Since the early days of WordPress when the WP plugin industry hasn’t been commercialized, the need for caching plugins was huge in the WordPress ecosystem. This was mainly because of slower PHP 5 and an easy way to skip the server-side rendering for the pages which barely changes from time to time. So some smart people quickly realized what if we can generate a static HTML version of the webpage and with some smart programming, whenever someone will try to access that page, if we have a cache version of the web page we will return the static HTML version of it instead of asking PHP to regenerate the HTML for each request.
Though the idea was very smart, quickly it started creating new issues mainly for some pages that always have dynamic content, and caching them is not possible. The problem got even more critical when instead of a whole page being dynamic, some parts of the webpage are. So, things became even more critical. Now as time passes, more and more caching plugins for WordPress started emerging and though all of them were free, they started competing with each other.
Finally, we got some very well-known WordPress caching plugins out of this fight like WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache, etc. For a long period of time, these plugins were the standard for WordPress caching plugin, but one of the major problems with the free plugins were and will always be providing timely support and updating the codebase as there is no monetary benefit to doing so. This is why over many years many beautiful plugins simply got forgotten as the owner didn’t update them.
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Introducing Premium WordPress Caching Plugins
While some smart hobby programmer was building new WordPress caching plugins and releasing them for free, some smart business people saw the extreme need for a good caching plugin in the WordPress world and even greater support. So, they quickly realized we can simply make things premium and ask people to pay for the services instead of making them free. In this way, they will make money as well as have a financial incentive to provide good support and constantly keep the plugin updated.
This wasn’t too hard as by this time there were so many caching plugins out there that you can just take a bit of code from each one and you got yourself a plugin. We know we’re extremely oversimplifying things but the point we were trying to make is, not much R&D was needed to make these so-called premium plugins, at least to begin with.
Anyways, finally, these "Premium" WordPress caching plugins started to pop up on the internet and people started buying them like hot cake. Seeing this, many other companies tried to make their version of “Premium” WordPress caching plugins and make a boatload of money from it.
What’s so premium about these plugins?
If you dig deep, you will see the only premium thing about a “Premium” WordPress caching plugin is the premium support you receive from the plugin creators. On top of that, you are also supporting the company to add and update new features to the plugin. That’s it.
If you take a premium WordPress caching plugin and try to replicate the same using let’s say 3 different free plugins, the only difference you will feel are:
- The premium plugin has a much more polished and bug-free codebase.
- If your website breaks for some reason, you will get no help if you are using the free plugins.
Our Experience with WordPress caching plugins
In our years of WordPress development, we have used almost every WordPress caching plugin, be it free or premium. In fact, we really loved a few of them. But though we used them in past on our client websites for implementing page caching and other things, we no longer use them anymore on any of our websites. We know that you must be intrigued to know why that is, the short answer is Cloudflare.
Cloudflare vs WordPress Caching Plugins
When you install a WordPress plugin on your website, it basically gets added as another list of instructions the PHP has to run before giving the final result. Now even for the initial request, the PHP needs to work hard to generate all the caching versions of the pages and then from the next request check if it has the caching version of the page stored or not. If it has the caching version then pass the cached HTML page else generate it.
So, you can see some low-level PHP work is still involved when you are using a WordPress caching plugin. Moreover, imagine this, your website is hosted in the USA and someone from India is trying to access your website. First, the request needs to travel from all across the world and reach your server. Then your server will check what to do and finally come back with a response. Now for a single webpage, this back-and-forth connection between you and the server can happen multiple times. So, your users see nothing but a slow website.
You can fix this problem by paying for a premium CDN service and storing your cached pages in a CDN, but this not only increases complexity but also cost extra money. So, let’s look at Cloudflare and how it handles your WordPress page caching better than a WordPress caching plugin.
Cloudflare is not a plugin, it is a SaaS
The first thing you need to understand about Cloudflare is that it is not a plugin it is a SaaS, so it does not sit with your other PHP codes and ask the server to compile its code before deciding what to do. Instead, if you use Cloudflare, you have to change the nameserver of your domains and point them to Cloudflare so that they have access to your site at the DNS level.
Fun Fact: Even if you don’t want to use Cloudflare for handling your website caching, you should still use Cloudflare as your DNS provider as it is the fastest free DNS service in the world.
This way of handling requests gives Cloudflare an extra edge over any plugin you can possibly install on your WordPress site as Cloudflare sits between your server and the visitor. So, when someone accesses your website for the first time, Cloudflare sends the request to your hosting server and lets it do all the work. Then when the hosting server sends a response, Cloudflare cache it for future visitors. Next time when someone accesses the webpage, instead of sending the request to the hosting server, Cloudflare sees that it already has a cache version of it and simply passes that to the visitor without even touching your web server.
Moreover, Cloudflare has a huge CDN network all across the world, in fact, it is the largest CDN network compared to any paid CDN service. So, instead of caching your webpage on a central server, as WordPress cache plugins do, it caches the webpages on their local CDN nodes. So, even if your server is hosted in the USA, as someone from India is trying to access the webpage, there is no need for the request to travel across the world, instead, the cache version of your webpage will be delivered to you from your nearest Cloudflare CDN location. This makes your site load even faster. Finally, Cloudflare is always improving its system with the help of AI and ML to ensure its service is extremely optimized and faster than anything else. This can never be done on a WordPress caching plugin and Cloudflare will always beat them thanks to its advanced page caching algorithm and largest CDN network.
Cloudflare is mostly Free
Another great thing about Cloudflare is that most of its page caching and CDN services are free and you don’t have to pay a penny to use these services. But one of the major problems with Cloudflare's free plan is that you can’t do conditional page caching like what you can do on their paid plans. But with some clever programming on your website can easily resolve this problem and this is the approach we take with all of our client websites to ensure they can use Cloudflare for free while ensuring the static web pages of the website are being cached via Cloudflare.
Cloudflare is more than just page caching or CDN
Though Cloudflare truly has an amazing page caching and CDN mechanism, it has so much more power than just page caching. Cloudflare also has very advanced security features which help to prevent your website from DDOS attacks, spam, and bad bot access. If you opt for their paid plans, you get even more security and optimization features which are really helpful for high-traffic websites.
WordPress is truly amazing and we think one of the best CMS in the world. Also, there are many good caching plugins out there with amazing support. But almost all of them are bloated with too many features and functions that can easily be added with a few lines of code instead of adding a plugin for that. Though many WordPress users and agencies use these "Premium" WordPress cache plugins to speed up the website without understanding the nitty-gritty details of it as it is easy to implement, we suggest you try out Cloudflare instead. As this not only reduces some server load but also will give you better page caching with global CDN support.
We always prefer doing the best even if it takes some extra time to implement it. So, we will continue to take advantage of free Cloudflare instead of overcrowding our websites with plugin after plugin. We truly hope that after reading this article, you will also try out the same and witness the difference yourself.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this matter, please feel free to drop a line in the comment section as we will love to hear your thoughts on this.