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What Is A CDN? How It Works, Benefits, And The Best Providers

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Content delivery networks are used for over 44% of the top million websites, including high-traffic websites like ours.

As a website owner and digital marketer, I have firsthand experience in managing traffic intelligently in real time and utilizing a CDN has been an integral part of achieving that.

High-traffic websites, including ours, need additional content distribution network support.

Before we go further, let’s answer “what is a CDN?”

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers that distributes web content worldwide from an “origin” server. It stores content (through caching) on other operational servers in multiple geographical locations.

Quick Summary

  • A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers that distributes web content globally, enhancing website performance and speed.
  • CDNs offer benefits like faster content delivery, reduced bandwidth costs, and protection against DDoS attacks, making them popular across various industries.
  • Setting up a CDN involves DNS modifications to direct traffic to the CDN, with providers like Cloudflare, Akamai, and G-Core Labs offering these services.

How Does A Content Delivery Network Work?

A cdn content delivery network works by storing and delivering both static and dynamic content. For this reason, a CDN typically offers two types of services: static hosting and dynamic hosting. Each type offers content availability but in different ways.

Content Delivery Network

Static hosting refers to storing files (e.g., images, videos, PDFs) on the CDN.

Dynamic hosting refers to the ability of a CDN to host websites and applications.

If you’re on the Internet, you know that accessing static and dynamic files from an origin server through a CDN is simple! With the help of a CDN, you can access an origin server quickly and securely, ensuring a smooth experience.

Anyone on the Internet can access static and dynamic files from an origin server through a CDN.

Let’s explain CDN services in layman’s terms.


When someone visits a website, their computer makes a request for all the files necessary to display the web page.

If the website is hosted on a single server, then all those files will be requested from that origin server. This can cause slow load times if the server is located far away from the end user or experiences high traffic volume.

With a content delivery network, the website’s files are stored on multiple CDN servers worldwide.

When a file is requested from the origin server, their computer will connect to a nearby server on the globally distributed network, resulting in faster load times. For this reason, CDN edge servers are often strategically placed at the networks edge. By “network edge” we mean the geographic area where a computer or network connects to the greater Internet.

Network Edge

From that geographic location, they can deliver content and network traffic to another network.

Once connected, the adjoining origin server responds to requests from both networks in terms of delivering content, web applications, online video, and improved load times to various website owners.

In short, handling data requests in a globally distributed network instead on a single origin server is the essential idea behind content delivery network CDN.

What Is The Difference Between A CDN And A Web Server?

The difference between a CDN and a web server is that while a web server delivers website content to a single user at a time, a CDN distributes the content to multiple users simultaneously from multiple servers worldwide.

A content delivery network is a system of servers. These interconnected servers cache (temporarily store) and deliver content.

Delivering content means providing anything from a web page to video streaming to cloud computing, javascript files, and software found on origin servers.

A CDN works to improve performance, speed and reduce bandwidth costs.

Increased Bandwidth

A web server can be software or hardware that responds to user requests.

It does so over the Internet using Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and other protocols. If you’re new to “protocols,” you can think of it as a language that one computer uses to speak to another.

Essentially, a web server stores, processes and delivers website content to users.


The primary difference between the two is that web servers are individual components for granting users web access. It may or may not be part of greater network operators.

A CDN is built on a core network infrastructure. It, by definition, is a network. It’s never single server.

Content delivery networks can do a few things that regular web servers cannot. Such as their ability to cache data, deliver different data types, and determine who does or doesn’t receive the data requested.

How Can A CDN Improve Website Performance?

A CDN can improve website performance by reducing latency, increasing page load speed, and improving overall user experience by delivering cached content from the server closest to the user’s location. When someone visits your website, the content deliver network CDN works by serving up the Internet content from the server closest to them, which helps to improve page load speed. This is because it reduces the latency between you and the website.

CDN Reduced Latency

In other words, it makes it faster for you to receive the data. Your visitors then experience overall improved website speed and performance.

Additionally, CDNs can help to block spam, scrapers, and other bad bots.

Also, because of geographically strategic locations that improve performance, a CDN can be more cost-effective than a dedicated server.

Last, a CDN can help protect against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and improve website security. These attacks can cripple a website and make it inaccessible to users.

What Are The Benefits Of Using A CDN?

The core benefits of using CDNS are as follows:

  • Content delivery speed
  • Reduced bandwidth costs
  • Enhanced security (especially against DDoS attacks)

Let’s go into depth on each point.

CDNs Deliver Content Quicker

CDNs improve site performance by reducing latency. Latency is the time it takes for a request to be sent from a user’s computer to the server and for the response to come back.

Server Speed Illustration

When Internet content is delivered from a CDN, it is physically closer to the end user, reducing latency and making your site faster.

CDNs can offer caching and cache optimization solutions with a reverse proxy topology. This means that the CDN can deliver content quicker and more efficiently, which is why so many businesses are using them today.

