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Mel K
LInux Guru and Technical Writer

What is CDN and How Does CDN Work?

In this review, I’m going to be discussing CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks. I will talk about why they are relevant and important to know about if you run a website or you are interested in starting a website. Everyone should know what these are, so you know whether or not you need one. I will argue that probably everyone needs one, it’s just with the state of the internet today.

There are a couple of CDNs you may be familiar with already: CloudFlare, Incapsula, and Akamai. All these do essentially the same thing.

In a nutshell, what a CDN does is it basically puts a kind of buffer between your website and anyone trying to access it. So what you do is kind of redirect your DNS records through the CDN. So people who are accessing your website don’t necessarily directly interact with your website server, they first have to go through this CDN. And there are a lot of benefits for this not just for security, but also the performance.

You may have heard of something called caching. What this basically does is instead of people having to go and retrieve from your website every time they want to visit it, what the CDN does is saves a snapshot of your website and then if someone or a lot of people want to go to your website, instead of having to send a lot of requests to your website, the CDN kind of holds that snapshot in its server. It takes a lot of load off your server. Also, that is beneficial for people who are distributed all around the globe. Instead of people having to send a request all the way to your home server, or the website’s main server, it will go to the nearest CDN server and get that cached copy instead of having to go all the way to your server which is going to increase the responsiveness and improve the performance of your website.

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So as a quick summary, the two main performance benefits is there’s going to be decreased latency because you’re going to a physically closer location to get the website content and also, if there is a lot of people visiting the website, there is lower load because it’s not going directly to the server. So it’s going to be an improved speed that way.

As a side note, the CDN may occasionally direct the person to go directly to your server if there’s stuff that’s not static or it changes a lot. Then, that could be an instance where we wouldn’t get a cached copy but for the most part, you’re going to see an improvement.

The next benefit of getting a CDN is security. Now like I said, there is a buffer between your website and the person or a bot for example, so you get a little bit of extra protection especially if the CDN has what is called a WAF (Web Application Firewall) which most of them do offer this service although they do differ in the actual quality of that firewall. Another huge benefit for security is DDoS protection.

So that’s pretty much it. I thought I would just bring this to our reader’s attention.

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