When I got started with WordPress, one of the things that bothered me was the security issues associated with running a site built on PHP.
Open source CMS websites attract have-a-go hackers like you wouldn’t believe. Because many of the hacking attempts come from automated bots and brute force subroutines, keeping this garbage away from your site is crucial.
Without adequate spam control a WordPress site will overflow with junk/fake comments. I hear about bloggers having their sites crashed from spam… and this is WITH a dedicated hosting server, not shared hosting.
You’ll be pleased to discover CloudFlare can help combat some of these issues for free. The software sits between your website and the big bad internet. It acts like a shield for your particular bit of web space.
Protective Layer at the Hosting Level
By the way, CloudFlare is not a WordPress plugin. It’s designed as a layer for the webhost and is suitable for any type of website, not just WordPress.
It filters out a lot of the junk and debris of cyberspace – the low quality or suspicious traffic out there is less likely to get through and hit your server.
Crawlers, bots and attackers will have a tougher time of it.
If you’re in what’s informally known as a spammy neighbourhood (you’ll kick yourself for all those low quality directory backlinks 5 years ago) you could regard CloudFlare as putting bars on your doors and windows.
I imagine it as hiring a night club security doorman to rebuke punters with a bad rep.
A better way of understanding the service is the two images below which have been taken from the CloudFlare website.
You can see this image and read more information on their overview page.
It’s Also a Caching Service
If your server crashes or has downtime, CloudFlare will do its best to still show your site from the last known successful cache.
A few years ago I forgot to renew a domain on a personal website, so for 24 hours there was technically no service.
I say technically because there was a warning/error in my Google Webmaster Tools account telling me Googlebot couldn’t index my site.
But I checked the site and it was still up – thanks to CloudFlare and its cache.
The screenshot below shows the performance settings of one of the sites I run:
The CDN uses 28 data centers around the world – a bit like server mirrors – which helps speed up the delivery of your site files to the visitor’s browser.
To put it simply, your webhost bandwidth usage will be lowered and everything will load faster.
Wherever your site visitors are in the world, CloudFlare will download the files from whichever data point is nearest to them.
Because of this cloud server approach, DoS attacks are less likely to be effective because the majority of the traffic used in the attack will be absorbed by the data points.
Purging the Cache
If you’ve been editing your stylesheet but your changes aren’t showing, it’s more than likely you need to clear the cache and then refresh your site by pressing CTRL & F5.
The same applies to images you’ve added/deleted but which show no apparent change on the site.
You can access the cache settings by logging in to CloudFlare and going to the Settings Overview for your domain.
There, you’ll see a button called Purge cache.
Free CloudFlare Plan & DreamHost Integration
The webhost partner method of installing CloudFlare on each domain is quick but you must first sign up to a regular free CloudFlare account. Then access the DreamHost dashboard, visit the Manage Domains section and enable CloudFlare on whichever website you want.
Enable CloudFlare on your chosen domain. You’ll be prompted to enter the username and password you used to sign up for CloudFlare.
You can clear the CloudFlare cache from within DreamHost, which is handy.
If you want to upgrade to CloudFlare Plus you can do so but you might want to stick with the free version for a while.
Free CloudFlare Plan & Integration with Other Webhosts
If your webhost is NOT affiliated with CloudFlare, this means you’ll have to manually route the service yourself. It’s not hard.
This is achieved by adding your domain in the CloudFlare control panel and then change your nameservers in your domain’s DNS.
In layman’s terms, your web host, your web address and CloudFlare need to talk to each other.
The first time I ever installed CloudFlare, I did so using a host with no partnership ties to CloudFlare. I did it successfully first time but must admit the thought of meddling with my website nameservers made me nervous!
My apprehension was unnecessary because it worked fine. The namservers were easily changed through the DNS panel of the domain registrar. Your webhost will have information on how to do this.
However you add the service to your sites, you’ll get an analytics reports section in the dashboard.
It’s pretty interesting to see just how much traffic is bogus and what is legitimate.
I set up an experimental website a few years ago on the subject of proposed local transport development.
Bearing in mind this website is about a railway in a small town in England, I was surprised to discover so much traffic was coming from Ukraine!
Of course, this is probably not real traffic, but server requests originating from a Ukrainian I.P. address.
Free SSL/TLS – A Good Thing?
A while ago Google indicated TLS would become more important. They didn’t specify how exactly, but as you can imagine, a lot of SEOs got over excited.
My understanding of these free TLS certificates on their own are just self-signed certificates, meaning there is no real layer of security.
However, Let’s Encrypt is a free “signed” security certificate authority that can be used with Cloudflare. I’ve been adding this configuration to client websites.
CloudFlare is worth having for any site. It adds a protective layer, caches your pages and improves performance.
If you’re already using a WordPress caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache, get rid of it. I had this installed a while ago but found in combination with CloudFlare there was no need. Total overkill.
For what it costs (free) CloudFlare is excellent. You only to spend a little time configuring this excellent tool… and you’ll avoid plenty of headaches down the road.