cPanel is the most popular web hosting control panel used by nearly every shared hosting provider out there. This is mainly due its ease of use, long term reputation and regular maintenance and security updates. If you are new webmaster, I would strongly advise to go for only those web hosting which are powered by cPanel. If you have not yet bought web hosting for your website, I highly recommend Hostgator shared web hosting. Hostgator is the most popular web hosting company and I have used them for over 8 years now. I have tried more than a dozen hosts over the years including shared hosting, reseller hosting, VPS and dedicated servers and I am yet to find a host comparable to Hostgator in terms of pricing and support.
Once you have purchased a cPanel web hosting and have been provided login details by the host, you would need to enter your cPanel. In order to do so, you can either add :2083 (secured) or :2082 (unsecured) to the end of your website/hosting IP address or website name. Please make sure that you have pointed the nameservers in your domain registrar (eg: godaddy) to the nameservers provided by your hosting company. If you have purchased the domain from the web hosting company, the chances are that they have already pointed the nameservers and your website is probably live by now. DNS/nameserver propagation can take up to 24 hours and so, your website might not be live instantly after pointing the nameservers.
For example, if your website is domain.com and the website IP address is 126.96.36.199 then the login link for cPanel would be:
https://188.8.131.52:2083 (secured login)
http://184.108.40.206:2082 (unsecured login)
domain.com:2083 (secured login)
domain.com:2082 (unsecured login)
You might need to authorize the SSL certificate in the server in case you are using a secured login link.
Once you are logged inside your cPanel using the username and password provided by your hosting provider, you will notice a well-defined hosting management area which is your cPanel control panel. The overall structure is the same in all cPanels irrespective of hosting provider though the icons and design might change a bit depending on the addons and themes used by your hosting provider.
Here is a screenshot of a standard Hostgator cPanel:
cPanel has recently introduced the paper lantern theme which is going to be the default cPanel theme in the future. It is a mobile responsive theme and you can enable it by using the “switch theme” option it is provided by your host. If you activate the paper lantern theme or your host has activated it, it would be somewhere in these lines.
The left one is the normal desktop view while the right one is the responsive view for mobile devices. All the options of the default cPanel theme is not yet available in paper lantern theme as it is still in development phase.
If your host is using an older cPanel, it can be somewhere in these lines too:
Most present cPanel themes contain the following sections:
1. Left Menu: The cPanel interface is divided into the left menu and the right content area. The left menu contains a summary of all the features, paths, limits and resource usage of the websites inside the cPanel account. The Stats area is the most important section in the left menu and you can click on “expand stats” to show all summarized stats of the account. These include the primary domain name, IP address, PHP, MySQL and Apache versions, disk space usage, bandwidth usage, number of email accounts, addon domains, subdomains, databases, FTP accounts etc. If you need to get a quick view of all the current stats of the account without going into much detail, it is best to check them here.
2. Preferences: At the top you will find the “switch theme” option and below that the preferences section. The most important links in this section are the “change password” and “update contact info” links where you can change the account password and email respectively. You can also use other options such as “change style” or “RVSkin Theme Changer” (if addon installed and available) to change the appearance of your cPanel. However, please bear in mind that changing to a random old cPanel theme might get you stuck in that theme.
3. Mail: All the mail related settings can be found here. The two most important options here are “Email Accounts” and “Webmail”. You can add, remove and modify email accounts using the “Email Accounts” link while you can access webmail using the second link. On accessing Webmail, you would need to choose between the available email clients for reading your webmail. I personally prefer and use “Roundcube” for the same. You can also setup the email accounts in your desktop email client such as Outlook, Mac Mail or Thunderbird if you do not want to use Webmail.
Other important options inside email are forwarders (for email forwarding), spamassassin (for activating spam filter), auto responders, default address (for creating catchall email address), mx entry (for modifying mx records), mailing lists, account and user level filtering (for setting up relevant filters) and Email Authentication (for enhancing email delivery rates using DKIM/SPF).
4. Files: You can manage files and related accounts in this section. The two most important links in this section are “Backups” and “File Manager”. You can create, download and restore backups and open and modify files using the two links. Other important options are FTP accounts which can be used for creating additional FTP accounts with limited privileges to sub-directories inside the account. This might be helpful if there are addon domains hosted in the account. Disk Space Usage can be used for checking the space used by various services in the account such as SQL databases, mail accounts, home directory files etc. Anonymous FTP can be used for enabling anonymous FTP (for example in a download site using FTP) while FTP session control enables you to control and terminate FTP sessions.
5. Logs: Traffic and other server logs can be checked in this section. I personally find “awstats” and to some extent “bandwidth” and “error logs” the most important links in this section. You can check the daily traffic usage and other basic traffic details using awstats. For better traffic analysis, I would advice adding Google Analytics to your website pages. Bandwidth is useful for monitoring your bandwidth usage while error logs can be used for analyzing errors caused by a script or service etc. Latest visitors is helpful for checking stats (referrer, summary, location etc.) of the the latest visitors (upto the last 1000 visitors) to your website.
6. Security: In this section, you can password protect specific directories in the account, disable hotlinking of your images and files by other websites and deny specific IPs.
7. Domains: In this section, you can add subdomains, addon domains and parked domains. You can enable redirects including 301 permanent redirect for specific urls, directories or complete websites. The DNS zone editors can be very helpful to setup private nameservers if enabled/allowed by your host.
8. Databases: The two most important links here are MySQL databases and phpMyAdmin links. The former is used for creating databases and database users while the latter is used for managing the database. You can use Remote MySQL if you are hosting the database somewhere else though I personally advise against it.
9. Softwares/Services: In this section, you can find site builders, fantastico script installer, cloudflare, php pear configuration, ruby gems, ruby on rails, site software, perl modules and other software and scripts related settings. Many of these also change depending on hosts as they are mainly addons and do not come pre-installed with cPanel. Fantastico is the most useful addon in this section especially for a cPanel beginner as it provides one click installation of most popular website scripts.
10. Advanced: You can configure cron jobs, use image manager for scaling and converting images, configure php versions, mime types, use index manager, apache handlers and other such advanced functions.
Thats all folks! Now enjoy using your new web hosting and cPanel. Hope this basic guide helped you in familiarizing with your control panel. :)