How To Choose a Web Hosting ProviderThere are many things that you need to take care of when running a website. While most of the focus is on creating the content and designing the site, you also need to handle various ‘back end’ tasks. These include scheduling data backups, creating email addresses, installing WordPress (and other content management systems), and more.
For the majority of websites today, these tasks are generally done through a program called cPanel. This serves as the ‘control panel’ for many different aspects of your site.
Despite the fact that cPanel is used on millions of sites every day, it is not always very easy to understand. This is largely because it is such a comprehensive program that can perform so many different functions. Fortunately, for most people who just want to build and run a website, it is actually pretty simple once you learn a bit about how it works. In this beginner’s guide to cPanel, you will get answers to questions such as:
- What Exactly is cPanel?
- Why is it Important for Web Hosting?
- Why is cPanel So Popular?
- How Do You Access and Use cPanel?
- What Essential Tasks are Performed Through cPanel?
- What Alternatives to cPanel are there?
What is cPanel? Why is it Important for Web Hosting?
cPanel is the most popular control panel used in web hosting today. Just about every web hosting company will offer cPanel as an option for your site, and for many, it is the only type of control panel software they support. To put it simply, cPanel is the front-end portal that allows you to interact with the actual web server. It is also the tool used to perform a variety of key tasks associated with your website. Without cPanel (or some alternative options), it would be virtually impossible for the average person to run a website.
One thing to note is that cPanel is used for Linux-based hosting platforms. If you need a Windows-based web server, the chances are that you will use a control panel called Plesk. While the Windows operating system from Microsoft is dominant when it comes to personal computers, it is much less common for web hosting, where Linux is the ideal choice for the vast majority of websites.
Why is cPanel So Popular?
Most of the websites in operation today use cPanel. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 90% of the websites are using this program. It was one of the earliest successful interfaces that gave users an easy way to manage different tasks necessary for successfully running a site. The fact that it offered a graphical user interface (GUI) helped it to catch on quickly.
In addition, rather than trying to sell the cPanel software directly to website owners, they offered it to web hosting companies directly so they could pay for it and provide it to their customers as part of their hosting packages. This ended up being a great system for cPanel, the hosting companies, and website owners.
cPanel has also done a great job at keeping its software updated to support the latest web services. This consistent innovation has helped to ensure competitors are unable to overtake their market share. Most people are very happy with the performance of cPanel, which makes it critical for all good hosting companies to offer it as an option.
How Do You Access and Use cPanel?
When you sign up for a new hosting package, your web hosting provider will give you a link to access your cPanel for the first time. They will also provide your temporary ID and password, which you will want to change.
While every hosting company does it a little differently, most of the time, the link will come in the form of an IP address with cPanel after it—for example, something like https://192.168.1.1/AccountName/cPanel.
Once you log in, you will see something similar to this image, which was provided by the popular hosting company, A2Hosting:
The options listed in the image above are just a few of the more commonly used tools. While very few people will use all of the different functionalities included in cPanel, there are some specific items to be familiar with when starting out:
- Databases – Most websites will require a database to handle the information, and that typically means using MySQL. To create the database for your website, you can simply select one of the options available (MySQL Database Wizard is generally the simplest) and walk through their instructions.
- File Manager – File Manager is a simple tool that will make it easy to upload, download, or otherwise manage various files you may need for your site. This tool looks and functions much like the Windows Explorer tool most people know, except you will be moving files from your local system to your web hosting server.
- Site Backup – cPanel has an easy-to-use backup tool that will let you perform full backups of your site at any time. You can also schedule daily, weekly, or monthly backups to ensure your data is protected. This is also where you would go to restore your site should something happen to it.
- Softaculous for cPanel – Softaculous is a tool that allows you to install any of dozens of different tools onto your hosting server. Most commonly, it is used to install WordPress, which is used to build your website. This is an extremely easy-to-use option that will have your site up and ready for your content in just seconds.
Once you have your site initially installed and ready to go using the tools above, you will be able to access cPanel using a different link than the one initially provided by your hosting company. By default, cPanel will be accessible using a link in this format: https://YourSite.com/cPanel.
From there, you will be required to enter your ID and password. While not required, it is a best practice to enable additional security such as two-factor authentication to help ensure no hackers are able to access this powerful tool.
What Alternatives to cPanel are there?
For most people, cPanel is going to be the easiest and best control panel tool for their website. If, however, you want to avoid cPanel for some reason, there are some alternatives out there that also do a good job. While some web hosting companies will provide you with access to one of these alternative options, most will not give you direct support for them.
This means you will need to have a hosting package that allows you to install a new control panel (typically, this means a VPS hosting package or above), and you will need to know how to use these tools. In addition, many of these alternatives will not be free since your hosting company does not provide them.
While not generally recommended for those who are just getting started with running a website, it can be good to be aware of these other options:
- Plesk – As mentioned above, Plesk is a good option that is designed specifically for Windows web servers.
- RunCloud – This is a control panel designed for cloud-based hosting environments. It is primarily for PHP-based websites, which are very popular. This option will cost you between $6.67 and $45 per month, depending on your specific needs.
- Moss – Moss is marketed as a ‘virtual systems admin,’ and they try to make it as easy to use as possible. Most tasks can be completed automatically with just a few clicks. They also offer expert support to help ensure everything is done right. Depending on what services you need from them, Moss is anywhere from free to $49 per month for each license.
- SpinupWP – SpinupWP is a control panel that was created specifically for WordPress-based websites. It does pull out many of the functionalities of cPanel that are not necessary for WordPress users, which makes it less intimidating for some users. While simple, it does cost $12 to $39 per month.
These are just a few examples of the various cPanel alternatives that you can choose from. There are many others out there as well, and more being developed all the time for those who are not fans of the cPanel.
Is cPanel Right for Your Website?
Now that you have a basic understanding of what cPanel is and what it can do, you will need to decide if it is the right option for you. In most cases, trying to pick which software is right for a given situation can be challenging. However, when choosing a control panel for your website, that is not the case. Unless you are a professional web developer or expert in the field, cPanel really is the ideal choice in almost all situations.
The one exception to this is if you have to use a Windows Server-based hosting, Plesk is the right way to go. Since Linux-based web hosting offers huge advantages for the majority of websites, however, that is going to be pretty rare. With this in mind, most people will want to stick with cPanel.