Trying out CloudFlare, a CDN service to power websites

Last week I decided to try out the services from CloudFlare:

When you look on their website, you are greeted with a wealth of improvements in terms of speed and load distribution that promise your performance to increase dramatically.

While in my case I can't agree with the promised performance level, I do agree that a performance improvement increase exists. When trying out the CDN freely provided by CloudFlare I do enjoy the fact that our static resources that get loaded on each new page request are now being handled by other servers across the globe.

This fact alone is enough to speed up the loading time required for a user to access our site at and save precious server resources required to handle all these requests.

Over a few days of trial, this screenshot depicts what has been saved by their service. So, 30% of our content was provided by a CDN at absolutely no cost for our side.

Does all of this comes without a price? Is it really free?

The service is free in the sense that you don't pay money. However, it does come with certain prices and pitfalls that you might want to avoid:

  • Promotions. CloudFlare has emailed me with campaigns to install addons (free) from third-party companies. I personally just ignore them, don't need to install anything else that I don't need.
  • Extra features. They only provide some services as part of the "pro" edition that costs 20 USD a month.
  • Advantages. Their dashboard contains some options to enable services like "clicky". I'm quite sure they get a revenue cut from each user enabling this "Advantage". I personally recommend getting away as far as possible from clicky since it is not free and breaks the trust of people in your site's links
  • False offline page. They provide a service where your cached pages are shown whenever the server is offline. This sounds nice and good. However to my surprise, while testing the site from a few of my machines across the globe I saw the offline page instead of the site. This page prominently advertised the god's bless of being served by CloudFlare. In resume, it fools visitors into thinking that a site is offline just to use as opportunity to advertise themselves and I hated that, but hey, I'm getting what I pay for..

Furthermore, for the CloudFlare CDN to work you need to nominate the nameservers of your domain to use the CDN nameservers.

While I see the advantage of using a cloud based name server, I also understand that I am basically giving them a way of intercepting the traffic from my website and changing it in any other way that I would be unable to trace. I won't be surprised be these guys get soon bought over by some government or google just for the sake of information control.

Other issues
While testing, the FTP access could no longer work when using the domain name as before and a workaround was needed.

In overall
I am criticizing CloudFlare so that you can know what to expect. In overall, I am happy with the service so far. After disabling most of the added "features" and disabling the annoying "Offline pages" you can enjoy the service and bring a faster web experience to your visitors.

Take care!