The Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting Control Panels

A web hosting control panel is a web-based interface provided by a web hosting service that allows users to manage their servers and hosted services. Web hosting control panels usually include numerous additiona modules to help you control your hosting environment easier.

Web hosting control panels are a key tool for managing your account and your website. Which ones your prospective hosts offer may even influence which company you choose to supply your server. Gaining a firm understanding of the most popular choices should make your decision a bit easier.

You can find lots of panels on the internet. All of them have different design and scope of features. In this article the Fastdot team will describe the most commonly used and comfortable panels.

An Introduction to Web Hosting Control Panels (And Why They’re Important)

Web hosting control panels provide you with an interface and suite of tools that make interacting with your website’s server much more accessible. Most of the time, which solution you use is determined by your hosting provider.

Before web hosting control panels, most website and server management tasks required a great deal of technological know-how. This presented a significant barrier for many people.

While there are many control panels on the market, there are some features you can expect no matter which software your host provides. Some standard functions include:

  • Website and domain management
  • Access to branded email accounts
  • Reporting for key metrics
  • Some security features
  • Database setup and management
  • Software and app installation

In addition to these standard features, some control panels come with additional functionality. You’ll also find differences in layout, impacting how intuitive each platform is to use.

Since you’ll likely spend a decent chunk of time with your control panel, it’s crucial to select the one you’ll be happy with. While the decision primarily comes down to personal preference, it’s wise to become familiar with what each offers.

5 of the Most Popular Web Hosting Control Panels

Control panel is a popular tool used to manage your hosting package. You can do all sorts of things with it: manage your domain names, install applications, create and manage email accounts, upload website’s files etc. Of course, you can do all of this directly by logging to the server. However, this requires some development knowledge. One mistake – and the whole site may be broken. Moreover, web panels are usually intuitive and simple and save your time.

Armed with a basic understanding of what a control panel is and does, let’s have a look at some of the options out there. Keep in mind that it’s somewhat rare to be able to choose which solution your account uses. Once you’ve decided which one you like the best, you’ll be looking for hosting providers that offer it to their customers, unless you happen to be setting up your own server.

1. cPanel

The cPanel web hosting control panel.

The enormously popular Linux-based cPanel is an excellent choice for beginners, thanks to the available wizards and tutorials. You can also access cPanel University if you want to hit the ground running. Its popularity also translates into a large, active community you can turn to if you have questions.

Despite being beginner-friendly, cPanel also offers features more advanced users will appreciate. A wealth of available plugins make this control panel highly customizable, so you can add functionality as your needs change.

cPanel offers one-click WordPress installation by way of the Softaculous installer. It also enables you to set up free SSL certificates for your websites. As long as you have a cPanel account, the certificate will be kept up to date automatically.

cPanel has lots of different features. All of them are located on one page which is quite comfortable as you will not need to click on various menus to get where you need. In addition, all of the features have short descriptions where it’s indicated what they can do. Moreover, almost in each option, you can create anything in a few clicks. Here are the main features offered:

  • Domain name settings, registration, and transfer;
  • Email creation and management, spam filters management, auto-responders, and email forwarders set up;
  • Visitor and error logs;
  • Database creation and management;
  • Security features, such as IP blocker, leech protection, and password-protected directories;
  • Server performance monitoring;
  • Backup creation and automation;
  • File manager and FTP users creation;
  • Lots of third-party apps and tools to extend functionality.

While cPanel is a favorite among end-users and hosting providers, you can’t use it on servers running the Windows Operating System (OS). It’s also significantly more expensive than some of the other options, which might translate to higher hosting costs.

2. Plesk

The Plesk web hosting control panel.

Plesk is another heavy-hitter in terms of popularity. This control panel works with both Linux and Windows.

Available for Windows and Linux. It’s also quite popular, especially amongst European hosting providers. Basically, there are not many control panels offered for Windows. That’s why Plesk can be considered as one of the most comfortable and easy panel for this particular OS.

All of the options are divided into different categories. They are displayed in the form of a list on the left side. Multiple servers can be managed in one panel.

The interface is quite simple and intuitive, everything can be created in a few clicks. One of its distinctive features is the variety of automation tools. They will spare your time and resources, so you can focus on your website development and don’t worry about server maintaining.

Another peculiarity of Plesk are the login levels. There are 4 levels. All of them have different permissions and responsibilities:

  • Administrator – the highest level, possible to manage and set up system items as well as manage multiple servers (if applicable);
  • Client/Reseller – possible to create and manage groups of domain names, permissions are given by system administrator;
  • Domain Owner – possible to manage only one domain name, management options are predetermined;
  • Mail User – the lowest level, possible to log in to webmail interface and manage passwords, spam filters etc.

3. DirectAdmin

The DirectAdmin web hosting control panel.

DirectAdmin is an easy-to-use, lightweight control panel for Linux. While it’s not as widely used as Plesk or cPanel, it’s also the least expensive of these three options.

Although DirectAdmin doesn’t ship with Softaculous, you can add the installer via a plugin at an additional cost. You’ll be able to install many apps with a single click.

It’s available for Linux and BSD systems. It is one of the easiest, fastest and most stable panels. Its interface is very user-friendly. Plus, it’s one of the cheapest as well.

All of the options are categorized and located on the top. This control panel also supports multiple access levels: Administrator, User, and Reseller. In addition, it has built-in anti-spam tools. Moreover, it is possible to view the complete usage statistics of each resource. Basically, it has a lot of options and features, such as DNS management, database creation, and management, reseller account creation and management, backup creation, file management etc. But the main peculiarity of this panel is its simplicity. You don’t have to be tech-savvy at all to understand and use it.

 

4. InterWorx

The InterWorx web hosting control panel.

InterWorx provides separate interfaces for server and web admin. NodeWorx enables you to maintain your server, while SiteWorx is where you’ll manage your websites.

While two interfaces may sound intimidating, InterWorx is exceptionally user-friendly. It’s also responsive so that you can manage your sites from your mobile device as easily as from your desktop.

While InterWorx is a solid option, there are a few drawbacks. This control panel is not compatible with Windows. There are also a few versions of Linux, including Ubuntu, that it won’t work with.

5. ISPConfig

The ISPConfig web hosting control panel.

With control panels becoming more expensive over time, some people are opting for free solutions. One of these is ISPConfig, which is an open-source control panel for Linux.

ISPConfig offers multi-server support out of the box, which you’ll probably appreciate if you’re concerned about scalability. It also supports more Linux distributions than cPanel or Plesk.

ISPConfig is well documented, but installing it still isn’t as easy as the other web hosting control panels we’ve covered. If you’re considering a host that offers this solution, it will probably install it for you.

However, if you’re setting up your own server, this is an important factor to consider. Once you have ISPConfig installed, there’s still a pretty steep learning curve. So, while the control panel is free, you may want to purchase the official user manual.

Conclusion

All of the above-mentioned panels have their own peculiarities, pros, and cons. It is quite hard to determine which one is the best. This is a matter of choice. However, these web panels have one common feature: they make managing servers and hosting easier and quicker. That’s why they are a good solution for both beginners and developers.

In this post, we shared five suggestions to help get you started on your search:

  1. cPanel: A popular and beginner-friendly control panel that’s offered by many hosting providers.
  2. Plesk: The most common alternative to cPanel, and the only option we covered that offers support for Windows servers.
  3. DirectAdmin: A low-cost solution that provides robust server and website analytics.
  4. InterWorx: A mobile-friendly control panel for on-the-go management.
  5. ISPConfig: A free, open-source solution that’s best for individuals who are setting up their own servers on tight budgets.
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