What Is a Control Panel? Uses, Types, and Benefits

What Is A Control Panel

A control panel is a graphical user interface (GUI) that simplifies website and server management tasks, including configuring domains, installing software, managing files, and setting up email accounts.

They’re intuitive and help save time — you don’t have to directly access the server to manage your hosting plan.

If you plan on purchasing a shared hosting plan (hosting categories such as VPS hosting and dedicated server hosting permit “full” server access), glue your eyes to the screen and read on — the world of control panels will get a lot more interesting!

How Control Panels Work

The inception of ARPANET in 1969 sowed the seeds for the meteoric rise of the web hosting industry. Just four websites used a web hosting provider in 1969 — approximately 572 million websites use one today!

While you can host a website on your physical server, it’s not recommended (unless you have tons of money and time or are a big-shot corporation like Google).

A web hosting provider offers extensive resources to help you quickly build (using website builders) and publish a website online. One resource contributing to this ease is the control panel associated with your hosting plan.

Control panels streamline web hosting management. They provide a user-friendly interface to handle website and server tasks without directly logging into the server.

Early Evolution of Control Panels

Quite naturally, the first websites hosted by a “web hosting provider” (companies like CompuServe, the world’s first major online service provider, weren’t primarily web hosting companies) didn’t offer a control panel; This meant users had to use the Command Line Interface (CLI), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), text editors, server configuration files, scripting, and manual backups and maintenance to manage websites.

Timeline showing the early evolution of control panels
After nearly 30 years, cPanel remains the dominant control panel in the web hosting industry.

Naturally, these users required a high level of technical expertise and a sound grasp of server administration, networking, and scripting.

The advent of control panels coincided with the rise in web hosting (late 1990s to early 2000s), as they made website management easier; The first hosting control panel was launched in 1996 when the ever-present cPanel entered the arena. Web Hosting Manager (WHM) was included in cPanel 3, which was launched in 1999.

Plesk, an alternative to cPanel, was launched in 2001. Today, cPanel and Plesk are the most popular control panels in terms of market share. Web hosting control panels continue to evolve to make web hosting management even more effortless.

Basic Operation

Once you’ve purchased a web hosting plan, you can access the affiliated control panel by logging in to your hosting account. You can also directly access the control panel through a browser (you can click on this link to access cPanel, for example).

Once the control panel interface is open, you can use it for account administration, backups, and support, as well as domain, email, file, and database management.

For example, most hosting control panels allow you to create, edit, delete, and upload website files, create and manage email accounts, and install popular software applications from a single interface.

User Interface

A good control panel should offer a user-centric GUI design. A user-friendly design promotes an enhanced user experience and increased productivity by making the software easier to learn, reducing potential errors and accidents.

While you can use the CLI to get near-instant results and perform complex hosting management tasks, this only makes sense for enterprise use cases, such as headless systems and remote servers.


Web hosting control panels typically include:

  • A file manager for handling all file-related website tasks
  • Email account management tools
  • Domain management tools
  • Structured Query Language (SQL) services
  • Domain Name Server (DNS) functions
  • Website analytics, such as the number of visitors during a predefined period
  • A script installer
  • Details on disk space usage

To maximize the value of a control panel, it’s essential to understand what each component does and how to use it. Watching tutorials and reading the official documentation can help you find features you didn’t even know existed.


The best web hosting providers offer multiple control panel options. Here are a few you should consider when building a new website. Keep an open mind!

  • cPanel: cPanel is only available for Linux operating systems (OSes). It’s an excellent control panel solution, especially in the shared hosting segment, and offers numerous fascinating features. These include email creation and management, visitor and error logs, backup creation and automation, server performance monitoring, advanced security tools (including leech protection and an IP blocker), database creation and management, and a file manager.
  • Plesk: Plesk is almost synonymous with cPanel, but unlike its counterpart, it’s compatible with both Linux and Windows OSes. While Plesk is more prevalent in the virtual private server (VPS) hosting segment, it’s also a practical option for shared hosting needs. Notable features include task automation, a restricted access mode, an advanced monitoring service, and a repair kit.
  • DirectAdmin: DirectAdmin is an excellent choice for Linux and Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) environments. It’s cheap, simple, and offers a comprehensive feature set. This includes DNS management, built-in anti-spam tools, database creation and management, backup creation, file management, and reseller account creation and management.
  • IPSConfig: IPSConfig is an open-source, Linux-based web hosting control panel. It offers all the features you’d expect from a control panel and supports various daemons (MariaDB, MySQL, Bind, PowerDNS, PureFTPD, Dovecot, Postfix, Apache2, and NGINX) and Linux distributions. It provides four access levels: Administrator, Reseller, Client, and Email Login.
  • hPanel: hPanel is an honorable mention if you intend to go the Hostinger way (Hostinger is a magnificent web host). It offers comprehensive website, domain, email, and database management features, basic firewall configurations, regular backups, PHP settings, and world-class customer support service. While hPanel is a great choice for Hostinger users, you can opt for another control panel as well.

Linux gives you the most flexibility in choosing a control panel, rather than forcing you to use Plesk as Windows does (Plesk is compatible with Linux environments as well).

While each of the above is excellent in its own right, cPanel and Plesk are undoubtedly the most popular web hosting control panels. The former offers better performance and optimization while the latter offers more features and applications. Take your pick!

Benefits of Using Control Panels

While you can manage your shared hosting using the CLI by enabling Secure Shell (SSH) access, it’s not beginner-friendly. The essence of shared hosting is to offer an effortless (and cheap) entry into web hosting.

