Update Feb 2018 – We’ve completely rewritten this article for accuracy (and thanks to commenters for pointing out that the 7-year-old post needed updates).
When it comes to managing the server for your website, you are probably looking for something that lets you do what you need to do with as little hassle and complication as possible.
This most likely means opting a control panel of some type, even though all the server-related tasks you need to do can be completed via a command line interface.
Some web hosts include a control panel with its web hosting packages, but in other cases, you might have to purchase one as an add-on. Two popular and commonly-offered control panel options are cPanel and Plesk.
These two tools are the dominant players in the server management market, so you can assume they are both good — but how do you choose between the two? How are they alike? How are they different?
Many web host providers include a control panel with their shared hosting plans, and you generally do not get to choose which option you get.
However, by opting for a more premium web hosting option, such as a virtual private server (VPS) or a dedicated server, you do get to choose your control panel. As such, this article focuses mainly on users with VPS hosting plans or dedicated servers.
We will cover the similarities and differences between cPanel and Plesk so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to buy.
Control Panels Overview
In general, control panels (regardless of which specific option you choose) tend to come with a common set of features for you to manage your server and web hosting environment. These features include:
- Domain name and IP address management (managing your current names, registering new ones, and so on)
- Email management
- File transfers using FTP
- Online file system management and access
- Database management
- Backup file creation
- Extensibility for third-party tools
Note that there are some features to be considered “client-facing,” while others are administrative in nature. We’ve created the following table to lists out tasks as they are generally categorized to give you an idea of what the split looks like:
|Client-Facing/Front-End Tasks||Administrative Tasks|
|Edit files||Manage credentials to access the control panel|
|Create new email inboxes||Set up nameservers|
|Manage databases||Create custom hosting packages (for resellers)|
With that said, let’s take a high-level look at the cPanel and Plesk.
According to cPanel, someone uses cPanel to create a domain every six seconds and a hosting account every 14.5 seconds.
There are many reasons for this. cPanel boasts that its product is “built for everyone,” and its robust, worldwide setup means that they have the infrastructure necessary to provide the reliable, quality service its customers want.
Regardless of whether you want to make a simple change in the middle of the night or implement a major overhaul during the day, you can be assured that your cPanel will be available.
cPanel is a Linux-based tool (so it is not an option for you if your server is running Windows or any other operating system) that separates out the things you can do into three categories:
- Actions available to administrators
- Actions available to web hosting resellers
- Actions available to end-user website owners
In addition to the typical server system administration functionality (such as backup creation, file management, and resource usage analysis) you expect from a control panel, your cPanel account integrates with many third-party products so that you can manage multiple website-related tools in one place.
Sometimes you’ll see cPanel mentioned with WHM. cPanel is the “client-facing” product, or the one you use to do things like edit your website’s files, create new email accounts, or manage your databases.
WHM (which stands for Web Host Manager) is the administrative tool used to manage multiple cPanel accounts — if you have more than one website, you will likely have more than one cPanel, which you then manage using WHM.
Plesk bills itself as a tool designed to help you “build, secure, and run your apps and websites” in a simple manner. The company is a bit younger than cPanel (cPanel was initially released in 1996, and Plesk was first shipped in 2001).
The Plesk panel is very similar to cPanel and WHM (you can think of Plesk as something that can replace both these products). Unlike cPanel, Plesk is cross-platform and runs on Windows Server (as well as several different Linux distributions), so if you opt for Windows-based hosting, you most likely will end up using Plesk.
Like cPanel/WHM, Plesk allows you to complete the server system administration tasks for your server, as well as integrate with third-party tools so you can manage multiple aspects of your website in one location.
However, do note that you get both the “client-facing” functionality and the administrative functionality in one location, so you get a more powerful experience at the expense of a streamlined interface.
Plesk considers itself to be a complete “WebOps” server control panel, which means that you will get strong website and server security, the ability to manage multiple servers using one control panel, a large amount of flexibility and control, and extensibility so that you can create a Plesk implementation that does exactly what you need it to do.
A Note About Migrations
In this article, we are assuming that you are starting a website from scratch and do not currently use either cPanel or Plesk.
This is because migrating a site from Plesk to cPanel (or vice versa) is very difficult, whereas migrating from one Plesk instance to another (or from one cPanel instance to another) is relatively easy.
If you are determined to switch products, you can certainly do so — just don’t expect the process to be easy and expect to do a majority of the work required to transfer your website yourself.
Control Panel Differences – Things to Consider
Given the similarities between the two options, how do you make the decision between cPanel and Plesk?
