What Is cPanel? A Complete Beginner’s Guide


Disclosure: Our content is reader-supported, which means we earn commissions from links on Digital. Commissions do not affect our editorial evaluations or opinions.

If you’ve spent time shopping for web hosting services, you have undoubtedly seen a lot mentioning cPanel. While it is not the only control panel software suite available for web hosting, it is among the most popular. Because of this, many people wonder if they should pick a web host that uses cPanel, or if it would be better to use an alternative.

Taking the time to learn more about cPanel, what it is used for, and why it is so popular will help you make the best decision.

Featured Partners

Featured Partners pay us for placement on our site. When you sign up for one of them using our links, we get paid a small percentage at no cost to you.


For new WordPress sites

Starts at $2.95 per month

  • Guided onboarding
  • Recommended by WordPress
  • 24/7 support


Best security and scalability

Starts at $3.75 per month

  • All types of hosting
  • Enhanced security tools
  • Affordable as you grow


The easiest option

Starts at $2.75 per month

  • Great for absolute beginners
  • Drag-and-drop website builder
  • 150+ free templates

What Is cPanel?

cPanel is a software suite designed to serve as the control panel for managing websites. It is a Linux-based suite offering those who run a website a simple graphical user interface (UI) for performing tasks related to their website.

Some of the many functions you can perform from the cPanel interface include:

  • Install your CMS: With just a few clicks, you can install the CMS of your choice using applications within cPanel. This makes it extremely easy for anyone to start a website, even without coding or technical experience.
  • Schedule website data backups: You can schedule backups and perform recoveries all from one convenient place on your cPanel system.
  • Manage databases: Almost all websites will need a database to function. You can create and manage many types of databases, including SQL, from cPanel.
  • Create sub-domains: You can set up subdomains to host multiple sites on one hosting package.

cPanel is a comprehensive web hosting management suite that lets you perform hundreds of tasks from one interface.

Why Is cPanel So Popular?

Most of the websites in operation today use cPanel. 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.

cPanel is typically sold directly to web hosting companies rather than end customers. Web hosts pay for it and provide it to customers as part of hosting packages.

cPanel has also done a great job updating its software to support the latest web services. This consistent innovation has helped to ensure competitors cannot 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.

Is There a Difference Between cPanel Hosting and Web Hosting?

When shopping for web hosting, it is confusing seeing what is listed as a feature vs. what web hosting service in general is. For example, one hosting company may list some of its packages as “cPanel Web Hosting.” Another may list it as just “Web Hosting.”

Both listings are similar and work well for running most types of websites. cPanel is just one type of control panel used to perform tasks on your hosting server and website. One way to think about it: all cPanel packages will be for web hosting, but not all web hosting packages will use cPanel (though most do).

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 using a 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 as an IP address with cPanel after it. For example, something like

Once you log in, you will see your cPanel dashboard:

The backend of cPanel

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:

  • 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 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 site backups at any time. You can also schedule daily, weekly, or monthly backups to protect your data. 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 extremely easy-to-use option will have your site up and ready for your content in just seconds.

Once you have your site installed and ready to go using the tools above, you can 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 can access this powerful tool.

Is cPanel Free?

Technically speaking, cPanel is not free. But the average person or business who wants to run a website will not have to pay for it. cPanel sells its suite of products to web hosting companies which pay one license fee to offer it to all of their customers. Virtually all web hosting companies provide cPanel to their customers free of charge.

So, while not free, practically speaking, it is for the end-user. The only rare exception to this will be if you want to self-host your website in your data center and use cPanel.

Should I Pick a Web Host That Uses cPanel?

While there are many alternatives to cPanel, there is also a reason why cPanel is the most popular. It makes things easy for users, and since it has been so popular for so long, there is a ton of support documentation, videos, and other resources to help people run websites.

In addition, nearly every web hosting provider offers cPanel options, so it is easy to find excellent service at a great price.

What Are the Best cPanel Alternatives?

cPanel is one of the most widely-used options, with good reason. It makes managing your web hosting environment far easier than it otherwise would be, and is made for Linux, the most popular operating system for web servers.

However, there are several other great control panels for web hosting. For example, Plesk is a control panel suite for Windows-based web servers. There are various other options if, for some reason, you do not want to use cPanel.

FAQs About cPanel

What are the most common cPanel alternatives?

Some known alternatives to cPanel include SPanel, Plesk, InterWorx, DirectAdmin, ISPConfig, and others.

How can I tell if a web host uses cPanel?

Most of them will tell you on their website or within their documentation.

Do all WordPress sites use cPanel?

You don’t need cPanel to install and build a WordPress website; just use another control panel. But cPanel often introduces new features with WordPress users in mind.

What To Do Next

If you decide cPanel web hosting is best, your next step is finding a good hosting company. We recommend Bluehost, HostGator, or Web.com for most people. However, there are dozens of other options out there.

Check out our favorite cPanel hosting providers to see which one’s right for you.

Scroll to Top