The most popular domain registrars generally offer “free” DNS service as part of their web hosting package. Most people are fairly happy with this DNS service and usually don’t bother investigating other options. But if your domains are registered and hosted with say, Amazon Web Services (Route 53), or some other vendor that puts a price on DNS queries, you may want to consider free DNS hosting options to save cost.
At zero cost, Cloudflare offers an extremely fast DNS service with great uptime. Cloudflare’s DNS service generally beats what you can get from regular web hosting companies.
This article will explain how to use the free DNS from Cloudflare without also having to use their CDN (Content Delivery Network) or WAF (Web Application Firewall) or any other Cloudflare services.
Why Not Just Use Cloudflare DNS Along With Their CDN Service?
Cloudflare’s primary offerings are their CDN and WAF. They only offer the free DNS service as a prerequisite to using their CDN and WAF services.
Even though Cloudflare’s CDN service is still free for most situations (the full WAF service is only available on the paid plans), you may just not need or want the extra features for your specific use case.
Maybe you already have a traditional CDN with another vendor (e.g. Amazon Cloudfront). Or maybe you manage your own server and have already setup a robust WAF where you have full/granular control. Or perhaps you’re just not excited about the idea of handing over so much control of your web tech to Cloudflare.
In addition, it has been observed that Cloudflare’s CDN has a much higher TTFB (Time To First Byte) than more traditional CDN options like KeyCDN and Cloudfront. This is not a good thing, but it makes sense since Cloudflare is a full proxy service. They add another layer before people hit your origin server.
It can be argued that the performance enhancements you get from the full suite of services Cloudflare provides makes up for their high time to first byte. But if you’re serious about optimization, you still wouldn’t want to settle.
Full page caching is one of such Cloudflare’s services that promises (and usually delivers) a lot of speed improvements. But it has it own issues – it doesn’t work well with the dynamic parts of your website. So, if you have a WordPress eCommerce site for example, the frustrations and complexities of Cloudflare full page caching may not be worth the speed improvements.
Whatever your reason for not wanting the extra Cloudflare services, as we shall see, it is certainly possible to use the free DNS from Cloudflare without having to also use the extra features they provide.
Getting Cloudflare’s Free DNS (And Nothing Else)
Step 1: Login to your Cloudflare account and from the homepage, press the “Add a Site” button. Then enter the name of the domain you want to add.
Step 2: You will be asked to select a plan. Choose the free plan.
Step 3: Now Cloudflare will automatically scan and add your existing DNS records. Manually check the auto added records (if any) to confirm that they are correct. And for any DNS records that the automatic process did not grab, enter them manually.
IMPORTANT: When adding your A (or optional AAAA) records, make sure they are marked with the gray cloud (“DNS resolution only: Bypasses Cloudflare”). This is how you ensure you get DNS only and bypass the Cloudflare network and all of their other services.
Step 4: At this point you will need to point your nameservers to Cloudflare. When you click on the newly added site from the Cloudflare homepage, you will see the new Cloudflare nameservers with which to replace your existing nameservers at your domain registrar.
After changing your nameservers, going forward, you will manage all your DNS records (SPF, TXT, MX, CNAME records, etc) directly within Cloudflare.
Step 5: Go to the overview tab of your newly added website. Scroll down to the Advanced section and press “Pause Cloudflare on Site”.
This will further ensure that your site on Cloudflare only uses the free DNS from Cloudflare without CDN, WAF, or any of the other Cloudflare services.