Heroku + SSL = Expensive?

If you use Heroku, you probably know a couple things:

  1. You can’t use an apex domain for your site (unless you use a DNS service that emulates ALIAS / ANAME records).
  2. Using your own SSL certificate costs $20/month.

I’m going to solve both of these problems with one stone: AWS CloudFront.

AWS CloudFront is a content delivery network — think of it as a proxy, distributed around the globe. It’s usually used for static content that can be cached for long periods of time, but we’re going to use it for dynamic (or semi-dynamic) content today.

Point CloudFront to your *.herokuapp.com domain, then assign CloudFront the domain of your choice (in the “Alternate Domain / CNAME” field). You can then upload your SSL certificate. CloudFront supports something called SSL Server Name Indication — SNI for short. Remember those days where each server serving a separate SSL certificate had to be on a different IP address? No more — SNI lets the same server on the same IP serve multiple SSL certificates at the same time.

Now, add the “Host” header to “Whitelist Headers”, and you’re ready to go.

Wait. How do you wire CloudFront, which uses dynamic IPs, up to the apex domain? Fortunately, AWS has you covered. Route 53, the DNS service that AWS provides, has an ALIAS feature for resources in your AWS account (CloudFront, Elastic Load Balancer, S3, etc).

For low-traffic sites, this will almost always work out to be less than $20/month.

My preliminary experience with using this setup has been quite good for a mostly-static site, but performance suffered when with user sessions. CloudFront excels at serving cached content — it’s not so fast on cache misses. YMMV.

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