Amazon CloudFront: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons

Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons

Amazon CloudFront gives individuals or companies the opportunity to dramatically boost their website performance by tapping into the AWS global network of secure servers. As a Content Delivery Network, CloudFront boasts hundreds of terabits of data transfer capacity, best-in-class network availability, global reach, and the best network security out there. 

Still confused about what CloudFront really is and why you should care? Skeptical about the benefits? Read below for a full explanation of how CloudFront works and how it optimizes website performance. 

We looked closely at the service and found that CloudFront is a relatively easy and scalable way for businesses and individuals to start seeing better performance on their websites and apps. Web serving done the traditional way involves significant communication between the end user’s location and several different servers, so by connecting your site’s data to CloudFront, you essentially eliminate the need for all those independent servers. 

Sound like CloudFront might be worth it? Let’s find out! 

Must-Know Facts About AWS CloudFront

  • AWS CloudFront is a Content Delivery Network, or CDN, or a group of globally dispersed servers that work together to speed up the delivery of content on the web. 
  • Since Amazon’s initial release of CloudFront in 2008, it has added hundreds of “Edge” locations—or Points of Presence—around the globe. 
  • In addition to its 450+ Points of Presence (PoPs), CloudFront has also established several regional caches in every major continent to provide a further boost to the network’s overall capacity and efficiency. 
  • Strengthens overall CDN security by coming equipped with AWS Shield, a managed protection service that automatically detects and mitigates “distributed denial of service” events. 
  • The code you run at the Edge is fully customizable—meaning you can determine the appropriate balance between cost, security, and performance that’s best for your individual or business needs. 
  • Provides access to a number of DevOps-friendly tools (such as AWS CloudFormation, CodeDeploy, and CodeCommit) for easy configuration of workloads with CloudFront. 

What is AWS CloudFront: Explained

Created by Amazon as part of Amazon Web Services, CloudFront is a highly-ranked content distribution network that enables websites to link their data to Amazon’s globe-spanning network of servers. Essentially, CloudFront connects end users to whatever is the nearest low-latency edge location in which your site’s data is copied and stored. This streamlined process significantly reduces latency on your site — even if your site has tons of data-heavy images and videos. 

On the user experience side of things, if you run a blog with thousands of visitors a day, you can use CloudFront’s edge servers to massively accelerate the delivery of static content to end users. Never again will too long of load times be the reason why a visitor avoids your site like the plague. 

Or, if you plan on using videos or live-streaming on your website or app, you might find CloudFront’s edge locations to be a useful way to reduce the demand on your server, given that CloudFront automatically redirects requests to low-latency Points of Presence. 

If you want to take a deeper dive into the technical nitty-gritty of these use cases, we recommend exploring the documentation on Amazon or Github

Let’s go over some of CloudFront’s main components and see why you might want to spend time on each one.

Largest data center companies
CloudFront is a content distribution network that enables websites to link to Amazon’s network of servers.

©Gil C/Shutterstock.com

In the following video, Amazon Web Services explains what AWS CloudFront is and how it can improve your website’s performance.

Global Edge Network 

Every major continent contains an Amazon CloudFront edge location, and many of the world’s high-traffic areas also have regional caches for further load capacity. 

Each of CloudFront’s 450 and growing Points of Presence link to the nearest regional cache through a globe-spanning network of 100GbE parallel fiber. The result of this built-out AWS network is a CDN that can handle hundreds of terabits of deployed capacity. 

Security Features

So, odds are you’re probably not going to hand over all your site’s data to CloudFront without being certain that your content will be secure in the Edge Network. Well, it sounds like Amazon’s got you covered on that front. 

As mentioned before, CloudFront comes pre-equipped with AWS Shield for added security against attacks. In addition, Amazon throws in AWS Web Application Firewall and Amazon Route 53 for multiple layers of security to keep your web content, API, and/or applications safe from network and application DDoS attacks.  

Of course, no conversation about security is complete without tossing in the term “encryption.” To that end, anything you decide to run through CloudFront can be used in conjunction with Transport Layer Security, shortened to TLS, thereby encrypting and securing communication between end users and your content. 

