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Improving Website Performance – Using A Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Improving Website Performance - Using A Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Introduction

A great way to boost the speed and reduce resource usage of a website is to use a Content Delivery Network. A CDN will ensure quick deployment of your static content (images, CSS, JavaScript, videos and etc.) by delivering it from a location closest to your visitor, thus greatly improving server response time. Content Delivery Networks are meant for bigger websites, with lots of content, however, any website can use it for a performance boost. Most CDN providers are paid, but CloudFlare offers CDN services with their free plan while also providing DDoS protection and other great features. Basically, there is no reason not to use it. In this tutorial you will find out what a CDN is and how to use it for your website.

What is a CDN?

A content distribution network or content delivery network (CDN for short) can be described as a collection of global servers located in multiple data centers across the world that are responsible for delivery of websites and other website related content.

Do all hosting platforms support and benefit from CDN?

The trick to CDN speed boost is the distributed server network that delivers files to a visitor from the nearest location possible. You might think that if you are running a powerful hosting platform, such as a virtual private server (VPS) or a dedicated server, using a content delivery network will not change much. But no matter how many resources you have, the server location is also a big factor to increasing website speed from the visitor side. Let’s say that your visitor is from India while your server or host location is in the United States. Due to the distance between the visitor’s location and host server, the delivery of content can take longer to process. However, CDN servers are distributed in several places (for example a CDN distributed in India, United States, Singapore). If the visitors come from India, the content distribution network (CDN) will deliver files from the nearest possible location (which would be India in this case). That being said, it does not matter whether you use free web hosting services, shared hosting or a VPS, a CDN will improve your website speed, reduce disk space and bandwidth usage and ensure that your content is distributed quickly despite the distance between your visitor and your website host. If you are using shared hosting or free hosting, a CDN can help you save resource usage, which is beneficial due to the fact that resources are limited on such platforms. In case your website starts getting jumps in traffic, a CDN will ensure that those surges do not force you to exceed the resource limit. Basically, using a CDN will improve performance and speed on all hosting platforms.

Advantages of using a content delivery network

In short, here are the biggest advantages that a content delivery network will provide to your website:

  • CDNs are great for websites with large visitor surges
  • Content Delivery networks ensure that a webpage is available globally
  • By lowering the amount of requests made to your hosting server, a CDN is great in reducing resource usage (such as disk space and bandwidth)
  • Overall increase in loading speed, especially if a visitor is close to the content delivery server location
  • Better ranking in search engines due to the speed boost that CDN provides
  • CDN benefits ALL website types and hosting platforms

What you’ll need

Before you begin this guide you’ll need the following:

  • Access to your domain’s DNS settings

Step 1 — Analyzing Your Site

To check if your website is taking advantage of a CDN, you can use website analysis tools such as WebPageTest. Here are the results after analyzing a test site:

CDN not active

There are several options available at this point. You can either use a free CDN provided by CloudFlare or invest into a paid content distribution provider (more information about paid CDN options will be available in Step 2). If you are running a small site with medium traffic, investing into a content delivery network might not be the best choice and the free option should be more than enough. However, if you have high traffic spikes and encounter high resource usage, a paid CDN would be the better option.

Step 2 – Setting Up a CDN

Option 1 — Enabling Free CloudFlare CDN

For CloudFlare CDN to work with your website, you only need to add your domain to CloudFlare as shown in this step by step guide.

Once you edit all the DNS settings and configure your domain to use CloudFlare, allow a few hours for the changes to take full effect and your page will have all the advantages that CDNs provide.

Option 2 — Using Paid CDN Solutions

If you are looking for a paid solution, here are a few great providers:

  • MaxCDN and Photon are good choices if you are hosting a CMS (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal) with lots of photos/images.
  • RackSpace and CDN77 are efficient content delivery networks for videos and streaming.
  • jsDeliver is the CDN provider that you are looking for if your website contains a lot of JavaScript.

Step 3 – Testing the Changes

Once the content delivery network has been implemented, you can run another analysis with WebPageTest to check whether everything is working as expected. Here are the results after configuring the previously mentioned test site to use CloudFlare:

CDN active

Congratulations! A content distribution network is now activated on your website.

Conclusion

To summarize, configuring your site to use a content delivery network is a great way to increase speed while lowering your resource usage at the same time. You have also learned what a CDN is and how to take advantage of this feature by using the CloudFlare free plan. Faster loading and better availability that a CDN offers are sure to make your website more attractive for your users and visitors. In addition, enabling a content delivery network does not require any advanced coding knowledge, therefore it is a great solution for both beginners and advanced users.

If you wish to speed up your site even more, these tutorials are a good place to start:

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