Cloudfront can be simply defined as a CDN (Content Delivery Network), caching your static assets in a datacenter nearer to your viewers. But Cloudfront is a lot more complex and versatile than this simple definition.
Cloudfront is a “pull” CDN, which means that you don’t push your content to the CDN. The content is pulled into the CDN Edge from the origin at the first request of any piece of content.
In addition to the traditional pull and cache usage, Cloudfront can also be used as:
- A Networking Router
- A Firewall
- A Web Server
- An Application Server
Why is using a CDN relevant?
The main reason is to improve the speed of delivery of static content. By caching the content on the CDN edge, you not only reduce the download time from a few seconds to a few milliseconds, but you also reduce the load and amount of requests on your backend (Network, IO, CPU, Memory, …).
Static content can be defined as content not changing between two identical requests done in the same time frame.
Identical can be as simple as the same URI, or as fine grained as down to the authentication header. The time frame can range between 1 second to 1 year.
Edges, Mid-Tier Caches, and Origins
Cloudfront isn’t “just” some servers in datacenters around the world. The service is a layered network of Edge Locations and Regional Edge Caches (or Mid-Tier Caches).
Edge Locations are distributed around the globe with more than 400 points of presence in over 90 cities across 48 countries. Each Edge Location is connected to one of the 13 Regional Edge Caches.
Regional Edge Caches are transparent to you and your visitors, you can’t configure them or access them directly. Your visitors will interact with the nearest Edge Location, which will connect to the attached Regional Edge Cache and finally to your origin. Therefore, in this article, we will refer to Cloudfront as the combination of Edge Locations and Region Edge Caches.
What Have We Learned?
Cloudfront is more than just a simple “pull-cache-serve” service
- You improve delivery speed to your visitors
- You can increase resilience by always using a healthy backend
- You improve overall speed to your backend by leveraging AWS’s backbone
- You can modify any request to tailor the response to your visitor’s device or region
- You don’t always need a backend
- You protect your backend by reducing the number of calls reaching it