The last major thing to hit on with security is access — or the restriction thereof. AWS CloudFront has an easy way of allowing you to use Token Authentication to limit access to only authenticated viewers. Other possibilities include preventing access from specific regions, or making your content only accessible through requests coming from CloudFront. One wonders if the federal government’s cyber-security team knows about CloudFront’s security features…

DevOps-Friendly Tools

AWS CloudFront makes it easy for DevOps teams to get in and start customizing CloudFront behaviors and distributions right away. The service is equipped with its own full-featured API and a bevy of other development tools, such as AWS CloudFormation, CodeDeploy, CodeCommit, and AWS SDKs. 

With all these tools, developers have the power to make multiple adjustments to CloudFront behaviors. 

How do you want your data to be cached? How do you want CloudFront to communicate with your origin? What headers do you want to add to your HTTP responses? Do you want the HTTP response to change depending on the viewer’s country of origin so that viewers from China are getting language-specific content that’s different from viewers in the U.K.? These are just a sampling of CloudFront’s customizability. 

CloudFront Functions

Amazon CloudFront comes equipped with a tool called Functions, an economical alternative to AWS Lambda@Edge, but with the same capabilities of a full-fledged programming environment. Because CloudFront Functions is itself a JavaScript-enabled integrated development environment, or IDE, you or your team of DevOps engineers can use it to build, test, and finally release custom request and viewer response functions. 

One popular use case for CloudFront is HTTP header manipulation which, among other things, would allow you to add security headers to incoming page requests from site visitors. Functions like this would make it possible to restrict access to your site from sources that you don’t trust. 

Another security-related function involves the use of JSON Web Tokens, which gives site visitors a time-bound URL. Once a pre-set time limit has been reached, the user can no longer access the content on that page.

How to Use AWS CloudFront

Hopefully by now, we’ve given you enough of a taste of Amazon CloudFront so that you can start to see how using a CDN can help take your website to the next level. So how do you start? Let’s break down the basics. 

If you don’t already have an AWS account, you’ll need to create one. That’s the first step. Once you log into your account, you’ll see prompts to guide you toward setting up CloudFront. 

At this point, you don’t necessarily need to make any purchasing decisions right away. If you’re still in the exploratory phase, CloudFront has a Free Tier that includes 1 TB of data transfer out into the Cloud and ten million requests a month. 

What’s next after purchasing a subscription or sticking with the Free Tier? Now it’s time to create a CloudFront distribution. Fear not; this step doesn’t require any programming abilities. It’s just a matter of assigning your web content to a CloudFront origin, assigning certain parameters for how you want AWS to distribute your content, and then creating the distribution. Amazon has an easy tutorial for how to do this, here

Obviously, the “tinkering” phase is an ongoing process that’s unique to each user’s interests and objectives. There are tons of avenues to explore, so next, we’ll go over some options for learning how to use AWS CloudFront. 

How to Learn AWS CloudFront

Now, depending on your technical competency, getting the most out of AWS CloudFront’s features may involve a bit of a learning curve. Instead of trying to gain total mastery over CloudFront’s entire suite of tools, we recommend starting with the topics that interest you the most. 

Fortunately, Amazon has made it easy to locate and then learn about whatever features pique your interest. The AWS CloudFront documentation is a comprehensive guide covering all aspects of using the CDN. There you will find plenty of detailed instructions, tutorials, and examples on how to customize your code. 

Again, we don’t recommend reading and watching all the tutorials one by one. It’s best to think of something you really want to accomplish for your site from day one of using CloudFront and then find the learning resources to help you accomplish that goal. For example, have latency issues been a pain point for your increasingly popular website? If so, you might want to start by figuring out how to accelerate content delivery.  

Also, W3 Schools has partnered with Amazon to create its own tutorial for getting started with CloudFront. W3 Schools is an incredible free resource for learning all kinds of different programming languages and software applications. 

Or, if you’re already really tech-savvy, you might want to just skip all of this and head straight to Github to see what kinds of use cases other pros have built out.  

AWS CloudFront: When Is It Not the Best Choice?

