CDNs work through servers nearest to the website visitor respond to the request. The content delivery network copies the pages of a website to a network of servers that are spread out at geographically different locations, caching the contents of the page. When a user requests a webpage that is part of a content delivery network, the CDN will redirect the request from the originating site’s server to a server in the CDN that is closest to the user and deliver the cached content. CDNs will also communicate with the originating server to deliver any content that has not been previously cached. In turn, the speed is improved by distributing content closer to the website visitors by using a nearby CDN server, causing visitors to experience faster page loading times. In simpler terms, for example, instead of a user in London trying to access a server in LA, which can cause slower Internet speeds, the user would be redirected through a CDN that is geographically closest to them (London, Paris, Stockholm, etc). As of today, the majority of web traffic goes through through CDNs, including traffic from major sites like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon.
Employing a CDN doesn’t only speed up the delivery of Internet content, it helps protect your website against certain forms of cyber attacks, such as Denial of Service attacks. It protects against these threats because CDNs allow for the handling of more traffic and withstanding hardware failure better than many origin servers.
Source: CloudFlare, Webopedia
Additional Reading: Pantheon’s Advanced Global CDN to Further Enterprise Open Source Adoption
Related Terms: Denial of Service (DoS), Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)