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An Introduction to AWS CloudFront

AWS CloudFront is one of the prominent web services, intended to speed up the delivery of dynamic and static web content. Some of the web content that is adequate for speeding up within the CloudFront are .html, .js, image files, and .js for the users. If the content is already within the edge location with low latency, then AWS CloudFront takes the effort to deliver it immediately. But, if the content is not within the edge location, then CloudFront will be retrieving it from the origin, such as the EC2 instance, and then deliver it.

AWS CloudFront then speeds up the content distribution by routing all of the user requests through the AWS network to the edge location. It will serve the content in the best way possible. In simpler words, it is the CloudFront edge server that offers faster delivery for the viewer’s end. The AWS network has the potential of reducing the number of networks that users put up the request for. Hence, it improves the performance, and the users experience low latency. It means that the time taken will be less for loading the first byte of that file.

This article is dedicated to helping you gain insight into the functionality of AWS CloudFront. This article gives clarity into the set-up process, use cases, accessibility, and other such concepts of CloudFront.

Brief Working of AWS CloudFront

When you configure CloudFront for your content delivery procedure, a specific role is executed when the users request your specific files. Here is the brief working process of AWS CloudFront as a response to the file requests by users.

A user accesses the website or application and requests some files over it. The users can put up a request for HTML and image files. The DNS will then request to the CloudFront POP, or edge location, that will serve the request of the user. The nearest edge location will be picked, as associated with latency. It then routes the user request to that of the edge location.

Within the POP, AWS CloudFront checks the cache for all of the requested files by the user. If the files are available within the cache then, CloudFront returns the same to the user. But in case, the files are not available within the cache; it goes ahead with further step integration. For such scenarios, AWS CloudFront then compares the user request with all of the other specifications within the distribution. Now, you will then forward the request of such files to the select file types within the origin server. For instance, the image files will be sent to S3 Bucket and HTML files to HTTP servers.

The origin servers will then send the files back to their respective edge locations. When the first byte is loaded from the origin, CloudFront then begins the process of passing on the files to the respective user as per their request. AWS CloudFront then adds the files onto the cache within that edge location. It is to ensure that if some other user requests for the same file, the next time!

Read more on How Does AWS CloudFront Work?

How to Set-up the CloudFront For Delivering Content?

You will have to create a CloudFront distribution to let it know the region from where you want the content to be delivered. Apart from that, the creation of this distribution will also demand you the details of how you can manage and track the content delivery. But before you can proceed with the distribution, you need to get an idea of how to do the initial set-up of the CloudFront for setting up the content delivery aspects. The steps are as follows:

  1. You need to go ahead and specify the origin servers, such as an Amazon S3 bucket or an HTTP server. The origin server is what is responsible for the retrieval of the files. CloudFront will look for the files within this server and will then proceed with the distribution of them from the respective edge locations.
  2. Now, you need to upload your files to the origin server that you created. The files are also known as objects that include images, web pages, media files, and others. The objects that you upload can be anything that is possible to serve over HTTP.
  3. Now, you need to go ahead and create a CloudFront distribution, as stated above, to give an indication to the AWS CloudFront about the origin servers from which you want it to retrieve the files upon user requests.
  4. You can implement CloudFront to log all of the requests, or you can also enable the distribution right at the moment when it is created.
  5. CloudFront then assigns a domain name to the new distribution that you have created. You will see the domain within the console. You can prefer adding an alternate domain name for the same as well.
  6. CloudFront will then send the configuration you have picked to all of the edge locations or POPs. These are the collection of servers within the data centers across the globe.

Read more on How AWS CloudFront Helps in Improving the Performance of Content Delivery?

Use Cases of AWS CloudFront

Using Amazon CloudFront, you get the potential to accomplish a lot of roles. Here are a few of the use cases that will explain to you the potential of AWS CloudFront in diverse applications.

1. Assistance in Accelerating the Static Website Content Delivery

CloudFront can intend to help enhance the delivery of the static types of content available within the application or website, as per the user’s requests. Some of the examples of static content are style sheets, images, JavaScript, and others.

With the use of CloudFront, you get the potential to use the AWS network and edge servers to give an optimal experience to the viewers. With the use of CloudFront, you can ensure a fast, safe, and reliable experience for the viewers every time they visit the website.

One of the easiest approaches for storing & delivering static content is by using the Amazon S3 bucket. Blending the use of Amazon S3 and Amazon CloudFront can give you a lot of advantages. It allows you to use the OAI (Origin Access Identity) to restrict the accessibility to some contents over S3. To know more about how S3 and CloudFront are integrated, check out this documentation!

