cPanel is one of many control panel applications that help you manage a web hosting account. Recall that at its core, a web server is a computer that is running an operating system (i.e. windows or Linux) and is running web server software. Web Server software such as Apache or Internet Information Server (IIS) is software that allows the computer to “serve” or host web pages.
The image below shows the relationship among the operating system, the web server software, and the control panel.
A control panel such as cPanel (Plesk is another popular control panel choice) sits on top of the web server and helps you manage the web server. A control panel is not required for managing a web server, but many people do find it much easier to run a web server with control panel vs. without a control panel.
The available features of any control panel depend on the type of hosting you have (shared, VPS, dedicated), and cPanel versions are tailored to your hosting needs. For example if you are on a shared hosting account, there’s no need for you to have certain features that really only apply to a VPS or a dedicated server. So the virtual private server cpanel version will be slightly different than the shared hosting version of cpanel.
Almost all shared hosting environments will come with some type of control panel. You will usually first choose your platform (Linux vs Windows) and then select your control panel based on the features you need, or simply because it’s what your host provides. cPanel and Plesk generally serve the same purpose, but some people prefer one over the other due the ease at performing certain tasks, or just familiarity. The control panel argument is similar to the PC vs. Mac question – you can write a document very easily on a PC or a Mac, yet for whatever reason you do chose one over the other.
When it comes to VPS hosting, the addition of a control panel makes a significant difference for many people. Recall that a VPS is simply like having your own “web server environment in-a-container.” Consequently, unless you are using a control panel (like cPanel) you must be comfortable administering a Linux server from the command line. For people who are not experienced with Linux, however, properly securing, upgrading and maintaining a server can be difficult. Having a control panel, therefore, adds a GUI layer to almost all of your web hosting management tasks. Things such as adding email addresses, modifying cron jobs, and creating backups can all be easily done via a control panel. There are still a few things you generally need to do from the command line with a VPS, but having a control panel greatly simplifies administration.
That being said, because a VPS is similar to having your own server environment, there is usually an extra monthly cost to having a commercial control panel (like cPanel or Plesk) on your VPS; this is due to licensing requirements. As for my personal preference, because I want to spend my time working on my websites and with my clients, I prefer to have a control panel instead of working from the Linux shell, and cPanel is my control panel of choice. Note that VPSs often are offered as managed or unmanaged. In an unmanaged setup you are totally on your own when it comes to administering the server, whereas in a managed environment,
The situation with a dedicated server is similar to that with a VPS in that unless you are using a control panel, you will need to administer the server from the command line.
To learn about Virtual Private Servers (VPS), visit our other site, VPSNovice.com