2016's Ultimate Guide to Web Panels: cPanel vs. Plesk vs. Webmin vs. Others

The Ultimate Guide to Web Panels

Many folks who need web hosting these days want the simplest method for managing servers. To many, it is expected that graphical-user-interfaces (GUIs) are provided along with hosting. The good news is that many of the best hosts offer top-rated control panels in their plans.

Hosting control panels are web-based interfaces allowing administrators and/or users to manage various server services from the comfort of a web browser.

Below we take a quick look at some of the most popular options that are available and actively maintained. 11 of these projects are open-source and six are proprietary software.

Common Control Panel Features

In general, most control panels implement a common set of features. While most will implement some subset of these, there are a few that include them all.

Web hosting control panel software may provide access to:

  • Domain name system management (web domains, mail domains, etc.)
  • Email system management (email addresses, email quotas, spam prevention, etc.)
  • FTP management (user accounts, password management, file system quotas)
  • Web-based file system access
  • SSH user/key management
  • Database management (MySQL, PostgreQSL, and sometimes other database systems)
  • Backup management
  • Logfile access and reporting
  • Plugin system for configuring additional services and installing apps (e.g., WordPress)

Enterprise Control Panel Features

Some projects also have enterprise features like:

  • Manage multiple servers from one control panel interface
  • (For Hosts) Allow multiple customers to run the control panel software in parallel on a server
  • Service monitoring and alerting
  • A ticketing system for customers
  • IPv6 support

Control Panel Features Matrix

We all know it is easier to see things visually, so we put together a nice table for you to compare all of the control panels and their features quickly. Below the table, we provide some commentary on each piece of software and links to help you investigate further.

Control Panel Reviews Backend Language Open-Source Linux Windows DNS Email FTP Databases ipv6 Multi-Server
cPanel Perl, PHP x x x x x x x
Plesk PHP, C, C++ x x x x x x x x
DirectAdmin PHP x x x x x x
Core-Admin PHP x x x x x
InterWorx PHP x x x x x x x
ISPmanager C++ x x x x x x x
iMSCP PHP, Perl x x x x x x x
Froxlor PHP x x x x x x
Vesta PHP x x x x x x
ZPanel PHP x x x x x x x x
Sentora PHP x x x x x x x
Webmin Perl x x x x x x x x
ISPConfig PHP x x x x x x x x
Ajenti Python x x x x x x
BlueOnyx Java, Perl x x x x x x x
CentOS Web Panel PHP x x x x x x x
Virtualmin PHP x x x x x x x x

These panels’ features are varied. Some panels may be best suited for shared hosting customers, while others are very popular among cloud hosting users. Still, whether you’re running your site on dedicated servers, a VPS, or a shared hosting environment, the usefulness of being able to manage your files, email, apps, et cetera from one intuitive interface is invaluable.

Control Panel Reviews

cPanel

cPanel is the most-used web control panel, cPanel being the web control panel tool for site owners and Web Host Manager (WHM) being the server administrative tool for hosting providers.

Both cPanel and WHM can be considered the most full-featured systems of all. Though cPanel is only supported on Linux, Windows support can be achieved using its Enkompass product or a virtualization setup. The user interface, although easy to use, is definitely not the best among web control panels.

cPanel for Hosting

cPanel WebHost

Plesk

Plesk is a leading control panel in the US that also captures roughly 75 to 80 percent of the European market. Featuring support for a breadth of Linux versions, as well as Windows compatibility, the panel comes in several editions, each tailored for specific hosting use cases.

Screenshot of Plesk interface

The user interface is regarded as a bit cleaner than cPanel, but in terms of features, Plesk and cPanel don’t differ much. Both are in use by big hosting companies (often in a branded form) and many other customers.

Recently, Plesk became an independent company, and they’re passionately focused on keeping up with the ever-evolving Web. The panel’s creators target both hosting newbies and hardcore developers by making server management easy and efficient. The company is also investing heavily on the educational end of things — with content marketing to teach web professionals best practices for running a business online, marketing, and even storytelling.

