwidth significantly.
CloudFlare also acts as a gateway between your visitors and your site, preventing spam visitors and other threats in the process. With individual IP or even country-wide blocking, CloudFlare is perfect for preventing potential threats from accessing to your site.
Creating a CloudFlare Account
Creating a CloudFlare account literally takes seconds and all it requires is your email address, before asking you to choose a username, password and plan type. Once this is completed, you can move onto the process of adding the initial website to CloudFlare. All you need to complete this process is access to the DNS (domain name system) records of your domain name and a means of updating them. Most good registrars allow this as standard and provided you’re a little tech-savvy, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Adding Your First Domain
The first step to adding your website is to enter your domain into the CloudFlare setup that you are sent to after registration. Once you’ve done this, CloudFlare will begin to identify your current DNS records and attempt to copy these to CloudFlare itself.
The process takes around 60 seconds and you’ll be presented with a timer which, after the time runs out, disappears and is replaced by a button that will take you to the next step. Whilst this is happening, an introductory video plays giving a brief outline of the CloudFlare app and the process currently being completed.
Verifying DNS Records
On the next step, you will be presented with a list of your DNS records from which you can choose to keep, remove and add additional records to ensure that they are the same as the current settings. Since it has recognised all of mine, I can move onto the next step.
You will be displayed a final list of your DNS records which are categorised per the type and once you’ve triple-checked that these are all correct, they will be finalized and added to CloudFlare. It is also important to note that an additional subdomain (direct.yourdomain.com) has been added that will allow you to access your website directly, thus bypassing CloudFlare. Note, however, that this may involve some additional configuration if you use virtual hosts.
Updating Name Servers
Now’s the tricky part where you’ll need to update the name servers of your domain to point to CloudFlare. As most hosting providers and domain registrars generally adopt their own unique control panels for updating DNS records, I can’t explain the individual process for each one but I can give you a rough outline. To begin, navigate to your domain registrar and login to the control panel you are given access to. When this is complete, you will need to select the individual domain from your control panel and then there should be an option somewhere to “edit DNS settings”.
You will then be taken to another page from which you will be able to edit each individual record. Somewhere within this should be an option to edit the name servers and if you have never changed these, they will probably be defaulted to the name servers of your hosting provider or domain registrar.
Since CloudFlare’s already got a record of all other DNS settings associated with the domain, it’s safe to change these and from the final CloudFlare setup step, you will be told specifically what to change each one to.
Once you’ve updated them, you’re done. However, the actual propagation can take up to 24 hours so it’s best to leave it for a while – in the meanwhile your site is still accessible. From here, you can begin to take advantage of the features it provides to enhance the experience of your visitors.
One of the great features of CloudFlare is its analytics. Since all of your traffic is being routed through CloudFlare, it can automatically generate statistics for your site. All of these statistics are presented in nice, easy-to-use graphs to beautifully display your data.
You can easily reference the number of page hits and visitors your website receives as well as being offered a view of the bandwidth usage of your website over a time period you specify. These can easily be filtered to show each individual website or you can simply get an overview of all of your websites that are using CloudFlare. Additionally, you can view the page view data in terms of actual visitors, bots and also threats.
It also possible to view how much bandwidth and requests were saved by using CloudFlare to easily show how much the app is benefiting your site. Overall, the statistics offered by CloudFlare, coupled with a more detailed general analytics app like Google Analytics, are perfect to easily monitor the traffic of your website.
As well as CloudFlare’s included advanced security service, you can also identify individual users you would like to add to a whitelist or blacklist. You can choose to block or trust a single IP address, IP range or a whole country to prevent access or grant access to your website. This can be especially useful if you require your content to be blocked in a specific country (whilst still identifying individual IP addresses to grant access to).
When I first heard about CloudFlare, I thought that the idea was great. I’ve never really seen a solution like this out there and I didn’t expect it to offer so many features for free. Setup is really quick and simple, ensuring less time worrying about the security of the websites and more time focusing on content. The app overall looks and works perfectly and I have noticed a significant increase in the load time for my websites. I really recommend this app to those that have experienced (or expect to experience) trouble with spam bots but it can also be a great aid to speed up the time taken to load your site. Well done, CloudFlare!