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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 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is cPanel?

    cPanel is the industry standard web hosting control panel software that provides automation tools and a graphical interface for managing your web hosting account. Using control panel software, you can easily manage your website and server administration through your web browser, with little or no technical knowledge required.

  • What can you do with cPanel?

    cPanel comes with a multitude of tools for managing your website, and also allows third parties to create their own tools via the cPanel API. On the cPanel dashboard, you can find tools to create and manage email accounts, manage your website files, backup your data, create and edit databases, and much more. Add-ons like Fantastico, SimpleScripts, and Softaculous allow you to automatically install common web applications, such as WordPress or Drupal, with just one click.

  • Is cPanel easy to use?

    cPanel is known for its intuitive interface. It’s an ideal control panel for beginners to web hosting since its wide array tools can help you to automate many of the tasks of managing a website without requiring technical knowledge.

  • Who develops and owns the cPanel software?

    cPanel is developed and owned by cPanel, Inc., a privately owned company based in Texas. It was first developed in 1997 by developer John Nick Koston, who is now the CEO of cPanel, Inc.

  • Is cPanel free?

    No, cPanel is proprietary software available to purchase for a monthly or yearly licensing fee. However, cPanel is included with most hosting plans at no additional charge.

  • Why is cPanel the industry standard?

    Though there are other control panels available today, when cPanel was first created it was one of a kind. cPanel is still popular today in part because of the multitude of tools and features it offers for managing websites, and because it’s polished and tested software that’s been around for many years. cPanel is easy to use for beginners, and many web hosting customers look for cPanel because they’re accustomed to it, or because they’re unaware of other control panel options.

  • What are the installation requirements for cPanel?

    cPanel must be run on a Linux operating system: either CentOS, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or CloudLinux. Your server should have a 226 MHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, and 40 GB of disk space. Before installing cPanel, you must install Perl on your server.

  • What are the benefits of using cPanel over other hosting control alternatives?

    Because cPanel is so ubiquitous in web hosting, it’s generally easy to find community support, tutorials, and assistance online. cPanel has an intuitive interface and makes many tasks very easy even for non-technical users.

  • Are there any drawbacks to using cPanel?

    Some developers dislike cPanel for various reasons, one being that it stores log files and configurations in non-standard locations, making them difficult to find. Another issue is that cPanel is very difficult to uninstall without completely reformatting your server. In general, cPanel is geared towards automating tasks for beginners or non-technical users. If you’re a system administrator with more advanced technical knowledge and a need for more server control and flexibility, cPanel is probably not the right control panel for you. It can also be pricier than other control panels, and it won’t work with Windows hosting.

  • What’s the difference between cPanel and WHM?

    WHM is a web-based tool that’s often used in conjunction with cPanel. WHM is for server administrators and hosting resellers, and allows them to manage separate hosting accounts, which may each include cPanel. WHM can be used to perform server maintenance as well.

  • How does cPanel compare to Plesk?

    Unlike cPanel, the Plesk control panel works on Windows as well as Linux servers. Plesk also gives you greater control and flexibility, but requires more technical expertise to use. Plesk also combines the functionality of cPanel and WHM together.

  • How does cPanel compare to DirectAdmin?

    DirectAdmin is also a proprietary web hosting control panel for Linux servers. It’s less expensive than cPanel, and is simpler and less resource-intensive than cPanel. However, it lacks many of the features and tools of cPanel. Some server admins prefer DirectAdmin, but if you’re planning on reselling hosting, keep in mind that many hosting clients prefer and expect cPanel as the de facto web hosting control panel, and may not want to use DirectAdmin.

  • What kind of hosting plans does cPanel work with?

    cPanel can be used to manage shared, dedicated server, or VPS hosting plans. It’s included with most shared and reseller hosting plans, and may be installed on dedicated server or VPS hosting plans. Many web hosting companies offer to preinstall cPanel on your dedicated or virtual private server for you.

  • What hosting companies provide web hosting with cPanel?

    Many of the most popular web hosting companies provide cPanel with their plans at no additional charge. Some include cPanel without explicitly advertising it on their website, so it’s best to check with the hosting company to clarify which control panel they use if you’re not sure.

  • Can I resell hosting with cPanel?

    Most Linux based hosting reseller accounts allow you to provide cPanel with your web hosting plans. You will generally use WHM to log in and manage your client’s web hosting accounts.

  • Can I uninstall cPanel from my server?

    It depends on your hosting plan. You’ll need complete root access to the server, and basic shared hosting plans don’t generally provide that. However, if you do have complete hosting control, you can remove cPanel by reformatting the server.

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