  • Features
    • Host/OS Agnostic: Plesk can be installed on a wide variety of operating systems and is virtually host agnostic. If you are running any form of a popular Linux version (CentOS, Ubuntu, CloudLinux, etc) or even Windows, you can run Plesk. As an added bonus, you can even run Plesk inside a Docker container found on Docker Hub. This is a strong pull factor differentiating Plesk from cPanel, which only runs on CentOS.
    • Git Integration: In response to a complaint that many web panels don’t offer support for Git, a popular version control system used to track changes and site updates, Plesk added their Gitman extension. The extension is available for Plesk 12.5 and up, with full Git support being pulled into the core in an upcoming Plesk release.
    • Docker Integration: The October 2016 release will also update Plesk’s core to include Docker support — featuring a catalog of over 200,000 Docker images. This will allow you to launch Docker images straight from Plesk without touching the command line.
    • 1-Click SSL Security: Even those who are new to hosting tend to understand the need for SSL security. Unfortunately, it can be a pain to set up and keep up to date. With new services like Let’s Encrypt making it easier and easier to get SSL (TLS) on your site, there is no reason to leave your pages unsecured. Plesk will automatically handle obtaining a certificate and configuring database files to accommodate https-only access for you, so both your web panel and all sites you’re hosting on your server are secured. This will also include niceties like renewing your certificate, running HTTP2, or providing you with security details when your server is under attack.
    • 1-Click WordPress Hardening: An upcoming extension release will allow WordPress hosting customers to entrust their security management to Plesk with a single click. Plesk will then manage plugin updates, bug fixes, and security patches for you.
  • Demo
  • Pricing

For the more dev savvy, the panel features support for numerous PHP versions out of the box, with Ruby, Python, and NodeJS support available via Phusion (or out of the box with Plesk Onyx release). Among the popular Linux distros supported are Ubuntu, CentOS, RHEL, Debian, and CloudLinux, with upgrade support for Ubuntu and Debian.

Plesk screenshot

DirectAdmin

DirectAdmin is a relatively lightweight control panel that supports Linux. It has all of the basic features of a control panel, including support for multi-customer setups. All of the sold licenses are “unlimited domain” licenses.

DirectAdmin

Core-Admin

Core-Admin was designed as a centralized and highly connected solution that provides support for managing multi-servers using a single web administration console. This includes an advanced permission system and monitoring system. There is a “Free Web Edition” that is limited to handle 10 domains.

Core-Admin

InterWorx

InterWorx comes in two package versions: NodeWorx (to manage a server) and SiteWorx (to manage a site). Interworx has a nice plugin system, which allows for quick installs of applications, much like the Softaculous web package manager. InterWorx also has a command line interface.

Interworx

ISPmanager

ISPmanager is a Linux-based, flexible control panel offered by ISPsystem, a leading provider of hosting automation solutions in Russia. For nearly two decades, ISPmanager has grown to become one of the most popular web control panels in Eastern European nations, with rising popularity in other territories. This powerful panel is offered in two editions; both are equipped to handle unlimited domains and users, and can be customized to meet your branding needs.

ISPmanager Lite is designed for managing VPSs and dedicated servers.

ISPmanager Business is ideal for shared or reseller hosting.

ISPmanager is a commercial product with features similar to premium control panels, however, the price point is on the lower end of the spectrum comparatively, so many end users find this option to be a better value. ISPmanager’s rich feature set and affordable cost combination are what make us proud to help introduce the software to the US market.

Screenshot of ISPsystem's control panel - ISPmanager 5

i-MSCP

i-MSCP is open-sourced and aims to be a good multi-server control panel for both personal and professional (i.e., hosting providers) usage. There is no one particularly outstanding facet of this web panel, but there is an active community around it.

i-mscp

Froxlor

Froxlor is an open-source web control panel with a very clean interface. There is IPv6 support, a ticketing system, and an integrated reseller-customer messaging system. It is ideal for ISPs and similar organizations.

Froxlor

Vesta

Vesta is open-sourced and aims to be a simple and lightweight web control panel. It does not support the more enterprise-like features (like multi-server setups), but it does try to place an emphasis on performance by using Nginx for the web panel frontend and Apache for the application backend.

