Hosting control panels are the web-based interfaces used by web hosts and site administrators to perform common tasks and access tools and services. The two most popular control panels, Plesk and cPanel, are different in some important ways, but also share many similarities.
Both Plesk and cPanel are extendable web-based graphical user interfaces, or GUIs. This means the control panel’s functions are controlled with “point and click” interactions with icons, rather than typed into a command line. They are extendable in that functions and capabilities beyond those available “out of the box” can be added with plug-ins and extensions.
Each provides tools for monitoring usage, securing sites and data, and performing the basic server administration functions. Both Plesk and cPanel include domain management for web and email, account and access management, file system and database management, backup management, access logs, and the ability to automate many tasks.
Plesk is the most popular control panel for Windows servers, cPanel is the most popular for Linux servers, and between them they are used by the overwhelming majority of websites. Each has its proponents, and online debates between IT professionals often reveal passionately held opinions.
The differences between cPanel and Plesk, and in particular their licensing systems, make general comparisons based on price difficult. For website owners, the cost of each control panel is likely to be similar enough that it is generally not a determining factor when deciding which kind of hosting you want.
Key Differences of Plesk and cPanel
Both leading control panels are user friendly, effectively designed to be intuitive, and quickly learned. They are also fast, powerful, and secure. While some people who use them frequently develop preferences, the key differences are in large part a function of how well they work with other elements of the IT ecosystem.
One of the main differences between the leading control panels, as referred to above, is their support for different operating systems. While it is certainly possible to run Windows Server without using Plesk, in practice Windows hosting generally uses Plesk, and it cannot run on cPanel.
cPanel holds greater market share of Linux hosting plans, mostly on CentOS. Plesk also supports CentOS, as well as other Linux versions, for customers requiring Ubuntu or Debian.
Another key difference is support for developers. Multiple version of the common scripting language PHP can easily be installed through Plesk, which also automatically configures standard PHP handler types. Additionally, current Plesk release Onyx supports Ruby, Python, and NodeJS. Beyond languages and frameworks, Plesk also provides integration with some of the most popular developer tools, such as Git for version control and updates and Docker for containerization. cPanel requires third-party software to work with Docker.
ASP.NET was developed by Microsoft, and HostLabs recommends that customers use Windows server, and therefore Plesk, to run applications and scripts based on it, as well and for handling ASP or MSSQL databases, SQL Server, or Microsoft Exchange Servers.
Plesk also has extensions available for popular website software, most notably WordPress. While all popular CMSs, including Joomla! and Drupal are supported by both control panels, the Plesk WordPress Toolkit is part of an extensive integration, and many of the processes involved in setting up a WordPress site have been reduced to a single click in Plesk.
Another difference is that Plesk provides server management as one of its categories, and cPanel users must install and manage their servers through a separate interface, WHM. WHM is a robust server management platform, but requires users to learn another set of operations and extensive menus. Multi-server clustering support was previously considered an advantage for the cPanel and WHM combination, but Plesk Multi Server support was introduced with Onyx.
Plesk introduced native HTTP/2 support with version 12.5.30 Update #28 in late 2016. HTTP/2 enables reduced latency for end-users, and more efficient use of network and server resources. It is possible for websites running on cPanel to support HTTP/2, but it must be installed as an extension through WHM or the command line.
Who each is best for?
As with most software decisions, organizations should choose their control panel based on their IT needs and ecosystem. As the two leading control panels, each has millions of satisfied users, each has its proponents, and each has advantages in certain situations.
While it is playing catch-up to the older, more established cPanel in terms of U.S. market share, Plesk is the best control panel for many organizations, including most of those using Windows or Ubuntu server operating systems.
Developers who want to build web apps and services with the ASP.NET framework, those working with certain databases and those using containers are likely to benefit from choosing Plesk. The Plesk WordPress Toolkit is also a determining factor for some website operators using the leading CMS.
Advanced administrators working with the backend of the control panel may even prefer programming in C or C++, which are used by Plesk, or Perl, which is used by cPanel.
cPanel remains the most popular choice for those running CentOS servers. Some cPanel users prefer it for subjective reasons, such as the way it looks, or because they find the user interface more intuitive. Finally, as the control panel with the greatest Linux market share, it is more familiar to many website administrators, and some have never used anything else.
Choosing the right control panel is a critical step in setting up your IT environment, but it does not need to be a source of difficulty or frustration. One you have identified your goals and system requirements, the experienced web hosting professionals of the HostLabs support team can help new website administrators select the server type and control panel appropriate to meeting them.