Tag Archives: Domain Name System

Using CloudFlare to protect and speed up your website & brain

 

Wow! If you run a forum you need Cloudflare - ...
Wow! If you run a forum you need Cloudflare - it cut my webserver CPU usage in half!

Speed: it’s crucial online. The rate at which a page loads is important both to keep customers happy and to keep them from leaving your site. However, your site’s speed is not just about UX (user experience) but about search engine rankings. That latter factor is becoming more and more important as the Google algorithm weighs it more heavily. Tumblr’s servers, for example, do not meet Google’s standards for speed.

Obviously the speed at which your site populates content depends on a mixture of diverse factors. For example, how many images do you have on your page? Are they compressed? What type of hardware are using (server, etc.)? Are there a lot of WordPress plugins on your site? Simple sites running off of great equipment load very quickly, and complex sites on clunky equipment don’t. However, there is a cheat.

CloudFlare is that cheat. It’s free. It makes your site faster. It makes it more difficult for spammers to harass you. It strengthens the security of your site. I know… It sounds implausible. In this three-part series, we will look at CloudFlare from a variety of different angles.
Continue reading Using CloudFlare to protect and speed up your website & brain

IP Backbone, Server Location, Distance Delay, and Romancing Your Hardware

 

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You’ll note that on the front-page of the Superb.net site, we mention our “coast-to-coast IP backbone.” We mention this prominently because we know how crucial IP location can be to the success of the websites using our services. Let’s look at why.

IP addresses identify a machine accessing the Internet. For an end-user, it is associated with the device with which the person (well, or bot, such as Google’s crawlers) is accessing your site. It can refer to a PC, for instance, or a router for a network, or even a mobile device. In hosting, it refers to the server that is delivering the data, that is answering the request from a user and responding with the page and/or content the person is trying to access.

This article will gather and distill information on IP addresses (or Internet Protocol addresses) so we can better understand how they relate to hosting and the Web generally. Having a strong IP presence can be crucial to delivering the Web quickly and efficiently to anyone visiting your site – and to accessing the network yourself for administration, internal usage, and interaction with your clients.

Specifically, the physical location of a server can cause distance delay, latency related to how long it is taking for the request to be received, processed by the server, and fulfilled to the end-user. Minimizing distance delay, means choosing a host that has servers near your primary clientele. Search engine optimization can also be affected because Google takes into account the location of an IP address in SEO rankings.

For this article, I referenced pieces from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web SEO Analytics, Binary Turf, Service Assurance Daily, and About.com.

How to keep your server happy #1: Never just think of your server as “my server.” Call it by name – by its IP address (or its host name, but that seems unnecessarily complicated). The server has a unique identity, and it wants you to treat it that way. An unhappy server is a server that feels anonymous, like it could be any server. Never forget your server’s IP or, for that matter, your anniversaries with the server. Bring it out to dinner. Treat it right. Put stickers on it that say “#1” and “Champion” and “I Love You.”

IP Addresses & Host Names

There are two basic ways to refer to any server: IP address and host name.

  • What’s an IP? It’s a series of numbers divided into four sections by dots (that’s periods, for those of you who haven’t been exposed to the hip new web lingo). The first section or first two sections of numbers designate(s) the network of the device. For example, one of Google’s IP addresses is 74.125.224.72.
  • What’s a host name? Thanks for asking. Instead of numbers, a host name is the name of the device, followed by your domain name. So perhaps you have a server called worldsbestserver.schoolofhardknocks.edu.

The Domain Name Service (DNS) turns host names into IP addresses and IP addresses into host names. For instance, when you request a certain URL, it switches the URL to the IP so it knows what server to access to fulfill your data request.

You may be able to pull up Google, with the IP mentioned above, directly by going to http://74.125.224.72/ (skipping the DNS server and going straight to the server itself), but that will only work for certain locations, based on the location of your IP address. Entering an IP to access a page can work because the IP and the URL are essentially one and the same: they both refer to a machine on which data is originating and being received from other web-connected devices.

How to keep your server happy #2: Tell your server that you want to grow old with it. Tell it you’ll never perform brain surgery on it to improve its performance. Your server wants you to know that it has feelings, just like people do. If your server looks bored, give it something to do. It doesn’t matter what the task is. Your server just wants to process data all day and all night. It also likes to knit and to hear Kenny Chesney blasted through the speakers of a boom-box you bought at a yard sale.