Vesta

ZPanel

Zpanel (hasn’t been updated since March 3, 2014 and may no longer be maintained) is open-sourced and aims to be an “enterprise-class web hosting control panel with support for unlimited resellers.” The interface is compact and highly functional. Zpanel has support for many operating systems, including Linux, Windows, MacOS, and FreeBSD.

zPanel

Sentora

Sentora is a fork of ZPanel. This fork happened after Zpanel’s sale to a US-based company. Sentora brands itself as the “community version” of ZPanel. The team behind Sentora also offers subscription-based, premium support.

Sentora

Webmin

Webmin an open-source web control panel for system administration on Linux/Unix. It has dozens of modules for configuring server services. Their Cloudmin tool is a Webmin-based interface for managing virtual systems, including Xen, KVM, and OpenVZ.

Webmin

ISPConfig

ISPConfig is a popular, open-source web control panel system with good enterprise support. The project claims to have more than 40,000 downloads per month. There is good multi-server, IPv6, and virtualization (OpenVZ) support, which is ideal for ISPs or other corporate environments.

ISPconfig

Ajenti

Ajenti is a Python-based web control panel system, which makes it stand out from all PHP-based panels. Its website claims there are more than 55,000 active users of Ajenti. The interface is very well-designed. Ajento runs on various Linux distributions and FreeBSD.

Ajenti

BlueOnyx

BlueOnyx is an open-source web control panel that only runs on the CentOS and Scientific Linux distributions. Its interface may show its age a bit, but there is good support for multi-user setups among many other features.

BlueOnyx

CentOS Web Panel

CentOS Web Panel is an open-source web panel for the CentOS Linux distribution. It has a solid feature set that can match most of the other web panels, though it lacks multi-server support.

CentOS Web Panel

Virtualmin

Virtualmin is a popular and (mostly) open-source control panel offered in three product versions:

Virtualmin GPL is the core web control panel software with a solid feature set and a pleasant user interface. This product is also available in Webmin module form. Virtualmin offers four methods for managing your server: from the Web, mobile, command line, and through a remote HTTP API.

Virtualmin Professional makes it easier to install and update many other applications (e.g. WordPress, Joomla, Magento, NodeJS) and comes with commercial support.

Cloudmin Professional is a multi-server control panel based on Virtualmin, to enable the building of cloud services for use by enterprises and service providers. Cloudmin has support for Xen, vserver, Solaris Zones, and Amazon EC2 instances.

Virtualmin Open-Source Version

Virtualmin Professional has more advanced application install support features:

V irtualmin Professional Version

Final Note

Hopefully, this quick overview of the top 17 actively-maintained web panels has left you feeling fully prepared to make the best selection when searching for a web panel to meet your personal or professional website management needs.

Before you pick a panel, you’ll need to know what “bucket” of hosting (shared vs. dedicated vs. virtual) best fits your hosting needs. Our Basics Guide will get newbies familiar with what web hosting is and what they need to get started.

Remember, a web panel is just the website owner’s online dashboard for managing apps, files, software add-ons, and more for their site — and many of our experts’ favorite hosting services include fantastic control panels in their packages.

Ryan Frankel

Questions or Comments? Ask Ryan!

Ask a question and Ryan will respond to you. We strive to provide the best advice on the net and we are here to help you in any way we can.

  • elismarluz

    Great post Frankel

    • frankel0

      Thanks! I’m glad you found it helpful.

  • Rob Ludlow

    Wow, this is a fantastic summary of a ton of options… almost TOO many options!

    I’ve had my sites on a VPS with cPanel for about 10 years and am REALLY thinking about moving to DigitalOcean and trying a free web panel alternative.

    I’m finding that I’m drowning in options and information and not sure what path to take. The big issue is that once I move all my sites to a new Web Panel, I don’t want to have to move again since doing so is a total pain / nightmare!

