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)
As is with virtually any other product market, there are upgrades and premium versions to be had in web panels. The top enterprise-grade panel features are up next!
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
These options are fantastic for large-scale, growing businesses and hosters.
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||FTP||Databases||ipv6||Multi-Server|
|Plesk||PHP, C, C++||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|CentOS Web Panel||PHP||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
While each hosting control panel should offer the same fundamental features — management for domains, email, FTP, app installs, et cetera — the actual feature sets, layout, and level of control offered can vary widely from panel to panel. Below, we discuss each of the top web hosting control panels independently.
cPanel & WHM
As the most widely used hosting control panel, cPanel & WHM™ includes both a user-level interface (cPanel) and a server management interface (WHM). The two interfaces pair seamlessly to offer intuitive hosting and site management for end-users and resellers, as well as server administration tools for hosting providers.
While cPanel is certainly the most popular control panel on the market, there are still people in the web hosting community who claim they don’t need a web panel. This is especially true of more tech-savvy folks. System Administrators, for example, may not see a need for a dashboard that facilitates work they know how to do manually.
Community Manager of cPanel Benny Vasquez is firm in her commitment not to sell people on something they don’t want or need. She instead asks potential clients to name tasks they hate doing but have to do regularly. Inevitably, tedious or mundane chores, like managing software updates or malware scans, come up as responses. “I never try to convince them they need something they don’t want, but I do show them where cPanel & WHM can solve the problems they’re encountering,” Benny said.
Helping users overcome hosting hurdles — tactfully helping hosts make more money and giving site owners a pleasant management experience — is where the cPanel team shines. They work tirelessly on “incremental motions” that add value and move the product toward becoming the most modularized, flexible panel on the web, according to Benny.
Though cPanel and WHM are only supported on Linux, Windows support can be achieved using a virtualization setup.
- Highly Responsive, Speedy Performance: The cPanel team has made speed and efficiency a priority in the latest releases. This has resulted in a memory usage reduction of more than 25% in version 60 compared to the previous release, and cPanel and WHM account-related feature speeds, such as account creation or termination, are up to 10 times faster than prior versions. Expect more memory for applications and faster page loading speeds.
- Command Line Utilities: Since the addition of command line utilities, the cPanel API has become readily accessible to non-coders. If you can use a command line, you can use the API, which opens up doors for integration by even beginner programmers.
- AutoSSL and SNI Support: SSL certificates are automatically installed for every domain on your server and kept updated. Whether you want to use Komodo, Let’s Encrypt, or another provider, the SSL encryption is free and the certificates will be kept active for the life of the cPanel account. With the addition of SNI support, cPanel users can now get domain-specific certificates for /cpanel, /whm, and /webmail redirects.
- EasyApache 4 and PHP-FPM: While EasyApache 4 makes managing packages and dependencies simple and super speedy, PHP-FPM applies the same level of speed and security for your applications.
- DNSSEC and PowerDNS: Backed by PowerDNS, secure your DNS zones through DNSSEC and shield yourself from one of the foremost threats on the Internet. DNSSEC verifies the server you’re connecting to, protecting your site from DNS cache poisoning.
Benny told us the API is the tool hosts use most when integrating cPanel features with their own support systems, so the cPanel dev team ensures proper documentation. “That’s definitely our strength,” she said.
You can only expect updates like these to continue coming from the cPanel and WHM crew. As they sit down quarterly to determine what’s next, their collective eye is always turned to their “North Star” — doing what’s best for their users.
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.
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.
- 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 lets you 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 one click. Plesk will then manage plugin updates, bug fixes, and security patches for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Professional has more advanced application install support features:
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.