3 website must-haves for great performance

Published on: October 18, 2019

Developing a website or webshop is more than getting a nice modern design and making sure submissions and checkout forms are working.

In 2020, users expect more in their web browsing experience, and this includes speed and security. To achieve this, you’ll need three essential tools for your website—a web application firewall, a content delivery network, and a cache storage.

Web application firewall

Security is a very important trust factor for your website and in effect, your company and brand. Regularly maintaining your site, including updating your site plugins, extensions, core files, etc., is important to keep your site safe from hackers. But security doesn’t end there.

To add another layer of security to your website, you can use a web application firewall (WAF). A WAF acts as an intermediary layer between your site and your visitors.  It filters and monitors all HTTP traffic to protect your site from attacks such as cross-site scripting, cross-forgery, or SQL injection, among others. Further, it also acts as a proxy-server that hides the identity of your server.

Here's a simple illustration of how a WAF works:

A WAF can be implemented in three different ways, each with its own benefits and drawbacks:

  1. Network-based WAF – This is typically hardware-based and installed locally, making it the most expensive option since it requires you to maintain the physical storage.
  2. Host-based WAF – This is integrated into the application’s software, so it’s less expensive than a network-based WAF. However, it does come with downsides such as a more complex implementation, consumption of your local server resources, as well as maintenance costs.
  3. Cloud-based WAF – This is more affordable and easier to implement, as most cloud-based WAFs simply offer a turnkey installation where all you have to do is redirect traffic with a change in DNS. Since it’s maintained by a third-party specializing in security as a service, it’s more consistently updated against newest threats without any extra cost or work on your end. However, this also means that you don’t have full control over the WAF and its features.

Content delivery network and cache storage

In the seconds that it takes to load your site, a lot actually happens behind the scenes. When a visitor requests for your website (i.e., types your website URL into the browser address bar or clicks a link to your site), your web server processes the request and builds an HTML page out of the assets and content that you have in your database, which includes JavaScript and CSS files, images, and videos, if any.

This alone takes time, but it can take even longer if, say, your site is hosted in Europe and your visitor is browsing from Asia. This is where a Content Delivery Network (CDN) comes in.

How does a CDN work?

A CDN is a network of different servers located strategically around the world that help serve your website’s assets to your visitors. It stores a cache version of your website, which it serves to your visitor using the nearest server, decreasing the time it takes to load your page. So if your visitor is in Asia, the nearest server in Asia will handle the serving of assets instead of your web server located all the way in Europe.

A good advantage of having a CDN setup is its caching capability. Caching is the process of storing assets on a temporary storage which is then delivered to your website visitors. This reduces server processing time in building the page being requested by your user.

(A sample network of CDN servers)

It’s important to note that a CDN does not host content nor replace the need of having a proper web hosting. Its purpose is to deliver assets faster by serving through the nearest server and to provide a cached version of the website, which significantly makes the site load faster.

CloudFlare

CloudFlare is a service that provides all three of the above-mentioned essentials in one package. Over the years, we’ve tried different web security and CDN providers, but CloudFlare especially stands out for the following reasons:

  1. They offer firewall, DDOS protection, rate limiting, and bot management, etc.
  2. They use Brotli compression, which is a better compression format to use compared to others
  3. They have a wide network around the world for Content Delivery
  4. They provide a fast DNS response time
  5. They provide a free SSL certificate
  6. They provide web browser caching and DNS caching

If you want more information on setting up CloudFlare on your website, you can contact us and our project managers will be glad to assist you.

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