    Ideally, here’s what I’d like to find:

    1. A comparable system to cPanel so I can host multiple “accounts” (websites) as a reseller and give each account access to manage their own sites. I want something rock-solid and a good mix between features/complexity/ease-of-use
    2. Support for “one button install / update” scripts. These make
    managing software and especially keeping family and friend’s installs of WP
    always up-to-date and SUPER easy since I can force upgrade all of them with one
    button. I currently use Softaculous with cPanel integration and it works great!

    I’m leaning toward ispconfig on DigitalOcean, but I’m just not sure that’s the best option.

    Again, thanks for this great writeup, I look forward to your thoughts and hosting advice! 😉

    • Hello Rob,

      Thanks for the comment, you’re welcome for the info! The number of hosting control panels out there can definitely be overwhelming when thinking about which one to choose.

      The good thing about DigitalOcean is that if you wanted to you can create multiple droplets to try out a few panels, or spin up one and destroy it after each use.

      Depending on your specific needs, and your workflow, you might find that you really like one above the rest. ISPConfig sounds like a great candidate for you to give a shot first, especially coming from cPanel and being interested in separating out users as a reseller.

      To get a quick feel for ISPConfig, I’d recommend checking out their online demo before going through the process of installing it yourself if you haven’t already. If you’re use to cPanel, you’ll want to make sure the control panel you go with meets your ease of use needs also.

      ISPConfig also supports Softaculous, so that would meet your second requirement as well:

      https://www.softaculous.com/docs/Installing_Softaculous_in_ISPConfig

      Another option that might do well for you is DirectAdmin, especially since it also has the benefit of a few migrate cPanel to DirectAdmin scripts floating around on the web. It also supports reseller accounts and Softaculous integration, so if you have a lot of accounts to migrate over, it would be a great option for you as well since ISPConfig would be more of a manual migration process.

      After you do decide to stick with one, please feel free to comment here again and share your personal experience with others that are in the same boat of thinking about migrating away from cPanel to an alternative.

    • xyzed

      I’d just stick with cPanel. Being VPS it’s $15ish a month, sites will transfer easily, no changes to customers and it will be there tomorrow. Any security holes are patched quickly compared to free ones that may finally get around to it, if they are there tomorrow. Server administration is pretty easy and cPanel give free support these days for when you can’t work out the problem.

      Otherwise DirectAdmin is a good choice for a cheaper one.

      I’d personally only use a free one for my own/friends sites or people that aren’t paying.

      • Webmin allows import of sites backed up from C-Panel so transfer should be plain sailing

    • Months ago I decided to do the same thing. Moved to DigitalOcean and, after reading a lot about all cPanel alternatives, I ended up installing ISPConfig 3.

      It’s a very good and stable panel.

      Actually I’m writing tutorials based on DO + ISPConfig. If you wanna have a look just go to ByteXposed and try it.

      *Nice article by the way. I’m looking for new ideas everyday.. Thanks.

  • Great Post!
    Thanks for all this information.
    🙂
    I am web developer venturing into hosting my own websites (shared hosting just don’t cut it anymore).
    I would like to know, the best open-source option in your opinion.
    I just bought OVH VPS, I’ll have 8-10 websites (few more in future hopefully).
    I am thinking WebMin on Ubuntu, as I am newb.
    Or Ajanti?

    • Hello Mayur, thanks for your comment and asking our advice.

      Webmin is going to be a more mature open-source control panel option with a larger user base and more features out of the box. So if you’re just starting out it could be a great choice for you to get started with.

      Ajenti is a newer and more lightweight control panel where you can extend its functionality with pre-made plugins depending on your needs. So if you’re just looking to handle some basic server administration tasks it could do the job as well.

      Either one should be a great option for a VPS, so depending on your feature needs and how you like each interface, I’d make your decision based off that.

  • Ilia

    Webmin with new Authentic Theme beats them all. It’s total kick-ass!!

    • Arielo

      Thanks for the hint, really good theme indeed!

  • Tux Penguin

    Good post, very good post, i’m currently playing with CentOS webpanel and its not too bad apart from it eating up a lot of ram on its own . Zpanel (or Sentora) has got a vulnerability at the moment and is not currently recommended unless the issue is resolved info on it here http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?p=9399137

    I’m now thinking of trying Ajenti as well, lets hope playing with python won’t be too complicated ..

