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Setting up most CDNs can feel complicated. You’ve set up your website with a web host and want to improve its speed, so now try connecting it to a separate CDN service and serving your content from the CDN’s network.
network makes things different. It is a developer-focused, all-in-one serverless platform that combines building, deployment, hosting, and a CDN into one service. There’s no need to manage web servers, connect your web hosting to a CDN, or set up complicated caching rules. Just write your website code or use the built-in CMS and Netlify will take care of the rest.
Netlify simplifies web development by fully integrating into your workflow and automating tedious tasks that you would otherwise have to manage yourself.
For example, set up a new project and Netlify connects to your Git repository (virtual storage for your project and its history). Commit future changes to Git and the service will automatically build and deploy the updated site from your main branch.
There is a simple example of changes where Netlify can provide Deploy preview URLs for each pull or merge request and notify other team members via Git comments or Slack. No more staging limits, you can have as many versions of your website as you need.
This also works for the production site. If there is a problem, Netlify will save any previous version of your website and you can instantly revert to the version you need.
Netlify uses an atomic delivery system to get your updates to the CDN and online. The website automatically detects changed files, uploads them to the CDN, and then switches to the changed website once all files are available. No hassle for you, it just works.
By default, Netlify sites are available on their own subdomain: name.netlify.app. Of course, Netlify also supports custom domains, and these can either be registered and managed directly from Netlify, or you can use domains owned by another registrar.
HTTPS is also relatively easy. Every Netlify site gets a free HTTPS certificate from Let’s Encrypt, or you can use one of your own if you need more (e.g. extended validation or a wildcard certificate).
There are also technical surprises. For example, split testing allows you to split your website traffic across two or more separate deployments. Define the percentage of traffic you want, and Netlify will adjust your future traffic.
This is ideal for A/B or multivariate testing to see how your visitors behave when you change various aspects of the website. So ideal that it might be an expensive premium feature on some services, but Netlify is throwing it in for free.
frameworks and functions
Netlify’s serverless approach means you can’t install your own web and development tools in the usual way. Luckily, Netlify’s features, APIs, and plugins give you plenty of alternative options.
For example, a powerful forms system works without the need for backend code. It’s easy to use and integrates with 1,000+ apps: you can fill out a Google spreadsheet, create a Zendesk ticket, send a Gmail email, create a Salesforce lead, and more.
Netlify integrates well with WordPress, Drupal, Shopify and many other top apps, gives you all the features you expect and automatically serves your website on Netlify’s own CDN.
Would you like to use your own creation? Netlify also works with all modern development frameworks including React, Nextjs, Gatsby, Hugo, Vue.js and more.
If you’re wondering why you should trust Netlify to power your CDN, don’t worry, that’s not what you do: The company uses Google Cloud, Amazon AWS, Digital Ocean, and Yandex under the hood.
That doesn’t mean your CDN experience will be the same. Connect a regular website to Amazon CloudFront (or any other service) and you spend time setting different TTL values for different objects and creating special rules to minimize stale content. With Netlify, any implementation instantly invalidates all caches worldwide and replaces any custom file.
This can be as simple as personalizing content based on location, time, cookies or other information provided by the user. But much more is possible. Netlify’s website offers some intriguing suggestions, including custom authentication schemes that verify credentials and cache them in the margin, as well as the ability to selectively embed elements (CSS changes, announcement banners) within each element.
Subscriptions and Pricing
Netlify’s product range starts with a generous one free subscription. This can only be used by one person (no teams allowed), limits you to 100GB of traffic per month, offers no support outside of a community forum, and omits many advanced features. But it covers more than the basics, allows building unlimited test sites, and is a risk-free way to get a feel for what Netlify is all about.
(Even if you’re not a developer, you can still create a simple personal website with the free plan. For example, there’s a blog template that you can set up and get started in minutes.)
The commercial subscriptions are pay as you go, you only pay for the capacity and features you use. That seems reasonable, but it also makes life more difficult because there are many, many different items that can be charged.
Sign up for the Pro Subscription, and you pay, say, $19 per member (everyone who writes code in Git or needs to sign up for Netlify). There is a bandwidth allowance of 400GB per month, then you are charged 20GB per 100GB. You’ll also get refunds (and overage fees) for build minutes, features, forms, site users, image transformations, and more.
These look like fair value to us, but it all depends on your site and what you’re trying to do. Netlify’s Pro plan is charged if you receive more than 100 form submissions per website in a month, for example. If your website just has a basic contact form that hardly anyone uses, that might be fine. If every visitor has to fill out a form, that can be a problem.
However, remember that you get a lot for your money: hosting, a CDN, and a ton of web APIs, integrations, and testing tools. If Netlify sounds like it might work for you, give the free build a try and it will give you a much better idea of the features you’ll be using and their likely costs.
Netlify is a polished and professional service with all sorts of developer-friendly features and tools, but it’s not the only option.
Cloudflare Pages is a relatively new service, but it still offers the same core functionality in the same way. Easy Git integration enables automated deployments when you push new code, preview URLs make it easy to get feedback, there are no caps or additional costs per team member, and your websites are all hosted (with their free SSL certificates) on the CDN powered by Cloudflare.
There is also a free plan and a plan that greatly improves Netlify. Not only does it support unlimited websites, but you also get unlimited bandwidth.
Which is the best? Netlify has been around for years, has more features and a broader ecosystem of supporting products and extensions; Today, many Cloudflare Pages features are barely out of beta. If you are primarily looking for performance and features; go for Netlify; but if you’re not quite sure what you want, try both free plans and see what works for you.
Netlify is a feature-rich, mature serverless platform with everything your development team needs to build and deploy static websites. Check out the free plan to see what it can do for you.
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