What Is cPanel And Why Do I Need It?

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about cPanel. As a web developer I’ve been hearing these questions from people new to the industry who are usually interested in controlling and managing their own website. Typically they’ve registered recently with a host provider and would like to have a website built for them. Inevitably they hear of cPanel (or have it as part of their host account) and have looked around on it but are overwhelmed with the number of features, confused about what all that is, and more importantly, why they need it.

One way to look at cPanel is that it’s nothing more than a control panel used to manage your hosted account, similar in the way the windows control panel works. It is deployed by the majority of hosting providers and in a basic fashion allows you to access applications such as file manager, email manager, and database tools through an easy to use web interface. The true spirit of cPanel is to allow people to manage their website with little fuss while providing as much control as possible. In doing so, users will have access to a conglomeration of tools depending on the access level, which cPanel happens to have three of. cPanel implements a 3-tiered structure for administrators, resellers, and end-users. With the majority of people falling under the end-user category, the focus here will be primarily on the features available to them.

cPanel is meant to be a one stop shop for maintaining your site and server, and it is. With the range of features, ease of use, and control it offers, there’s really no reason you would want anything else (not that you have many options). As a developer, I sometimes consider cPanel my right-hand man, and with that there are some common tools I use everyday (or hour) that I’d like to discuss:

  • File manager – this is one of my favorites due the simplistic power of the tool. It works just like the windows version we’re accustomed to, but all within the browser interface you can upload, download, browse, move, copy, delete, rename, edit files, and more including the changing of file permissions.
  • Statistics – here’s another great tool. The obvious point of putting up a website is generating traffic. Whether it for monetary reasons or just plain fun, it’s great to see people looking at your window to the world. cPanel offers a range of statistical tools which will provide visitor information that includes everything from the page visited to the user’s ip address. For the server-side of things a bandwidth tool can be activated to show graphical charts on how and when your bandwidth assigned to the site is being used.
  • Fantastico or Simple Scripts – either of these tools are used randomly depending on the host provider. What they offer is the ability to install applications literally with a few clicks of a button. For example, you can install the ever popular WordPress, or Joomla content management systems with no technical knowledge at all. These products allow the predefined look-n-feel so that users and developers can focus on what matters most, good quality content. In recent years the developer and user communities for these CMS’s in particular have exploded to provide the public with thousands of plugins to help in managing everything from video to product content.

These are arguably some of the most commonly used features of cPanel, and some of my personal favorites. Still, there are more worth mentioning that many people will make use of and therefore, can benefit from a bit more knowledge of.

  • Email manager – this tool gives you the power to manage email accounts allowing you to add and remove account at will. In the realm of email management you can also create autoresponders which will respond by sending a custom email when a message is received by that particular email account.
  • Application installer – many have a need for forums or ecommerce functions. cPanel provides installers for all kinds of applications from shopping carts to forums.
  • Data backup – one of the most commonly overlooked procedures I’ve found over the years is the lack of data backups. This tool allows you to backup your entire server or segments of data. You can use it for immediate backups or schedule backups to run on a regular basis. You then have options of storing the data locally in a zip file or on your hosted server.
  • Database tools – while not used often by the average user, developers and administrators heavily rely on database access tools like phpMyAdmin or database creator tools to perform heavy duty work on databases you might have.
  • Protection tools – cPanel offers tools for spam filtering to keep your accounts clean, but on a deeper level the cPanel distribution is always running with the latest protection tools and security upgrades. Upgrades to the PHP application security model and a new tool to prevent cross-site request forgery are examples of this.

This is, in a nutshell, what cPanel is all about, and there are many more features worth exploring. Why it’s important to you depends on your involvement in managing your site. As you can see, cPanel can give you superman type control over your site and with that comes a bit of self-satisfaction. Knowing that you can control practically every bit of your website and how it’s being hosted delivers some great piece of mind and empowerment. Having some introductory insight into the features of cPanel will provide the confidence you need to hit the ground running.

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