AWS CloudFront is a fantastic service that will likely boost performance on your site or app. Having said that, it might not be the best choice in every scenario. So, let’s consider why that might be and what alternative options you have for engaging a CDN. 

Consider pricing, for instance. Obviously, this isn’t an issue for you if you’re using the Free Tier. However, let’s imagine a scenario in which your multimedia blog has soared in viewership, or your e-commerce business just ballooned in sales. 

Suddenly, you find your Amazon bill eating into your bottom line. If you don’t want to be caught off guard by the price tag, you might want to try calculating what the service is going to cost you before committing. Maybe you’ll find the cost worth it, or maybe you’ll decide to explore other, more economical options.  

Creating a blog hands typing on laptop writing
Creating a blog is super simple when you have the right resources.


Another potential issue is flexibility. Essentially, a commitment to using AWS CloudFront is also a guarantee that all of your organization’s technical operations will flow through the AWS ecosystem. It sure does drive simplicity if all you’re using is AWS products, but maybe you don’t want to be restricted in that way. 

If you’re dismayed by the pricing or nervous about becoming locked into the AWS ecosystem, you may want to explore some alternatives. There are plenty of other CDNs out there; here are just a couple. 

Fastly Deliver

Fastly Deliver is an alternative CDN that, like CloudFront, is well regarded for the boost in performance it provides users, its ease of deployment, and the possibilities for customization. An important distinction lies in customer service. 

If a “human touch” is important to you, Fastly Deliver might be a great alternative. Since it’s a smaller company than Amazon, it’s far more willing and eager to provide you hands-on service, whereas massive corporations like Amazon are always going to want to redirect you to established documentation before getting you in touch with a person. 

Having said that, Fastly Deliver does not, like Amazon, offer a Free Tier. No matter your service needs, you should expect to pay a minimum of $20 a month. 


Cloudflare offers a similar customer-focused touch to that of Fastly Deliver. In addition, the scale of its network puts it on par with Amazon’s Global Edge Network. Cloudflare also lends itself an edge over the competition by providing support for HTTP/3, the latest generation of Internet transport protocol that makes content delivery even faster and more secure. 

You might also appreciate the transparency in terms of pricing. You can, as with Amazon, opt for a free version, a $20/month version for seasoned bloggers, $200/month for small businesses, and custom pricing plans for enterprise-level businesses. 

AWS CloudFront: Release History

AWS CloudFront launched as a beta in November 2008. CloudFront boasted global reach from the get-go and faster content delivery than traditional web servicing. Though CloudFront was not the first of its kind, it was the first CDN to offer the kind of competitive pricing that would enable smaller web users to get into the CDN game. 

CloudFront’s launch was, therefore, a response to the world’s hunger for faster web browsing and media streaming at a price that most could reasonably afford. It allowed smaller site owners to accelerate the delivery of static or dynamic content as well as streaming and download speeds; it also gave users the tools to continuously improve upon all these fronts. 

In 2014, Amazon added CloudFront to its Free Tier category, making faster content delivery even more accessible to the humblest of creators. 

Since its initial release, CloudFront has expanded its Global Edge Network to include over 450 Points of Presence and several regional caches. It has also kept abreast with advancements in cybersecurity and has added a host of new customization capabilities for Edge computing with the introduction of tools like AWS CloudFormation, CodeDeploy, CodeCommit, and AWS SDKs. 

Amazon CloudFront: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is CloudFront in AWS?

CloudFront is a content delivery network designed to speed up the distribution of static sites and dynamic web content.

What is the main benefit of CloudFront?

CloudFront’s primary benefit is that it is an entirely programmable and secure CDN, with high scalability and low-latency performance.

Is CloudFront the same as S3?

No. They are both different services. S3 is Amazon’s object storage solution used for hosting websites and making objects and data available remotely. CloudFront can access data stored in an S3 bucket and send it to edge servers around the world.

How do I set up CloudFront?

If you don’t already have an AWS account, you’ll need to create one. That’s the first step. Once you log into your account, you’ll see prompts to guide you toward setting up CloudFront.

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