The technology world is full of jargon and acronyms and funny words. In this Tech Speak series, we try to explain these in simple terms as well as provide additional information if you want to go deeper.

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Term: Rate Limiting

Oneliner: Rate limiting is a way to control the number of requests a user can make to a server within a certain time frame to help prevent overloading and abuse which ensures greater stability, better performance, and higher security.

Analogy: You can think of rate limiting like having a bouncer at a club who controls how many people can enter each hour to prevent overcrowding and ensure a good experience for those inside the club.

Short description: Computer and web technologies use rate limiting to control how often a user or process can make requests or perform actions such as accessing a website or an API. This helps prevent any single user or process from using too many resources and overloading a system or server. With proper rate limiting, the technology can ensure optimal performance and reliability while also providing a safeguard against malicious requests.

Analogy: You can think of rate limiting being like a popular bakery having a ticketing system, where each customer can only buy a certain amount of baked goods per day, so there's enough for everyone. Such a system helps avoid situations where too many requests might slow down or even bring down a service. In our example, if one customer buys all the baked goods while other customers are waiting to buy some, the shop would likely have to close until they bake more goods they can sell.

Example technologies that use rate limiting: CDNs, cloud hosting, databases, load balancers, and web servers

Example use case: A common use case for rate limiting is to mitigate against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. In this type of cyber attack, a website is flooded with traffic to overload the system resources and bring down the website. Rate limiting can be used to restrict the number of requests per IP address since normal users would have a more reasonable number of requests compared to these malicious bots.

Keep in mind: Rate limiting can be part of many different systems and services from Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) and database systems to web servers and CDNs. Whoever is skilled in that specific technology should understand what type of rate limiting is available and what is best for the website or service built on top of that technology.

What are the benefits of rate limiting?

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Rate limiting provides many benefits for web and network environments:

Resource Protection: By controlling the number of requests handled by a network or server, rate limiting ensures resources are not overwhelmed which is vital for maintaining stability and responsiveness.

API Management: For services with APIs, rate limiting helps ensure APIs are used in compliance with the terms of service.

Bandwidth Reduction: Rate limiting helps reduce bandwidth usage costs by preventing excessive use by a small number of users or applications.

UX Improvement: By minimizing system overloads and supporting better resource distribution, rate limiting can ensure a more consistent and reliable user experience.

Fair Usage: By preventing any single process or user from monopolizing the service, rate limiting ensures resources are more fairly distributed among all users.

Service Scalability: Because resources are better managed and loads are reduced, rate limiting provides better scalability for legitimate traffic.

Security Hardening: Rate limiting helps protect against common cyber attacks such as brute-force login attempts and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks by limiting requests.

What types of technologies implement rate limiting?

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Rate limiting is found in various types of technologies that serve different aspects of managing traffic and system interaction such as:

Why is rate limiting important for online security?

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Rate limiting is an essential component of a comprehensive online security strategy by helping to protect against common attacks and abuses that might compromise the availability and integrity of online services.

API Abuse Control: Without rate limiting, hackers can make excessive API requests, leading to resource overuse and potentially service disruption for legitimate users.

DDoS Mitigation: A common threat to online services are Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, where a website or service is flooded with an overwhelming amount of traffic. Rate limiting helps to mitigate such attacks by capping the number of requests a user or IP address can make in a given time frame and thus preventing the server from being overloaded by too many simultaneous requests.

Brute Force Restriction: Known as “brute force attacks”, hackers try to gain unauthorized access to online systems by rapidly trying different usernames and passwords. Rate limiting restricts the number attempts that can be made, substantially reducing the chances of unauthorized access.

Automated Traffic Reduction: Automated bots can attempt to exploit system vulnerabilities and scrape content, which can cause a heavy server load. Rate limiting helps in finding and blocking automated traffic which typically behaves differently from human user traffic.

Spam Deterrence: Rate limiting can prevent spamming activities in online spaces that allow user content by limiting the frequency of posts or comments from a single user or IP address.

Rate Limiting Resources

Learn more about rate limiting and related concepts by checking out these resources:

About QuantCDN

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