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What is cPanel?

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 a hosting control panel. It allows you to change the settings on your account, set up email accounts, add domains, and more. cPanel also makes it relatively easy to create backups of your account, and move all of your data from one hosting provider to another.

  • Is cPanel free?

    Hosting accounts purchase cPanel licenses, and they pass the cost onto customers. On shared hosting plans, you probably won't have to pay extra for it. On VPS and dedicated server plans, you may be asked to cover the cost of the license yourself.

  • What can you do with cPanel?

    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 more. Some hosts create their own add-ons for cPanel to increase its functionality.

  • Is cPanel easy to use?

    Yes. cPanel is easy for beginners to get to grips with. You don't need technical knowledge to use the most common features, and there's plenty of help material on the World Wide Web. cPanel is practically identical on every host, so once you know how to use it, you won't have to re-learn it.

  • 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. Sometimes there's an additional license fee for this.

  • 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.

  • Why is cPanel so widely used?

    cPanel is just one of many control panels available for hosting users, but cPanel is the most common and established. That's partly because of the comprehensive tools it offers, and because it’s also very reliable and intuitive.

    It’s generally easy to find community support, tutorials, and assistance for cPanel.

    Perhaps the most

  • Aren't all web hosting control panels the same?

    No. Control panels vary considerably in terms of the features and interface they offer. cPanel is widely regarded to have the best of both, although some people do have a personal preference for another control panel.

  • How does cPanel compare to Plesk?

    Unlike cPanel, the Plesk control panel works on Windows as well as Linux servers. Plesk arguably provides more control over certain features, but it isn't as intuitive. One positive aspect of Plesk is that it can be used to manage accounts and server settings, so there's no need to install any other software if you plan to resell.

  • How does cPanel compare to DirectAdmin?

    DirectAdmin is a competing control panel for Linux servers. It’s less expensive than cPanel, it's simpler, and it's not as resource intensive as cPanel. But DirectAdmin lacks many of the features and tools in cPanel.

    Also, many hosting clients prefer and expect cPanel, partly because it's so common and many hosting users already know how it works.

  • What’s the difference between cPanel and WHM?

    WHM is often used in conjunction with cPanel. WHM is for server administrators and hosting resellers, and allows them to create multiple hosting accounts, and manage settings on their VPS or dedicated server.

    cPanel just controls the settings on one hosting account.

  • Are there any drawbacks to using cPanel?

    Some developers and hosting providers have reservations about the way cPanel stores data. These won't affect you as a hosting user.

    If you're a system administrator, you probably already know that cPanel is too basic to do everything that you need to do. But many hosts give you the option of installing a different control panel, if you find cPanel restrictive.

    Perhaps the biggest drawback of cPanel is that it doesn't work on Windows hosting accounts.

  • Why do some hosts refuse to migrate non-cPanel accounts?

    If you're planning to move from one host to another, you need a really easy way to grab all of your account data. cPanel makes this very simple. Your host can seamlessly transfer all of your site content, databases, mailboxes, and preferences at once.

    With other control panels, this isn't quite so simple. Some don't have any export options at all, and the ones that do will produce an export file that is incompatible with cPanel. When you consider that cPanel is the most common control panel on shared hosting accounts, this can present a problem for hosting providers, because they have to move everything manually.

    cPanel to cPanel transfer is therefore very efficient, and has a very low risk of data loss. It's quick and easy for hosts to transfer cPanel customers, which is why they often provide free migration.

  • Can I uninstall cPanel from my server?

    If you have a VPS, your host may allow you to uninstall the control panel software. However, it might not help you to install an alternative. If you have a dedicated server, you should be able to install whatever control panel software you prefer.

  • 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.

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