When you use a CDN, your website’s files are put on multiple operational servers worldwide so people can download them faster. This also means that your website will be more reliable because if one server goes down, people can still download your files from another.

CDNs deliver your content quicker and more reliably to your users. This is especially important for pages with many images or videos, as well as pages that are visited frequently.

CDNs Reduce Bandwidth Consumption Cost

The cost of a CDN can vary depending on the provider and the amount of web traffic you need to be cached.

You Are Getting Lots Of Traffic

CDN bandwidth use can vary depending on the size of a company. Larger businesses will need a larger CDN, which means the demand for this service and other CDN requirements will be higher. However, a variety of providers offer different services and pricing options, so it is important to do your research before selecting a provider.

Reducing bandwidth costs for a resource-heavy web application, website resources, and software downloads, or any other normal website function is one of the leading reasons CDNs are in demand.

CDNs Protect Against DDoS Attacks

CDNs are a way of caching website content on data centers around the world. This helps to improve load speeds through load balancing. It can also help to protect against DDoS attacks, which are an attempt to take down a website by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources.

The Forester Wave

With the rise of DDoS attacks and the need for high-performance websites, balancing through CDNs is more important than ever. They help with page load times, handling high traffic loads, blocking scrapers and other bad bots, localizing coverage without the cost, and reducing bandwidth consumption.

A CDN is critical to your cybersecurity strategy. A CDN works to keep your site online even when under heavy attacks by offloading traffic and caching static files on a nearby CDN server. It can also leverage CDN servers worldwide.

What Are The Benefits Of Using A CDN For WordPress?

The main benefit of using a CDN for WordPress is that it works by caching static files (images, CSS, JavaScript) on geographically diverse data centers. This speeds up loading times for your website’s visitors by serving the files from the closest server possible.

Server Location

WordPress eCommerce sites, high-traffic blogs, and information sites, affiliate marketing sites, and membership sites all have heavy server demands and can benefit immensely from CDNs.

If you’re planning on building a WordPress site but haven’t decided on hosting, here’s our take on the best WP hosting solutions for 2022.

How Much Does A CDN Cost?

The cost of a CDN can vary depending on the provider but is typically priced per gigabyte of data transferred from data centers.

CDN Cost

CDN prices can range greatly depending on which size and features a business needs. For example, some providers offer a free trial for small businesses, while others have more expensive enterprise plans.

Generally speaking, the more complex a company’s website is, the more it will need to pay for a CDN. However, the benefits of employing a CDN usually outweigh the cost.

To give you a ballpark figure, here are price ranges by terabyte:

  • 5 TB per Month: $20 to $200+
  • 25 TB per Month: $150 to $2,000+
  • 200 TB per Month: $1,000 to $10,000+
  • 1 PB per Month: $5,000 to $40,000+

If your just getting started Cloudflare offers a robus free tier that is easy to step up and has many security features.

Who Uses A CDN?

CDN is usually used by people in the following industries:

  • eCommerce
  • Advertising
  • Media and entertainment
  • Online gaming
  • Healthcare
  • Mobile

CDN usage is widespread in a variety of industries. However, each of these industries has specific needs that a CDN can best serve. For example, online gaming companies need low latency and high bandwidth consumption to maintain customer satisfaction. Likewise, healthcare companies need secure delivery of sensitive data.

CDN usage

CDN usage is growing in all sectors, which can be attributed to its benefits. For example, companies improve website performance, data security, and scalability using a CDN.

Additionally, the best providers have features that make it easy for users to get started.

Nowadays, CDN usage is not just for large businesses. Businesses of all sizes can take advantage of the benefits CDNs offer. For example, a small business can use a CDN to improve website performance and speed up downloads for their customers. Additionally, CDNs help large enterprises protect their website against attacks and outages.

Components Of A CDN

A CDN is a network of multiple servers that are used to store and deliver content. The primary purpose of a CDN is to improve the performance of websites by caching static data files and delivering them from a location that is closer to the user.


However, to better understand the interworkings of CDNs, we can look at three distinct aspects:

  • Caching Servers
  • PoPs

Caching Servers

A caching, or cache, server is a dedicated server or network of servers that act as a single local storage unit for web content.

CDN Cache

A cache server both speeds up data access and minimizes strain on an enterprise’s bandwidth by storing previously requested information in temporary storage or cache.

Points Of Presence (PoPs)

A point-of-presence (POP) on the Internet is a connection from one location to the Internet at large.

A PoP usually utilizes multiple cache servers.


The primary purpose behind PoPs is to shorten relay time by delivering web content to hardware physically closer to the user.


Cached files, such as media files, are kept on Random-Access Memory (RAM), solid-state drives (SSD), and hard-disk drives (HDD) within CDN caching servers, with the more frequently accessed data housed on the faster media.

What Are The Best CDN Providers?

Many different providers are available today, including Akamai, Amazon CloudFront, and cloudflare.