Specifics on the IP Address

All devices that can connect to the web – cell phones, computers, tablets, servers, whatever – have an IP address. This address is made up of four numbers separated by dots, as stated above. Each of those numbers ranges from 0 to 255.

Let’s look at specifics for MIT as described in that article. One of the servers at MIT is 18.72.0.3. Either the first two parts or the first part of the IP can refer to the network, as discussed above. In the case of MIT, it’s just the first part. The 18, then, signifies the MIT network. The rest of the IP address points to a specific computer or server within the MIT network. It’s similar, in a way, to subdomains of sites (don’t think about that too much – just talking about the main part and sectioning part here, folks).

You might notice that these numbers range from 0 to 255 – which at first seems kind of arbitrary. Actually, though, 256 (the possible number of options including the zero) is 8 cubed. The IP system, then, is compiled of four 8-bit binary numbers (each of them referred to as an octet). The entirety is a 32-bit binary number.

How to keep your server happy #3: Your server does not enjoy it when you surround yourself with other servers. This makes the server extremely jealous. If you must use other servers for your business, sit down with your server beforehand and explain to it the principles of change and growth and how important they are to success. Your server may complain, but it will understand – because above all, it loves and supports you.

Server Location & SEO

People often make the mistake of thinking that the virtual environment of the Internet is cleanly separated from physical reality: sure, servers populate all the information, but as long as the servers are functional and fast, everything else is in the content. This, however, is not the case. Google and Bing both use geographical location of the device answering requests for your site (your server) to determine your rankings.

The location of the server is especially important if your TLD does not designate your country/region and if you do not activate Geographic Targeting within your Google Webmaster account. Example TLDs that do not specify location are .com and .net.

Web SEO Analytics mentions their extraordinarily high SEO presence for Romania-related searches and generally for searches conducted from Romanian IP addresses. This presence is exemplary of the power of where a server is positioned on the globe, because that’s the nation where the WSA servers are located.

How to keep your server happy #3: Never give it a bath. Baths are terrible for servers. They hate water. Plus, if you threaten to give your server a bath, it will cry. Servers hate crying more than anything else, with the notable exception of sneezing.

Location & Faster Page Loads

You are probably aware that latency – defined as delay within a system, in this case the Internet – is a major factor in keeping your audience happy. You may also be aware that latency or page load times affect your SEO as well. Latency will be affected by where your servers are located – so this aspect of performance represents not just speed, but a secondary impact on your SEO rankings.

The importance of an IP backbone that is closely integrated with your clients’ locations is that you can answer requests quickly because you’re nearby. The difference between load times throughout a single home country will be minimal and for the most part unnoticeable. However, if servers are located on the other side of the Earth, you can quickly run into latency issues.

Why does latency matter, again? Well, really it’s because of UX. Google and Bing will thank sites that quickly load pages for visitors because it represents a better user experience, a better effort to quickly dispense information to those requesting it. Plus, UX relates directly to customer satisfaction. If your latency is high, customers will become discouraged and go elsewhere.

How to keep your server happy #4: Take it on a vacation. Many owners and leasers of servers never consider taking the server out to a place it’s never been before. There’s nothing like running your fingers through your server’s hair on a beach in the Virgin Isles. Ah, can’t you smell that salt air now? Your server enjoys wearing tight-fitting sunbathing outfits but does not like to scuba dive or snorkel. Go underwater yourself, and tell it what you saw. Oh, and no sunscreen for your server, except on its nose.

Types of Latency

Latency is a complex topic. There are actually a number of different factors that will slow down the flow of information on the web. Latency on a network is broken up into the following five components:

  • Distance delay
  • Serialization delay
  • Queue delay
  • Forwarding delay
  • Protocol delay

As you can see, there are many aspects of the web that can impede your ability to quickly deliver quality content and information to your visitors. Location of your servers is a simple way to improve the latency and keep your customers’ UX as fast and relaxing as possible. It is probably obvious that distance delay is the form of latency we can address with geographical location.

Distance delay, according to Service Assurance Daily, is the delay caused by the distance between the two machines that are communicating on the web (typically the user device and your server). This type of latency can majorly impact the performance of applications that have to interact numerous times with your server, each time creating hindrances to your network’s ability to interact quickly and smoothly with all users.