2. Accessing the Live Streaming Video and Serving Video on Demand

The second use case of Amazon CloudFront is that it offers the capabilities of streaming your media content to the viewers on a global scale. You can avail of this feature for both live events as well as pre-recorded video files.

For a video on demand (VOD) type of streaming, you need to use common formats over CloudFront that includes Apple HLS, MPEG Dash, CMAF, and Microsoft Smooth Streaming, to any of the devices. And for broadcasting any of the live streams, you need to cache the media fragments within the edge. In that way, multiple requests for the same live media file will be delivered in an optimal order to reduce the excessive load over the origin server.

To know more about how you can use CloudFront for delivering the lives streaming content and VOD, refer to this documentation of AWS.

3. Edge Customization

When you intend to run the server-less code within the edge, it opens up quite a lot of possibilities for content customization and the viewer’s experience. Moreover, this process execution is done over low latency. Moreover, you can also customize an error message to display to the viewers in case the origin server is under some kind of maintenance. It is essential as viewing a generic HTTPS message upon the server might create a bad rapport for your brand.

Apart from that, you can also implement a specific function for enabling authorization of the users to control content accessibility before the request is processed by Amazon CloudFront. This use case can be implemented in the best way by using [email protected] with AWS CloudFront. This integration will allow you to customize the content delivery aspects in a variety of ways.

4. Use of Lambda Edge Customizations for Serving the Private Content

With the integration of AWS CloudFront with Lambda Edge, you can help configure the CloudFront distribution for serving private content from a custom origin. You can use this as an option to use signed cookies or URLs. Along with that, you are also open to using various integrations or techniques for restricting access to the origin server.

With the use of Lambda Edge and AWS CloudFront, you can also use the whitelisting CloudFront IPs within your firewall. Along with that, you can also use a custom header for passing any of the secret or private content. For more knowledge of this use case of AWS CloudFront and Lambda Edge, refer to this documentation.

5. Specific Field Encryption Through System Processing

When you intend to configure HTTPS with the help of AWS CloudFront, you must integrate secure connections from end-to-end for the origin servers. Along with that, when you specifically include the add field-level encryption, you can ensure the protection of the specific data within the system processing aspects. HTTPS security is basic, but with this enhanced field encryption, you can restrict the applications within the origin server to see some data.

For setting up such a type of field encryption, you need to implement a public key to CloudFront. It will help you specify the fields that you want to encrypt, along with the key.

Ways of Accessing the AWS CloudFront

As you have understood the use cases and definitive explanation of AWS CloudFront, the next big concern is the right way of accessing it. Here are the ways to help you with that:

  1. Access through AWS SDKs- Prefer to use the programming language for which AWS offers an SDK. In that way, you can prefer to use the same for accessing the CloudFront. SDKs are meant to simplify the authentication aspects and integrate easily with the specific environment that you have specified for development. Now, you get access to all of the CloudFront commands!
  2. Access through AWS CLI- the AWS CLI is considerably an open-source tool that allows users to interact with several AWS services, using specific commands within the respective shell. Follow this link to know how to set up the AWS CLI, following which you can access the AWS CloudFront perspectives. 
  3. Access through CloudFront API- If you prefer to use a programming language that doesn’t have an SDK, then you can go through the API reference of AWS CloudFront to understand the API actions and its potential to make dedicated API requests. Here is the documentation to guide you about the AWS CloudFront API references

Pricing of AWS CloudFront

AWS CloudFront has a design that enables you to pay no up-front fees for using it. But, you need to pay the fees for other AWS services. AWS has a billing system that allows you to pay for the number of services you use. The free tier for AWS CloudFront allows you with 50GB data transfer out and is free for 12 months. Along with that, if you wish to get on-demand services of AWS CloudFront, then you will have to pay subtle charges that are listed over this pricing page. You can also go for a custom pricing option, where you can make your minimum traffic commits.

Bottom Line

Every bit of the information within this article intends to give you exposure to AWS CloudFront. You need to understand that CloudFront is a big inclusion for your content delivery aspects. In addition to that, it is an ideal integration with the AWS services to magnify the proficiency associated with it. So, you need to make sure that you understand its functionality before availing of its efficacy.

AWS CloudFront gives you control over how viewers view your website or application content. There is no maximum expiration time within the AWS CloudFront for your content, and the minimum is 0 seconds. In this way, you get complete control over limiting or enhancing the accessibility of your files or content that user requests.

About Vidya

Vidya has been working in the educational industry for more than three years. She has started off as a content developer and then she handled content strategy while managing writers and developers. K12 used to be her expertise and now she's into Cloud Computing and Digital Transformation.
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