What Is A CDN (Content Delivery Network) & How Does It Work?
What is a CDN?
A CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, and it’s a group of interconnected servers distributed geographically across several parts of the world in order to aid the faster delivery of internet content.
The idea behind CDNs is to reduce latency and improve your website’s loading time for users far from your origin server.
Take for example, Webflow hosts your website using a data center in North Carolina. Unfortunately, this means users from around the world must connect to the North Carolina server before accessing your website. While this would work, many would experience “latency.”
Latency is the time delay between a browser’s request and the server’s response to that request. Generally, there’ll be a delay between the browser and the server during user interaction, but this delay is supposed to be minimal. However, in cases where the server is far away, page speed is affected, and the wait becomes noticeable.
Meanwhile, a CDN saves the user the round-trip time (RTT) to connect to the server upon every request. It does this by caching the static and dynamic web content or assets such as images, videos and scripts on servers located in different parts of the world.
How does a CDN work?
A CDN works by storing the cached web content on multiple points of presence, or PoPs for short. Each of these PoPs consists of several servers placed in strategic locations to serve content to users in nearby regions.
Here’s the process:
- A user requests to access a website’s content/assets such as images or video.
- Instead of the request going to the origin server, it’s routed to the nearest PoPs.
- The PoP checks its database to see if it has a cached version of the requested content.
- If the PoP does not have the cached version, it forwards the request to the origin server.
- Once the PoP receives the content from the origin server, it serves it to the user and also caches a version of the content. This is to help deliver the content to the user upon subsequent visits and also to other users in the same geographic region.
A quick example is when a user from Paris, France, wants to access your website whose origin server is in the U.S. A CDN will reroute the connection to a local PoP in France and serve the user the intended content. This is faster and reduces latency which improves the user experience.
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What are the benefits of a CDN?
1. Improved website speed and performance
By using CDNs, you can utilize the edge servers that are located in multiple geographic locations. These edge servers help reduce the data that needs to travel to reach the end user. This results in reduced latency which leads to faster page load times, improved performance, and a better user experience.
2. Reduced load on origin server
Frequent requests from different regions to the origin server can overload the server resulting in downtimes or poor load times. Meanwhile, caching frequently requested content like homepage, featured videos, blog posts or any other web content on the edge server can improve the overall website performance. This also helps ensure the origin server can handle more important requests quickly and reliably.
3. Advanced security features
One of the top attacks most websites suffer from is the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. This is a malicious attempt to interrupt or disrupt the traffic of a website by overwhelming the server with excess traffic.
CDNs can protect your websites against these attacks by distributing the sheer volume of the traffic across several edge servers. The CDN can also employ security techniques such as rate limiting and IP blocking that can identify and block suspicious traffic. CDNs can also prevent security attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS), and SQL injection attacks using security features such as web application firewalls (WAF) and content filtering.
4. Increased reliability and content availability
The architecture of a CDN provides a geographic redundancy, which means that if there’s a large volume of traffic that ends up interrupting or taking down the server, the traffic can be routed to another nearby point-of-presence (PoP). This ensures that the content remains accessible and available to users regardless of any server-related event.
Scalability here refers to the ability of a website to handle a surge in traffic without a decrease in performance or reliability. With CDNs, this is possible through a feature called “load balancing” that helps distribute traffic across multiple edge servers. This ensures that no single edge server is overloaded with more traffic that they can handle.
In addition, website owners can also add or remove edge servers as needed to handle a change in their traffic or usage patterns — without any significant investment in hardware or infrastructure.
6. Better search engine rankings
Google, in its 2018 “Speed Update” report stated that page speed is a significant search ranking factor, and websites with faster loading times are more likely to rank higher in search results. By using a distributed network of edge servers, your website speed improves, which reduces your bounce rates, and increases the amount of time users spend on your website. And when this happens, you get a higher position in search engine rankings.
How to choose a CDN provider
In general, using a CDN is a good practice to improve your website’s performance and speed. However, not all CDNs are suited for every business. To help you out, consider the factors highlighted below as a guideline to choosing your CDN provider.
When evaluating the security options offered by your CDN provider it’s important to understand the potential risks and vulnerabilities your website may face. DDoS attacks for example overloads your traffic and crashes your websites. Therefore, having a CDN provider that provides DDoS encryption is critical.