How to keep your server happy #5: Give it everything it ever requests. Many servers are needy. You have two possible responses to server neediness: give it everything it asks for, or complain and debate with it to determine if what it’s requesting is really required. Trust me: it’s easier to just give the server everything you own. It’s more efficient that way, and the last thing you want is a vindictive court battle with a machine.

Summary & Conclusion

Server location is simple really, which is why it’s not hard for Superb Internet to know we need an IP backbone: the backbone both makes it easy for you to access us and for your customers to access your site. Remember, your SEO from server location is one thing. Latency, though, in the form of distance delay, will also affect SEO and can greatly enhance all users’ experiences on your site. Plus, you yourself will experience decreased latency if your servers are nearby.

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

How to Understand DNS & Everything Else

 

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WWW. SEO. URL. SSL. FTP. DNS. The Internet loves it some three-letter acronyms. The Domain Name System (DNS) is no exception. Saying a bunch of words is no match for saying some letters that represent them. That way you can have this conversation with someone.

Them: “What’s DNS?

You: “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. It’s technical jargon that would literally blow your head off your body, and they’d use my tax money to clean up the mess, so no thanks.”

Them: “Got it. Thank you for helping me preserve the structure of my body.”

DNS is not very complicated, but this article will review it in full detail – sort of a “more than you ever wanted to know” guide. This piece, then, is much like a long, excruciatingly painful story from your grandfather about a trip he went to buy undergarments during the Depression and ended up getting kidnapped and tortured by naked and obese witches. Typical!

For this article, I drew from pieces on How-To Geek, Applied Trust, Stack Overflow, and a Josh Halliday piece on The Guardian.

DNS – What is it? Huh? Oh.

The domain name system (DNS) is Web protocol that converts the names of sites – eg ilovericepudding.xxx or nowivedecidedilikepastapuddingbetter.tv — into numbers for reading by computers/servers. DNS specifically converts from the URL, eg puddingisdeliciousandeveryoneknowsit.cc, into an IP address. The IP address hooks the visitor of the website to the correct server so that the page loads correctly.  DNS, then, is essentially the phone book that translates letters into numbers which are the server identification numbers.

When you think of a dedicated IP, typically you are in turn thinking of a dedicated server. In other words, having your own dedicated server for hosting — as opposed to using shared hosting — means that you have your own IP address specific to your own site. This “ownership” of an IP has obvious advantages regarding security and a minimization of and isolation of potential DNS-related errors. However, in shared hosting situations, a host header is used to access the correct site; that is the way that IP addresses can be shared without confusion.

DNS and Speed

Generally speaking, according to The Guardian, the connection between URL and IP is made via DNS almost instantaneously. The server is found and the data request by the visitor of the site – what any website visitor is doing when visiting any URL is making a request for data – is fulfilled. Once the DNS server makes the connection, it can move onto another request for URL/IP matching.

Most sites have DNS servers. DNS can be provided for free through a service such as everyDNS. However, solid DNS is crucial. When the DNS server does not function correctly, you can only get to a website through its IP address (the series of numbers that identify the server).

There are a couple of types of DNS problems worth looking at specifically:

  • DNS failure
  • DNS poisoning.

Failure is when a glitch makes the DNS system dysfunctional. This type of problem means that the site does not populate (with nothing populating its place).

Poisoning is a situation in which the information is purposely polluted with misinformation via a virus, other malware, or direct hacking interference. This problem directs site visitors to an impostor website – typically one that is intending to draw credit card or other personal information from people, often creating the false assumption that the site to which they are directed is the site they were originally trying to pull up – ie  a phishing scenario. A disappointing and cruel example of phishing is when you think you are putting your information into a sales portal to get a DDoS botnet, an army of malware-injected computers to bring down your competitor, and instead it turns out to be an FBI site trying to stop you from doing that, even though you’ve struggled this quarter because your competitor has better products and service than you do.

What is an IP address?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is the identifying numbers assigned to any piece of hardware. Your cell phone, for instance, has a particular IP. The same is true of your PC or of the server for a website.

An IP address is in a format known as a dotted quad – four numbers ranging from 0 to 255, separated by dots. Note that though IP addresses are unique, sites (as discussed above) can share an IP address. Similarly, a household or business network can have a single IP, if only one router is used (assuming all devices flow through that router’s IP).