Below are some of the highest-rated providers who offer CDN services, along with descriptions.


Cloudflare is the undisputed leader in the CDN business, having grown by more than 23 percent in the previous two years alone.

cloudflare home

The application is straightforward, and even inexperienced users may take full advantage of its possibilities.

Cloudflare has one of the most extensive networks, encompassing 180 locations worldwide.


  • Intuitive UI and UX
  • Smart routing
  • Extensive security choices


Akamai Technologies has served the cloud, mobile, and data security markets for almost two decades.

Akamai Homepage

You can trust Akamai’s CDN solution because it is trusted by some of the world’s top firms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, SalesForce, and Yahoo.

This is especially important for businesses and large-scale initiatives.


  • Outstanding reputation
  • Enterprise-grade solutions
  • Dynamic site accelerator

G-Core Labs

G-Core Labs is a CDN provider established in Luxembourg that specializes in entertainment services such as gaming and streaming.

G-Core Labs Homepage

Naturally, it can also support other online services.

It provides worldwide coverage, with connections in every timezone and a 100% uptime guarantee.

It provides 24/7 assistance and a substantial free trial, so you can get started right away.


  • Worldwide coverage
  • 4K streaming capability
  • Strong cyber security protection

What Is The Best Way To Set Up A CDN?

The best way to set up a CDN is to modify your DNS configurations for your root domain and subdomains to direct traffic to the CDN.

DNS Zone Manager

Direct the A record of your root domain or subdomains at one of the IP ranges provided by a CDN provider. This will ensure that your website is served through the CDN’s servers instead of your own.

Once this is done, you can take advantage of the many benefits of using a CDN.

Various providers are available, each with its benefits and drawbacks. Therefore, it’s essential to do your research before choosing a provider.

Setting up a CDN can seem daunting, but different vendors offer step-by-step instructions to make the process easy. Cloudflare in particular is very beginner friendly and has a robust free option.

The Evolution of CDNs

Commercial content delivery networks have existed since the 1990s. Prior to becoming the sophisticated application delivery platform they are today, they went through a number of evolutionary stages, similar to any other technology with a long history.

The evolution of CDNs was influenced by commercial pressures such as new content consumption habits and enormous connectivity developments. This was made possible by fiber optics and other emerging communication technologies.

Communication Technology

In general, CDNs have gone through three generations, with each one adding new features, technologies, and ways to build networks. With each iteration, the cost of CDN services went down, which shows that the technology is becoming a product for the mass market.

Static CDN

The first generation of content delivery networks (CDNs) emerged in 1997, with companies like Akamai, Digital Island, and Sandpiper Networks leading the way.

These static CDNs were made to make delivering web content like images and videos faster and more reliable by using a network of distributed servers located all over the world. This made it easier for website owners to share their content and ensured that users could quickly access it from anywhere in the world.

The first generation of content delivery networks (CDNs) laid the groundwork for the modern CDN industry, which has grown to support dynamic content and become an important part of the internet’s infrastructure.

Dynamic CDN

The second generation of CDNs came out around the middle of the 2000s.

Content delivery network servers were made to help deliver dynamic web content, like personalized or interactive apps. These dynamic CDNs use advanced caching algorithms and dynamic content acceleration techniques to make web applications run faster and respond better, even when user traffic changes quickly.

Web Traffic

Cloud computing and virtualization technology got better, which made it possible for CDNs to send dynamic content from servers all over the world.

The second generation of CDNs was a big step in the evolution of content delivery because it made it possible to deliver high-quality, interactive web experiences to a large number of people at once.

Multi-Purpose CDN

The third generation of CDNs came out at the beginning of the 2010s. They were made to do more than just deliver content, so they were called Multi-Purpose CDNs (MPCDNs).

In addition to delivering content, these MPCDNs offer a range of edge servers, such as security and API management. Edge servers provide a powerful and reliable way to distribute data and content to users with lower latency and higher security

With this expansion, MPCDN hopes to give developers a complete way to manage, secure, and speed up their web applications.

This is possible because the infrastructure of the CDN includes cloud computing, machine learning, and advanced geographically distributed network technologies. 

This generation of CDNs represents a change from the traditional content delivery model to complete edge servers that can support a wide range of web applications and services.

Ready To Set Up A CDN? 

We’ve covered the questions: what is a CDN, how they work, CDN services, who uses them, and how to set one up.

If you plan to host an eCommerce store, membership website, or any site that will put web servers to the test, then a content delivery network (CDN) can be an excellent investment. Support, performance, load balancing, website security, and saving on hosting costs are all part of the package.

If you want to find the best hosting companies in 2022 then check out our guide on the Best Web SEO Web Hosting Service: Top Compaines in 2022



Article by

Matt Diggity

Matt is the founder of Diggity Marketing, LeadSpring, The Search Initiative, The Affiliate Lab, and the Chiang Mai SEO Conference. He actually does SEO too.

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