Another security feature to look out for is HTTP/2 support and HTTPS SSL. These protocols use encrypted connections to reduce the risks of hackers tampering or intercepting the data transferred between your server and the client.
2. Geographic coverage
While CDNs predominantly have a reputation of having edge servers in most parts of the world, some CDNs might not have enough edge servers in a particular region.
For example, if your target audience is primarily located in Europe, you may want to choose a provider with a strong presence in that region. This will help mitigate issues of poor latency, and improve the delivery of your content to users everywhere in Europe.
It’s also worth noting that some CDN providers such as Cloudflare and Fastly offer “dynamic content routing,” which allows them to automatically route incoming traffic to the nearest edge server based on the user’s location.
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3. Overhead cost
The pricing and billing structure of the CDN provider is important to help an organization make wise financial decisions. For example, it’s not recommended for a small business owner to take on costly providers that don’t fit into their budget and would likely affect their bottom line at the end of the year.
In addition, also review the billing and pricing structure of the provider. Some providers offer a flat rate pricing, and others a service-based pricing that charges you based on a specific bandwidth — and in some cases, a combination of both. This can help you avoid unexpected costs or disputes with their CDN provider down the line.
Another aspect to carefully review is the cost-effectiveness of the service. This includes factors such as the cost of implementing and integrating the CDN with your existing stack or infrastructure.
4. Type of supported content
While CDNs are known for caching static and dynamic web content, some providers provide better services in specific types of content compared to others.
For example, if you run a movie streaming website, you’ll need a CDN provider that provides higher bandwidth and lower latency to ensure smooth playback. In this case, CDN providers specializing in video streaming services are your best option as they’ll have multiple edge servers in key locations around the world.
In another example, if your website delivers large files or software updates, you’ll need a CDN with good compression and efficient caching capabilities.
Overall, it’s important to compare your content needs against that of the CDN provider. This may involve researching based on their performance metrics for specific types of content— as well as evaluating their pricing and billing structures for each of their offerings.
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Deliver content faster and speed up your e-commerce website with Edgemesh
Speed is the backbone of every business that sells online. If you want to establish a brand and build a good reputation, the speed of your website is of the utmost importance.
To paint you a picture:
- If Amazon’s web page slows down by 1 second, it’ll result in a $1.6 billion loss in annual revenue.
- With a 2.2 second improvement, Mozilla recorded 60 million more downloads.
- Improving Shopzilla’s website from 6 seconds to 1.2 seconds increased earnings by 12% and page views by 25%.
And to top it off, 79% of customers dissatisfied with a website’s performance are less likely ro return.
This is why using a CDN to improve your website performance is an investment that can never go wrong. Luckily, by using Cloudflare (the best CDN provider in the market) and Edgemesh’s Smart Client, you can deliver your website content faster — even faster than Shopify servers.
Edgemesh’s smart client utilizes edge computing technology to store your website data close to end-users. Hence, reducing the time for the content to travel from the server to the user’s device.
In terms of scalability, Edgemesh’s smart client is designed to handle high traffic volumes that can scale up or down automatically based on demand. This ensures your website stays fast and responsive, even during heavy surge in traffic.
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What is a CDN FAQ
Below are some frequently asked questions on content delivery networks (CDN) and their answers.
What is an origin server?
This is the server that hosts the original and authoritative version of the content of a website. This can be a web server, database server, application server— or any other type of server.
In some cases, they’re also responsible for generating dynamic content, and performing functions such as data encryption, user authentication, and session management.
Is CDN the same as a hosting server or hosting service?
No, a CDN is not the same as a hosting server or hosting service.
A hosting server is a single or cluster of servers used to store and deliver your web content or application to users. Hosting services mainly provide the infrastructure (hardware, software and connectivity) that enable users to access websites and applications.
A few examples of hosting services include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Digital Ocean, Hostgator, etc.
Meanwhile, a CDN is a network of geographically distributed servers that work collectively to deliver web content faster to users, in order ro reduce latency, round-trip-time, and improve performance.
Can I host my website on a CDN?
No, the framework of a CDN (content delivery network), is not designed or equipped to be a hosting service. However, a CDN can be used to support your preferred hosting service.
What is a CDN reverse proxy?
The CDN reverse proxy is a technology that caches and serves web content from the edge server— rather than the origin server.