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Who is Cloudflare and did they break the internet?

Cloudflare provides services for a lot of major websites. If they have an outage, does that affect yours?

So who is Cloudflare?

Cloudflare provides services which speed up and secure websites. For example, their CDN (Content Delivery Network) keeps a copy of frequently used websites on servers all over the world. So they send your website’s content from the server nearest the user. This cuts down on loading time, and takes pressure off your web hosting account. They also provide security services to make it harder to hack your website, or force it offline in what’s known as a Distributed Denial of Service attack.

Why do so many sites use them?

It might be something to do with the fact that their basic service is free! Their services are incredibly useful, even on the free plan. Speeding up your website can even help you get higher rankings on search engines, so it’s worth considering.

Is Cloudflare reliable?

Problems with their services are very rare. But in the event of an issue it’s useful to know who they are and whether your website is using their services or not.

So has there been a problem with Cloudflare recently?

On 2nd July 2019, many websites all over the world were down for about half an hour, displaying error messages. This was due to a programming error which Cloudflare should have tested properly first, but instead was rolled out to users all over the world. They also had a glitch in June 2019, which they blamed on American communications giant Verizon.

You can’t expect any company to never experience a problem, but it seems there was some carelessness involved with this one. They will certainly need to learn lessons to avoid another issue in the future.

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How do I know if my website uses Cloudflare’s services?

Ask your web designer, IT support or webmaster if your website relies on them. Or you can use a WHOIS service to look up your domain name’s details – try this one for UK domains or this one for .com, .net and .org.

If under ‘Name servers’ you see an address ending ‘cloudflare.com’, it means your website uses them.

How can I prevent a problem in the future?

Following this procedure will make it possible to keep your website going if there is another Cloudflare outage. It’s a good idea to have backups and duplicates of settings anyway, so it’s worth doing.

Warning: changing these settings can stop your website working, so it’s best to ask a professional. We can help optimise your site’s security and speed.

Also, changing these settings can take up to 48 hours to go live, so this might only be useful in the event of a prolonged Cloudflare outage.

  1. Check whether it’s really Cloudflare that’s the problem. If you know you have a domain name that doesn’t use Cloudflare, and one that does, compare the two. Also rule out problems with your web hosting account, your domain name provider, and your internet connection.
  2. Every domain name has DNS settings, which direct web traffic to the appropriate website or email server. When you set up your Cloudflare account, it copies these DNS settings from your domain name’s settings. You then point your ‘name servers’ to Cloudflare – this make the Cloudflare DNS settings the ones that are active. Then, when you ever need to update your DNS settings, you do so in your Cloudflare account.
  3. It’s a good idea to keep the DNS settings up to date in the original domain name account too, even if they’re not being used any more. So every time you change your DNS settings in Cloudflare, go to your original domain name provider account (e.g. Godaddy, Namecheap) and make the same changes there.
  4. Find out what your original domain name provider’s name server settings are. Sometimes you’ll just choose an option to use their name servers, rather than having to add them in manually.

Warning: the next step will switch off any other features you use in Cloudflare, like SSL security certificates and page rules.
Also, changing nameservers can take up to 48 hours, so this might only be useful in the event of a prolonged Cloudflare outage.

  1. If you’ve updated your DNS settings in your domain name account to match those in your Cloudflare account, you can switch over to using your domain name DNS settings temporarily. You do this by changing the name servers back to your domain name provider’s settings. This way, your website traffic does not involve Cloudflare.
  2. In your domain name account, find where you can change your name servers (usually in the DNS settings section). There should be 2 records, ending in .ns.cloudflare.com. Change these back to your original domain name provider’s name servers, so that the domain name’s original DNS records are used. That way, Cloudflare is being bypassed and your website should keep running, even if Cloudflare is down.

Should I still use Cloudflare?

Cloudflare provide such a useful service that it’s very much worth sticking with them. We hope that they have been shaken enough by the experience for it to never happen again, and that they are dealing with any complacency that has crept in. You can read more about the outage on their blog here.

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