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I joined Cloudflare a few weeks ago, and as someone new to the company, there’s a ton of information to absorb. I have always learned best by doing, so I decided to use Cloudflare like a brand-new user. Cloudflare customers range from individuals with a simple website to companies in the Fortune 100. I’m currently exploring Cloudflare from the perspective of the individual, so I signed up for a free account and logged into the dashboard. Just like getting into a new car, I want to turn all the dials and push all the buttons. I looked for things that would be fun and easy to do and would deliver some immediate value. Now I want to share the best ones with you.
Here are my five ways to get started with Cloudflare. These should be easy for anyone, and they’re free. You’ll likely even save some money and improve your privacy and security in the process. Let’s go!
1. Transfer or register a domain with Cloudflare Registrar
If you’re like me, you’ve acquired a few (dozen) Internet domains for things like personalizing your email address, a web page for your nature photography hobby, or maybe a side business. You probably registered them at one or more of the popular domain name registrars, and you pay around $15 per year for each domain. I did an audit and found I was spending a shocking amount each year to maintain my domains, and they were spread across three different registrars.
Cloudflare makes it easy to transfer domains from other registrars and doesn’t charge a markup for domain registrar services. Let me say that again; there is zero price markup for domain registration with Cloudflare Registrar. You’ll pay exactly what Cloudflare pays. For example, a .com domain registered with Cloudflare currently costs half of what I was paying at other registrars.
Not only will you save on the domain registration, but Cloudflare doesn’t nickel-and-dime you like registrars who charge extra for WHOIS privacy and transfer lock and then sneakily bundle their website hosting services. It all adds up.
To get started registering or transferring a domain, log into the Cloudflare Dashboard, click “Add a Site,” and bring your domains to Cloudflare.
2. Configure DNS on Cloudflare DNS
DNS servers do the work of translating hostnames into IP addresses. To put a domain name to use on the Internet, you can create DNS records to point to your website and email provider. Every time someone wants to put a website or Internet application online, this process must happen so the rest of us can find it. Cloudflare’s DNS dashboard makes it simple to configure DNS records. For transfers, Cloudflare will even copy records from your existing DNS service to prevent any disruption.
The Cloudflare DNS dashboard will also improve security on your domains with DNSSEC, protect your domains from email spoofing with DMARC, and enforce other DNS best practices.
I’ve now moved all my domains to Cloudflare DNS, which is a big win for me for security and simplicity. I can see them all in one place, and I’m more confident with the increased level of control and protection I have for my domains.
3. Set up a blog with Cloudflare Pages
Once I moved my domains, I was eager to set up a new website. I have been thinking lately it would be fun to have a place to post my photos where they can stand out and won’t get lost in the stream of social media. It’s been a while since I’ve built a website from scratch, but it’s fun getting back to basics. In the old days, to host a website you’d set up a dedicated web server or use a shared web host to serve your site. Today, many web hosts provide ready-to-go templates for websites and make hosting as easy as one click to set up a new site.
I wanted to learn by doing, so I took the do-it-yourself route. What I discovered in the process is an architecture called Jamstack. It’s a bit different from the traditional way of building and hosting websites. With Jamstack, your site doesn’t live at a traditional hosting provider, nor is it dynamically generated from CGI scripts and a database. Your content is now stored on a code repository like GitHub. The site is pre-generated as a static site and then deployed and delivered directly from Cloudflare’s network.
I used a Jamstack static site generator called Hugo to build my photo blog, pushed it to GitHub, and used Cloudflare Pages to generate the content and host my site. Now that it’s configured, there’s zero work necessary to maintain it. Jamstack, combined with Pages, alleviates the regular updates required to keep up with security patches, and there are no web servers or database services to break. Delivered from Cloudflare’s edge network, the site scales effortlessly, and it’s blazingly fast from a user perspective.
By the way, you don’t need to register a domain to deploy to Pages. Cloudflare will generate a pages.dev site that you can use.
For extra credit, have a look at the Cloudflare Workers serverless platform. Workers will allow you to write and deploy even more advanced custom code and run it across Cloudflare’s globally distributed network.
4. Protect your network with Cloudflare for Teams
At first, it wasn’t evident to me how I was going to use Cloudflare for Teams. I initially thought it was only for larger organizations. After all, I’m sitting here in my home office, and I’m just a team of one. Digging into the product more, it became clear that Teams is about privacy and security for groups of any size.
We’ve discussed the impressive Cloudflare DNS infrastructure, and you can take advantage of the Cloudflare DNS resolver for your devices at home by simply configuring them to point to Cloudflare 22.214.171.124 DNS servers. But for more granular control and detailed logging, you should try the DNS infrastructure built into the Cloudflare for Teams Gateway feature.
When you point your home network to Cloudflare for Teams DNS servers, your dashboard will populate with logs of all DNS requests coming from your network. You can set up rules to block DNS requests for various categories, including known malware, phishing, adult sites, and other questionable content. You’ll see the logs instantly and can add or remove categories as needed. If you trigger one of the rules, Cloudflare will display a page that shows you’ve hit one of these blocked sites.
Malware can bypass DNS, so filtering DNS is no silver bullet. Think of DNS filtering as another layer of defense that may help you avoid nefarious sites in the first place. For example, known phishing sites sent as URLs via email won’t resolve and will be blocked before they affect you. Additionally, DNS logs should give you visibility into what’s happening on the network and that may lead you to implement even better security in other areas.
There’s so much more to Cloudflare for Teams than DNS filtering, but I wanted to give you just a little taste of what you can do with it quickly and for free.
5. Secure your traffic with the Cloudflare 126.96.36.199 app and WARP
Finally, let’s discuss the challenge of securing Internet communications on your mobile phones, tablets, and devices at home and while traveling. We know that the SSL/TLS encryption on secure websites provides a degree of protection, but the apps you use and sites you visit are still visible to your ISP and upstream network operators. Some providers sell this data or use it to target you with ads.
If you install the 188.8.131.52 app, Cloudflare will create an always-on, encrypted tunnel from your device to the nearest Cloudflare data center and secure your Internet traffic. We call this Cloudflare WARP. WARP not only encrypts your traffic but can even help accelerate it by routing intelligently across the Cloudflare network.
WARP is a compelling VPN replacement without the risks associated with some shady VPN providers who may also want to sell your data. Remember, Cloudflare will never sell your data!
The Cloudflare WARP client combined with Cloudflare for Teams gives you enhanced visibility into DNS queries and unlocks some advanced traffic management and filtering capabilities. And it’s all free for small teams.
Hopefully, my exploration of the Cloudflare product portfolio gives you some ideas of what you can do to make your life a little easier or your team more secure. I’m just scratching the surface, and I’m excited to keep learning what’s possible with Cloudflare. I’ll continue to share what I learn, and I encourage you to experiment with some of these capabilities yourself and let me know how it goes.