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Whether you're a novice or an experienced webmaster, the control panel on your hosting account is the key to a smooth, easy experience. Across the industry, cPanel has become almost industry-standard. But is it right for you? And what about the competition?

Why is cPanel So Popular?

The cPanel control panel was originally developed for a web hosting company hat offered Linux hosting. It allowed hosting customers to manage elementary parts of their hosting service, such as their FTP logins and email addresses. The software has evolved over 15 years and outlived a spinoff product, WebPanel, thanks to its friendly user interface and simple navigation.

There are a few big bonuses for hosts that deploy cPanel:

  • They can distribute generic help documentation and don't need to develop as much help in-house
  • Customers can transfer their knowledge when moving from host to host
  • cPanel stops web hosting customers from doing anything risky or prohibited
  • WHM and cPanel work beautifully together, so the host can use the combination of both on server based hosting accounts, giving users a consistent experience
  • WHM and cPanel are secure if properly managed

Hosting customers like cPanel because:

  • It's super easy to navigate
  • The experience is the same on almost every host
  • Technical tasks have a very simple graphical interface
  • Built in help stops you from doing anything you shouldn't do
  • You spend more time on your website, and less on the admin behind it
  • It can do all kinds of things you wouldn't expect

cPanel can also be used as a platform for bolt-ons. The most common is Fantastico, a script library that offers hundreds of applications for one-click install. Fantastico takes all the hassle out of setting up and deploying applications like WordPress, phpbb, Joomla and OScommerce.

Are Custom Control Panels Bad?

Not necessarily. Many hosts develop very usable, user-friendly control panels. DreamHost is a good example.

There are two main challenges for customers when it comes to custom control panels:

  1. What is the learning curve going to be like? When you move hosts, and the two control panels are different, it's going to take you a while to get used to the differences. That can make ordinary administration much slower and more cumbersome after the switch.
  2. Can you export content from your old site? Databases and files aren't usually a problem, but it's far more difficult to export cPanel settings (such as email addresses and FTP accounts) to a completely different control panel. Often, it's impossible, and you'll need to recreate everything by hand.

Some custom control panels are well designed and very functional. Some are ugly and difficult to use. Whatever the control panel may be, give it a test drive before you commit to a contract with the host.

What About Plesk?

The main competitor to cPanel is arguably Plesk. Some customers are fans of cPanel; some swear by Plesk. The two applications do more or less the same thing, so if you can work in both, it's a bonus.

We wrote an article comparing the main differences between cPanel and Plesk. As a primer:

  • Plesk is available for Windows and Linux; cPanel is Linux-only
  • Plesk contains server admin options, if your account permits it. In cPanel, you don't have any, since these tools are deployed separately in WHM
  • The two control panels look completely different, making it difficult to move from one to the other
  • You can't export content from Plesk to cPanel, or vice versa

It doesn't matter whether you use cPanel or Plesk as long as you're comfortable with the choice. Just don't walk blindly into a hosting contract without checking which one you'll get.

Alternatives to cPanel

If you have root access to your server or VPS, you can install anything you like, and there's no reason to be limited to cPanel. If you're willing to experiment, there are all kinds of control panels, and many of them come without the license fee that cPanel attracts. We've blogged about cPanel alternatives that you might like to try.

cPanel Frequently Asked Questions

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