Cloudflare is well-known for being the most popular Content Delivery Network (CDN) to efficiently cache and deliver static web content to end users. It conserves bandwidth for website owners and promotes faster content delivery for site visitors – no website should be without it going into 2020.
Delivery of cached static content is free with Cloudflare’s basic plan but to cache a website’s dynamic content, Railgun is required.
Railgun is accessible with Cloudflare’s Business or Enterprise plan starting at $200 per month but to enable it for free with their Basic plan, you just have to host your website with one of Cloudflare Railgun partners.
Additionally, setting up Cloudflare through your web host’s cPanel opens up another premium feature not available with their basic plan – CNAME Setup.
CNAME setup lets you use a Domain Name Server outside of Cloudflare. This means you don’t have to change your current DNS record in order to use Cloudflare.
Cloudflare’s Railgun and CNAME setup are two premium features that you can get for free by choosing a partnering web host and/or installing Cloudflare through cPanel. But if your website isn’t using either of these features, is Railgun or CNAME Setup worth it?
WHAT IS CLOUDFLARE RAILGUN
A website is made up of static and dynamic content. Static content doesn’t change while dynamic content can change frequently.
If your site is built with WordPress, it most likely has dynamic content because of the server side scripting language, PHP, which dynamically creates pages as requests are made.
This is where having Railgun enabled can benefit your website. Cloudflare automatically caches static content while Railgun caches the dynamic content without affecting delivery of real time data.
Because only 64% of a website’s content is cacheable, Railgun caches the remaining 34% that’s un-cacheable . Railgun works by maintaining a connection between Cloudflare and your web host’s server so that subsequent connections aren’t necessary every time a new server request is made.
Moreover, only changes in content are transmitted from one request to the next instead of transferring the entire request. This lessens server requests that are not served from cache.
As a result, benefits of using Railgun can include decrease in bandwidth usage, faster page loads and reduced Time to First Byte (TFFB). It helps fill that efficiency gap of dynamic data delivery that Cloudflare Basic plan neglects.
WHAT IS CLOUDFLARE CNAME SETUP
There are 2 different methods of setting up Cloudflare for your website – partial CNAME setup and Full Zone setup. Full Zone setup is the method most people use because it is the only option available with Cloudflare’s free Basic plan.
When enabling Cloudflare with a Full Zone setup, your site by default has to use Cloudflare’s Domain Name Server (DNS) instead of your web hosting provider’s DNS. But what if you want to use Cloudflare without changing DNS? This can accomplished with CNAME setup.
Partial CNAME setup allows your website to use Cloudflare services as a CDN without having to point your website domain to their DNS. Simply put, your DNS is managed outside of Cloudflare with a CNAME setup and managed by Cloudflare with a Full setup.
So who can benefit from using Cloudflare with CNAME setup? It really depends on how you use your website but some benefits of using CNAME setup include DNS flexibility and customization.
For instance, if your website has subdomains, you can have them take advantage of Cloudflare’s services without having to change your entire DNS. Or if you’re a webmaster who provides white labeled hosting services for clients, you can keep them on your DNS while your clients still benefit from using Cloudflare.
The takeaway here is, if you want to use your own DNS with Cloudflare, you need to enable Cloudflare with CNAME setup rather than a Full Zone setup.
CLOUDFLARE RAILGUN & CNAME SETUP INSTALLATION
Railgun and CNAME setup are both premium features available to Cloudflare users on the Business or Enterprise paid plans. The Free and Pro plan does not include these features but here is a workaround to get them for free.
Railgun can be enabled for free by hosting your site with a Cloudflare Railgun partner and CNAME setup is available with Cloudflare installation via cPanel.
All web hosting providers advertise free Cloudflare integration with their hosting plans but most do not offer free Railgun or CNAME setup – simply because it costs them money.
However, there are several reputable web hosts that do offer these features free of cost thanks to their extended partnership with Cloudflare. Here are 3 to consider in no specific order.
SiteGround is a well-known player in the web hosting industry. They include free Railgun and CNAME setup with all their plans so all you’ll need is Cloudflare’s free basic plan to activate these features. Although their prices aren’t necessarily the cheapest, they should still be affordable for most people starting out.
NameHero is the web host of choice for this website. Like SiteGround, Railgun and CNAME setup is free with all their plans. In addition, they use Cloud technology with LiteSpeed as their web server so they put a lot of emphasis on speed. Hosting on the cloud usually costs more but their prices doesn’t reflect that as they offer some of the best value in the business.
GreenGeeks is another web host that offers free Railgun and CNAME setup with Cloudflare. The features they offer are similar to NameHero but without the Cloud server. Their promotional rates are the cheapest in the bunch when compared to their renewal prices.
All 3 are great choices if you need free Railgun and CNAME setup with Cloudflare’s basic plan. Another web host that was not discussed is A2 hosting because they offer these features only on certain plans.
With web technology getting faster every year, it is important for websites to keep pace. That’s why Railgun can be especially important if your website is built with a CMS like WordPress due to its dynamic nature.
For an in-depth review of these web hosts, you can read more about them here.
INSTALL CLOUDFLARE WITH CNAME SETUP & ENABLE RAILGUN
- 1. To install Cloudflare with CNAME setup, first log into your web host’s cPanel and search for Cloudflare icon under the Software tab.
- 2. Create a new account and log in or sign into your existing account.
- 3. After logging in, you should see Provision Domain with CNAME Setup and Provision Domain with Full Zone Setup.
- 4. Choose Provision Domain with CNAME Setup for using Cloudflare with an external nameserver.
- 5. Your setup is complete but it may be necessary to wait 24 to 48 hours for DNS to propagate.
- 6. After your DNS has propagated, log back into Cloudflare from cPanel and enable Railgun (toggle one Railgun).
CHECK IF CLOUDFLARE IS ENABLED
Now that Cloudflare with CNAME setup and Railgun is enabled you can verify that it is working with a simple browser extension.
Go to the Chrome web store and download the Claire browser extension. After it is activated, this extension will indicate whether a site is using Cloudflare or not.
The orange cloud shows that Cloudflare is active and the red circle means Railgun is enabled.
If you don’t see that Cloudflare is active with your site, make sure “www” precedes your domain name in the URL. CNAME partial setup requires a “www” in the domain (e.g. https://www.example.com).
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