    • frankel0

      Thanks for the update. Let us know how Ajenti works out for you if you get to give it a try.

      • Gavin Engel

        Ajenti seems to want to install its own packages for common services. I find it unacceptable that a server manager dictates that I remove common packages and install their versions. Perhaps there is a way around this, but I don’t know it.

        • MalwareBites

          It doesn’t install it’s own packages.

        • Iori Yagami

          Indeed,
          already tested several panels found all alike, with the same pattern of
          work-hands mode, ajenti has its own way, even you install it, comes
          fully with nothing missing my sql, email client that he says install own
          but
          we do not see anything on the panel, in served session only has the
          basics of running basic, not find mysql, and when trying to install,
          says it already has a service running, and not find the folder the
          terminal is not mysql, is one’s
          own ajenti, activate the V ajenti he warns that will change everything,
          nginx, php, … it has own applications that make the services of
          palicações standards .. and not find them. and when we get into plugins. It has a large list of services not install and full of dependence! It was the one who did not like it. WCP
          the best at what refects not have to do anything after you finish
          INSTALLING, with two commands, all done after vestacp, too full
          virtualmin for me, but it’s the number 1 if talk of flexibility for
          those who need many resource. ajenti not understand anything, to the forum ofcial all confused world.

  • Sasa

    Where did you get the idea that DirectAdmin supports Windows???

  • frankel0

    Good question. I have no idea where I got that idea. We went ahead and fixed the article to remove that little boo-boo. It’s like it never happened now =).

  • I heard that Z-Panel is a dead project in terms of development with no updates since last year. I previously used it and loved it, but I’m not putting it on my latest VPS.

    • frankel0

      Tim,

      It does seem that way. It looks like the last release was on March 3, 2014 so that can’t be a good sign for active development. I will go ahead and make a note of this in the article. Thanks for the head’s up!

  • han koc

    I have been using CentOS Web Panel for company over a year, that works really well, only i got stuck for some modules which i found solution in forum, i am not selling here just i like it alot

  • Michael Dance

    Just to let you know InterWorx does support IPv6 and it supports Multi-Server it has after all Clustering and even High Availability.

    • frankel0

      You’re right Michael. Thanks for catching that. I am updating the data table now to reflect that InterWorx does in fact support IPv6 and Multi-Server.

  • One of the nice things about InterWorx is the clustering ability, but also the fact that you can get it for significantly cheaper than cPanel from a reseller. They also offer a free trial, which is nice to take a test run and see if it’s right for you.

    • frankel0

      It seems that InterWorx has a large following too and a lot of people are really happy with it. As time goes on, clustering is becoming more and more important to folks. How do you find the user experience of the clustering on InterWorx?

  • Craig David

    You Should listed Webuzo, I’ve been using it for 6 months, its free and easy, but only support single user.

    • frankel0

      We will check it out and see if we can include it. Thanks for the tip.

  • vl1969

    are any of this good for a single home server setup with file server and VM server for about 10 VMs? need to be able to get to the server and any VM from outside the home network.

    thanks

  • gacott

    Wow, how could you have missed Virtualmin man? It’s an additions to and works with webmin. I think it’s one of the best out there and is VERY well maintained and uses 100% Linux standards to do it’s job.

    • frankel0

      Uhhh, yeah gascott, that was a bit of an oversight. We will update the article accordingly. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • frankel0

        Fixed. :/

        You seem to be catching us with all sorts of errors. Keep up the good work!

    • frankel0

      All fixed! We have added Virtualmin to the list. We appreciate you mentioned our oversight =).

      • gacott

        No problem man, keep up the good work!

  • Rob Burger

    Thank you for this great comparison. Now I know to choose Cpanel!

  • GSK

    I have been using cpanel for about a decade. It’s been great – until now. There are some security / privacy issues that most cpanel users are unaware of.

    As a webmaster, I set up the website and all required emails, and in some cases, hand over cpanel control to the client. In a previous version of cpanel, the client admin user, who is someone relatively junior (never the boss – who has better things to do), was not able click on an email in the control panel and login without knowing that account’s password. Worked well; simple security for non-techies.