In the following sections, we will cover feature differences, such as the actual feature sets, control panel layout, and level of control you have over your website. This is probably the information that you will find most helpful when it comes time to make your decision.
cPanel is a Linux-based program, so you will need to run one of the following supported operating systems if you want to use cPanel:
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
- Amazon Linux
From 2011 to 2014, users had free access to cPanel Enkompass for Windows, which is a Windows web hosting panel for cPanel. However, this is no longer an option for new accounts.
Plesk, however, is a cross-platform program that runs on multiple operating systems. They include:
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
- Virtuozzo Linux
- Windows Server
However, you do have to purchase the Plesk option for the specific operating system you are using — there is no option to purchase one software suite that you can then use on multiple machines running different operating systems.
For most people, the operating system is not a deciding factor between the two, since most web hosting is done on Linux machines (and therefore both options are available) — other features offered by these two are much more important.
However, if you use any other operating system, be sure to check the product’s compatibility with the operating system you are using.
As we stated above, both products will come with the features you need to manage your website and server effectively. The biggest differences, therefore, come with the extensibility offered.
Extensibility describes the process of adding optional features or integrating third-party tools to modify the amount of control you exert over your environment.
For example, if you are using Plesk, you can easily integrate with Git for version control or Docker for development containers that isolate a subset of your code.
If you need support for commonly-used tools, such as WordPress or Virtualmin (a tool to manage multiple hosts using one cPanel or Plesk instance), you can opt for either since both will support such integrations.
Similarly, if you just need support for a tool and not a specific tool (for example, you might need a shopping cart, but you are not particularly loyal to any particular shopping cart), you will find that both can meet your needs.
Where cPanel and Plesk control panels begin to diverge in terms of the feature set is in terms of extensibility and the integrations supported.
For example, if you use Docker for some of your hosting needs, Plesk is certainly the option for you, since you will need to do a lot of hands-on tweaking of cPanel if you choose to go that route.
User Experience and User Interfaces
We think that both the Plesk and cPanel control panels offer modern, aesthetically-pleasing, and user-friendly user interfaces.
However, if you are less comfortable with control panels and server management, you might find Plesk’s more streamlined approach friendlier (that’s not to say that cPanel is difficult to use, because it is not).
Plesk simply groups similar features together, so you do not have to wade through a large number of options before finding the one for which you are looking.
We do want to mention that cPanel allows you to customize your control panel to some extent, so you can easily create your own categories of features to make navigation easier.
If you want to access your control panels from a mobile device, both companies offer apps for the iOS and Android environments.
Finally, we want to note that purchasing and installing control panels does not mean that you cannot use the command line; both options allow you to manage your server this way if you choose.
Price and License Options
cPanel offers three main pricing plans; Solo, VPS, and Dedicated
- cPanel Solo – $15 / month
- cPanel & WHM VPS – starting at $20 / month
- cPanel & WHM Dedicated – starting at $45 /month
You can pay on a month-to-month basis, or you can choose to pay upfront for a one, two, or three years’ worth of service in exchange for a discount on your fees. The longer your contract, the bigger your discount, so those opting for the three-year contract will pay the least on average.
cPanel also offers volume discounts, which might appeal to you if you are running multiple websites (and therefore need multiple control panels) or are a web host reseller.
Plesk offers 3 editions, each with two options: one for those with VPS plans and one for those with dedicated servers.
- Web Admin – $10 / month
- Web Pro – starting at $15 /month
- Web Host – starting at $25 /month
The features that come with each edition vary, so review the descriptions carefully to make sure that you are purchasing the option that best fits your needs.
You can choose to pay for your plan on a month-to-month basis, or you can pay upfront for an extended contract in return for a discount. Plesk also offers partner pricing, which may be of interest to those needing multiple control panels or are using a reseller hosting plan.
Both companies offer award-winning support.
If you ever have any questions, comments, or concerns, both the cPanel and Plesk support teams are available to assist you.
The Plesk team is available 24/7,
while the cPanel team is available:
- Monday through Friday from 6 AM to 6 PM Central Standard Time (GMT – 6)
- Saturday and Sunday from 6 AM to 4 PM Central Standard Time (GMT – 6)
You can assume that most major Windows- or Linux-based web server/website administrative suites come with all the features you need to manage your hosting account and website. Plesk and cPanel are no different.
However, these two products are not identical, so when it comes to making a decision on whether you will purchase Plesk or cPanel, there are several things you should consider:
- Migration experience
- User experience/user interfaces
- Feature sets
Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with either option.
If you are using one or the other already, we recommend staying with that product.
If you are starting from scratch using a non-Linux hosting environment or you want something that is as easy-to-use as possible, we recommend Plesk over cPanel.
If getting the most bang for your buck is your top criterion, we recommend cPanel.