Here are the benefits of using control panels:

  • Easy website and server management: Instead of using the CLI and manually typing commands to perform actions, you can employ a control panel with an easy-to-use GUI to streamline all website and server management tasks — a few clicks is all it takes!
  • Saves time and resources: Imagine the time it would take to perform routine website management tasks if you manually typed each one! Control panels offer numerous automation options and toolkits to make website management a piece of cake — you’ll have more time to focus on critical business aspects.
  • Security tools: Control panels ensure a safer user experience and offer numerous features to protect your data. These include SSL certificate setup, password-protected directory setup, DNS record management, and anti-spam tools to improve email security.
  • Easy software installation: Popular control panels include script installers, which enable you to install and set up software applications such as WordPress and Magento in a few simple steps. Unlike manually installing these applications, setting up via a control panel is a breeze.

Other benefits of control panels include improved website speed through content delivery network (CDN) integration, access to advanced monitoring and reporting tools, straightforward firewall configuration, trouble-free server and website migration, and backup management.

Web hosting control panels are hell-bent on making website and server management more sophisticated, customizable, and intuitive.

Innovations and trends such as customizable control panels, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and the emergence of mobile-friendly interfaces are worth keeping an eye on.

Customizable Control Panels

Inflexible and generic control panels are long gone. Today’s customizable control panels enable a more personalized user experience and ensure users can pick the features and tools they need without relying on the web host to make these changes.

Customization of control panel with settings icon

For example, if you’re building an eCommerce website, you may require advanced features and tools that may not be included in a basic control panel. If your control panel is customizable, you can configure the hosting environment accordingly without the intervention of the hosting provider.

A customizable control panel can also help you better meet regulatory obligations; You can tailor a control panel for advanced features like compliance monitoring, near-real-time visibility and reporting, centralized documentation and audit trail, and enhanced risk management to streamline compliance efforts.

The Integration of Artificial Intelligence

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) seem to be popping up in every tech product lately, they’re far more than just a gimmick regarding control panels; they can make things much more intuitive.

AI illustration

For example, AI could analyze user behavior and help you make informed decisions to optimize server settings, enhancing website performance.

It could also help monitor server performance in real-time and automate routine tasks.

Mobile-Friendly Control Panels

Nearly five billion people use smartphones, so it’s no surprise that control panel providers are working on mobile-friendly interfaces.

Mobile-friendly illustration with phone icon

As smartphones overtake computers in usage, having a control panel you can access from a mobile device is essential. For example, suppose you’re traveling for a business conference or away from your desk.

In that case, you can use a mobile-responsive control panel to monitor website statistics, update content, and make other relevant changes.

Common Issues and Maintenance

A hosting control panel is a centralized management portal to run all things related to your website — any issue with your website can only be fixed through it or the CLI (unless there’s an issue on the hosting provider’s end, such as failed server hardware).

Here are some common issues you can address through the control panel.

Slow Website Loading Speed

Unlike unexpected server downtime, which you have negligible control over unless you own the physical servers, you can improve website loading speed by implementing caching, optimizing database queries, and compressing files.

Email Issues

You can troubleshoot email problems by ensuring proper email authentication, configuring spam filters, and rigorously checking all other email settings. Email is crucial to business operations on the communication front, so address all issues ASAP.

Website Security Vulnerabilities

Ensure the password to access your control panel is bulletproof. You must implement SSL certificates, regularly back up data, and perform regular vulnerability scanning to improve website protection. The last thing you need is a data breach and lost user trust.

Database Connection Errors and File Management Problems

Database errors and missing or corrupted website files can hamper website functionality. To resolve database connection errors, check database credentials, optimize queries, and repair corrupt tables. You can use techniques such as file integrity checks, proper permissions, and regular backups to manage files effectively.

Choosing the Right Control Panel

The first step to choosing the right control panel is determining your preferred hosting environment and category. For example, a Windows VPS hosting plan is ideal if you want to build a website or web application using ASP.NET or Microsoft SQL Server databases. This eliminates cPanel as a potential option.

Here are the next steps in the process of choosing a control panel:

  1. Make a list of all the features you expect from a control panel and highlight the non-negotiables — customization, server performance monitoring, robust security features, backup automation, file management, email management, and access control management come to mind.
  2. Research all viable control panel options and compare their features, strengths, and weaknesses.
  3. Narrow down to two options by assessing their user-friendliness and capacity to integrate third-party tools.
  4. Put particular emphasis on built-in security features, which will improve website security.
  5. Reliable customer support through multiple channels will help resolve issues promptly. Take customer support for a test drive.
  6. Grade the contenders based on the parameters listed in steps 3 through 6 and select the one with the highest score.

Most web hosts include a control panel with their hosting plans or offer an option to purchase one at a subsidized cost.

You can also buy one separately and integrate it with your hosting plan. Check for compatibility and double-check by contacting customer support, keeping in mind all of the listed suggestions and selecting the best option for your needs.

The Importance of Control Panels in Web Hosting

Without a control panel, you’d have to navigate multiple interfaces or engage in complex CLI coding to manage even the most basic website operations.

Control panels offer centralized website management and are one of the primary reasons for the rise of the web hosting industry. Almost anyone can purchase a web hosting plan and use a control panel to manage it, but if we removed the latter, most people would be scared to venture into web hosting.

Whether you’re a blogger or a system administrator, a control panel makes your life easier. It eliminates the need for deep technical knowledge to manage a web hosting plan (a little expertise helps), streamlines website and server operations, and improves overall efficiency.

If you dream of launching the next big blog or eCommerce business, pair your hosting plan with the best-in-class control panel.

Good luck!