    In the latest version of cpanel, this layer of security was removed. The cpanel login now allows you to immediately login to all emails. What’s the repercussions you may ask?

    – imagine a low-level staff being able to read all emails in all inboxes (ie of all staff)
    – able to send out emails as that user
    – able to read the emails of all management staff
    – able to login to the CEO’s email account and send out incriminating or nasty emails
    – able to use a staff’s email to send out hate mail or give company secrets to competitors. If traced back, that user get’s into trouble, not the cpanel admin!
    – the webmaster who sets up the hosting account can do the above as well (he is an external party).

    The security and privacy issues are glaring.

    What is cpanel’s response?
    “This is by design and it is not a security problem. The cPanel account user always has access to all of the data in all of the mailboxes on the account. ”

    I see many users complaining about this since last year but cpanel is sticking to its position. What’s with these guys?! I may have to switch to Plesk, etc because of this.

  • t0r0X

    Looking for alternatives I came along to this article. Really, really great post, thanks Ryan!

    Some additional infos I picked up on my way:
    * Both Z-Panel and Sentora do not show activity at the moment, too bad.
    * A active sibling of ‘iMSCP’ is ‘EasySCP, both being descendants of VHCS (still active), via the defunct ‘ispCP’.

  • Ryan, many THANKS for this informative article. I’m about to purchase a VPS account and they will install CentOS Web Panel which looks good. But I’m really liking Sentora and VestaCP looks really good too. Question….
    Can you install 2 or 3 of them at the SAME TIME?? Will this create problems/conflicts? Please let me know.

  • Cowpocalypse_Now

    I’ve used Virtualmin/Webmin for years but thinking of trying something else. Although Virtualmin/Webmin has all the bells and whistles its GUI design is kind of all over the place and ugly. I still have trouble finding common things I do all the time. Functional but frustrating at times.

    I love working with Python so thinking of giving Ajenti a try. If it’s anything like working with Django, adding 3rd party addons or my own should be easy. My only concern is whether the project is still active. There have been no major core code updates for a year now.

  • Iori Yagami

    I am new in the world of servers, always used simple plans for simple
    designs on the web, to now thinking of taking the thing seriously and
    found myself in need of a VPS and a panel to make the work more
    productive and focus on the job at marketing and
    not on technical data hosting, soon made a deep analysis on the
    Internet, and there were options, virtualmin, vestaCP, ajenti, CWP, I
    found the very robust web panel hundreds, goes out of their already
    comes with everything a very good preconfiguration ,
    for those who want to install and start working in minutes without
    hitting head, its extremely beautiful environment (could be less and be
    light) and full for us to manage a packet world, anything that u will
    need to secure hosting a site it brings, great menu and expandable to click! many
    options, many features, more beautiful environment I have ever seen to
    panel, and looks q have many installation, and looked screens of tens. but it is heavy, very heavy, eat 200 to 400mb of ram! so my site is not yet in the air! I installed in hundreds 6.7 32bit, single core 512mb of ram and 20gb ssd. very heavy, powerful but heavy. It would hurt my site? and I’ll have one or two sites q will administer only by the web panel? unlikely I will need to access the panel, it will weigh all the time, even though 20% than when running? I looked quite screens of vitualmin after improved it, which you guys tell me the virtualmin for simple use of WP web sites ? too much power? and the panels that not support ipv6? this implies that?

  • Iori Yagami

    A Panel without support IPV6, limits the navigation of who is using the IPV6 to access my sites?
    Lack of support IPV6 in ajenti and VestaCP panel limits the experiences of visitors who have access using the IPv6 protocol to my sites, or just limited to my experience as an administrator with the panels in question? the digital ocean panel there is a option to enable IPv6 protocol in my VPS, I think that if I turn people who have access to IPV6 will have such access without bandwidth limitations, regardless of whether I use a administrative panel unsupported as already mentioned, I think that is independent panel I use to administrate the site will not affect the obligation of visitors use limited panda IPV4. but I imagine the panel will not give me this quickly in his administration, but the users of the site will not have this limitation? my imagination is right or is fantasy?