Note that within a network – also called a “domain” in terms of IP – multiple devices will each have an IP so that the router can tell them apart. However, the outside Internet is not told anything about the IPs of the internal network. The router translates the internal IPs into its own IP when Internet requests are made by the network’s devices. When a response comes in from the Internet, the router translates back to the individual IP so that the information is sent to the correct network computer. It’s similar to how thoughts and sensations each get stored in your various multiple personalities so that Cecilia, Jack, and Dr. Blankenship can each have their own personal stories, friendships, and memories.

One good thing about URLs, beyond the fact that they are easier to remember and can be branded in ways that strings of numbers cannot, is that IP addresses are specific to hardware. If a website changes its hosting company, for example, its IP address will change. But that doesn’t really matter, because no one is typing in the IP. As soon as the DNS entry is updated with the new IP information, the site will populate accurately from the files located on the new hosting service’s machine.

Sample – Google.com

So you can get a better sense of how IP addresses work, try typing 173.194.39.78 into your address bar. You should see Google populate. That is Google’s IP address. As you can see, the IP and the URL are essentially synonymous. Data-wise, it’s all about the IP. But everything must be named so that we humans can remember more easily.

Typically you’re not typing in 173.194.39.78, but rather Google.com (unless you’re really into IP addresses – an IPP or Internet Protocol Purist, as they’re called in IT circles). Nonetheless, the DNS server translates into the appropriate IP so that the data between you and the servers which populate the various websites that comprise the Web know what servers they need to access to send and receive data.

DNS Servers and Caching

You type a web address into your address bar. Then your computer sends out a request to the DNS server. The DNS server lets it know what the correct IP address is and sends out to that address. Your computer then goes to the correct IP. The URL in the address bar stays the same. The IP lookup and connection occurs in the background without your knowledge (unless you decide to look up the technical details).

The DNS servers you use to access IP addresses via your home or business network are typically provided by your Internet service provider (ISP). Typically a computer will send a DNS request to a router, which in turn send out the message to the ISP. The ISP’s DNS servers then respond with the correct IP number and populate the page.

DNS caching allows a computer to remember what IP is associated with a particular URL. This means that your computer only needs to retrieve DNS information one time (until the cache is cleared). The speed with which pages will load is optimized by not needing to perform a DNS lookup every time a page loads. You go straight to requesting the site, rather than going to the DNS server first, because you have the information locally to tell you where the correct IP is for the URL. Again, Internet Protocol Purists never allow the DNS to cache. They believe it is important to anthropomorphize the DNS and allow it to perform “work” constantly, strengthening its muscles and mind for the DNS apocalypse.

DNS & Security

Speaking of malware and viruses, sometimes you can be infected with one that changes your DNS server to a different one run by people who have implanted false IP addresses for heavily trafficked websites. If you put the name of one of those common sites into your address bar, the browser then instead visits the phishing site – where the evildoer attempts to pull login credentials and other sensitive details from you.

Two solutions to help prevent DNS hijacking:

  1. Antivirus software – A quality antivirus application can help prevent your computer from accessing a faulty DNS server.
  2. SSL errors – I’ve written a couple of pieces on SSL security certificates lately – both on different types of validation and on different types of certificates/ functionalities. Security certificate error messages – a window that pops up and says that there is a problem with the security certificate for the site – should always be read and considered. SSL errors are fairly uncommon, so when you come across one, ensure that the certificate was issued to an organization you recognize – it may have been and just doesn’t directly match the particular subdomain you are viewing, etc. (which doesn’t mean it’s not encrypting, so you’re fine there). Sometimes the SSL certificate, though, may have been issued to a completely different site. If you don’t recognize the site, do the following:
  • Stop
  • Collaborate with a partner in security
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Ice, ice, baby, to go.

Summary & Conclusion

DNS is a phonebook for Internet sites, a way of matching up the identification numbers, called IP addresses, related to specific devices – servers as regards websites – with particular URLs. This allow your computer browser to send a data request to the appropriate server to populate a website. Caching of DNS allows your computer to access the website more quickly – without having to look up the DNS record each time. DNS servers can sometimes be miscoded, either innocently or malevolently. Be sure you have a quality antivirus installed and that you pay attention to SSL security certificate errors so that you are less likely to become a victim of phishing schemes (unless that’s , like, totally your thing, being a victim, which I can completely respect, as can Mr. Blankenship).

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood