Whether you’re a big company leasing dedicated servers, a medium-sized firm starting a web hosting service, or a small shop choosing a shared hosting venue, the web server’s control panel is the gateway to your online business. And with a dizzying number of control panel options available, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the panels can lead to informed decisions, fewer headaches, and better performance.
What are the two most popular web panels on the market today? cPanel and Plesk. Even though they both achieve the same goal of managing website and web hosting functions, these two panels present unique user experiences. So what are the major differences? Is one better suited for inexperienced web hosts while the other better suited for experienced administrators? These questions – and much more – are answered in our comparison.
Plesk and cPanel Market Share
Simply put: these are two of the most widely-used web control panels on the 2020 market.
cPanel is the most prevalent web control panel in the world. Its servers create a domain every 6 seconds, and a hosting account with this control panel is created every 14.5 seconds.
Plesk casts the second widest net. More than 50% of the top 100 worldwide service providers are using it today, and it powers more than 10 million websites and applications.
How We Compare cPanel and Plesk
Since there are versions of Plesk for various Linux distributions (including Red Hat, Debian, and Ubuntu), plus various versions for Windows servers, we need to set some ground rules about this comparison.
cPanel released its most recent version – called 86 – on January 6, 2020. This release also included updates to its server administration panel, Web Host Manager (WHM). It was designed to help users troubleshoot email deliverability issues more efficiently and stop any issues before they even occur.
So to be clear: we are comparing Plesk Obsidian 18.0.23 Update 4 with cPanel 78.
cPanel and Plesk Similarities
Both panels offer the following suite of website management functions:
- Domain name system management:
Domain renewal, DNS editing, domain forwarding, subdomain management, and registering new domains.
- Email system management:
Setting up new email accounts, email forwarders, and email spam filters.
- FTP management:
User account admin, password management, and file system quotas
- Web-based file system access
- SSH user/key management
- Database management
- Back-up management:
An in-house back-up utility or access to a 3rd party back-up application
- Logfile access and reporting
- Plugin systems for configuring additional services and installing apps:
WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, ZenCart, etc.
But while they have many similarities, there are also important differences...
cPanel Is Still Not Compatible with Windows Servers
Plesk is the better option if your website executes ASP or .NET code, or directly accesses Microsoft Access or MSSQL databases. At one time, cPanel did offer a version for Windows servers titled Enkompass. But as of 2014, cPanel no longer supported it.
Both panels offer security features that can keep web apps secure, including multi-layered authentication and web application firewall protection. Their security suites offer different services to achieve similar goals.
cPanel security features include:
- password-protected directories
- IP address denials
- SSL/TLS for e-commerce companies
- GnuPG key settings for encryption
- IP deny manager
- SSH/shell access
It also offers site protection via HotLink (to stop media file misuse) and Leech (to prevent unauthorized visitors from using a publicly posted username and password) as well.
Figure 1: cPanel's security suite
Some of the newest features of cPanel in Version 86 also provided better protection. For example, it offers a streamlined directory privacy interface, which adds an Actions column to the directory. This new feature will allow you as the system administrator to dictate the privacy permissions for each subdirectory. In Version 86, you also now will be notified when a DNSSEC key should be rotated to help decrease the chance of attack.
Plesk security features include:
- Active directory integration
- Social media authentication
- Inbound and outbound anti-spam services
- Fail2Ban intrusion prevention system
Figure 2: Plesk's security section
The latest version of Plesk also saw an improved user experience when working with SSL/TLS certificates. You can secure all domains, add-on domains, and subdomains automatically with SSl/TLS certificates. Thanks to the new “Keep Secured” feature, you can monitor the security of your website easier.
There are also numerous app add-ons in both the cPanel and Plesk catalogs to improve web security. So the bottom line in the security comparison: the basic package features are different, but they both provide plenty of top-quality security tools.
Sub Accounts and User Roles
The control panels manage user access in very different ways.
cPanel requires a single password to gain access, which is created during the account setup. The administrator can then assign certain functions to sub-account users. The functions are limited to email, FTP, and web disk use. Other aspects of the website, such as file manager, database access, and email lists, are not available.
Conversely, Plesk enables individual user accounts with their own log-in credentials and total access. The account administrator can open or hide resources and services to the user accounts by defining subscriptions and roles. This role-based access provides flexibility that many cPanel users wish they had.
Server Account Management
Beyond the tools to manage a website, both cPanel and Plesk offer solutions for managing multiple accounts on a server. However, their solutions differ greatly and mark a main distinction point.
cPanel offers a separate application for managing other website accounts on a server: WHM. While this server administrator is robust, it is nevertheless a completely separate program. A past update allowed users to sign directly into both cPanel and WHM via their preferred, compliant authentication service.
Figure 3: WHM - cPanel's server admin program
In Plesk, the two functions are integrated into the same browser-based interface using separate sections. This enables quick management of a server alongside individual website accounts. From your panel homepage, users with server management roles can:
- Monitor server usage and traffic reports
- Open/modify/suspend accounts
- Manage subscriptions
- Configure global server settings
- Set the server’s language and skin
- Monitor the domains on the server
- Sell software and script add-ons to customers
Figure 4: Plesk's server admin section
With such divergent approaches to server administration, the choice comes down to user preference. If you want webmaster capability alongside server administration, Plesk is the better choice. If you’d rather keep the two functions separate, cPanel may provide more extensive functionality.
Plesk has two mobile apps: Manager and Mobile Monitor. Administrators can use Mobile Monitor to:
- View information about a server: OS, CPU, Parallels Plesk version, and so on.
- View vital indicators of a server’s health: CPU load average, memory consumption, swap usage, etc.
- Subscribe to Parallels Plesk events and unsubscribe from them.
Plesk Manager is a premium version of Mobile Monitor. It gives administrators access to the most important information about Parallels Plesk servers and control over core administrative functions.
cPanel also has an app that is available on Android and iOS. It will connect you to your cPanel hosting account and will allow you to manage files, forwards, emails, parked domains, subdomains, and more.
cPanel offers a bevy of applications with the goal of providing a comprehensive experience. For experienced users, this may be a benefit; you can easily select the functions you like. Many less-experienced users, however, find the interface cluttered. As far as the look and feel, cPanel categorizes all applications and tools into groups (files, databases, email, etc.). Each group can be moved up and down the visual hierarchy via drag-and-drop.
Figure 5: The cPanel dashboard
Plesk takes a more streamlined approach. The panel home page is clean and relies on app add-ons to plug functionality holes. The base program may be less comprehensive, but it can be less confusing to beginners. It is important to note that Plesk offers customized choices to customers depending on the server operating system, so the interface that appears for one user may be different than another customer who bought a different version.
The general style of Plesk’s interface can be described as a section-based organization. Main categories, such as system and domain information, for instance, are presented on the left, and the selected category’s options appear in the larger right-hand window.
Figure 6: The Plesk Control Panel
cPanel has provided multi-server clustering solutions since the release of WHM version 11.44. Using remote access keys, users can gain access to a master server and one or more additional servers. The user can make changes to the master, and those changes will filter down to the other linked servers in the cluster. Or a user can navigate to a specific server in the cluster and make changes there.
Timeline for HTTP/2 Support
In an effort to advance website performance, the Internet Engineering Task Force has developed HTTP/2. This improvement to the HTTP protocol intends to cut page load times, help relieve TCP connection congestion, and stop several advanced hacking tactics.
Plesk now supports HTTP/2. Since 2016, it introduced the IIS 10 web server which incorporates features like wildcard subdomains, HTTP/2 support, and new cipher suites.
The latest version of cPanel provides make files for HTTP/2, which enables developers to get it working as a customized configuration. Since it is a customization, however, any problems won't be fixed or supported. cPanel also says they do not intend to support HTTP/2 in this current release (through an update or otherwise) and there is still work to do to support it in the future.
Plans and Pricing
While shared hosts build the control panel cost into their prices, resellers looking to offer hosting services and dedicated server owners need to purchase licenses for either Plesk or cPanel. And as your business grows, so will your need for servers, which makes control panels an important factor.
An apples-to-apples price comparison of Plesk and cPanel is difficult because the final cost depends on the add-ons purchased. But in terms of base plans for unlimited domains, here are the per month rates:
Some other price factors to consider:
- Plesk offers limited domain packages for as little as $5/month.
- Plesk offers discounts if you sign a year contract versus a month-to-month.
- cPanel offers discounts if customers buy a multi-year license.
Summary: Choosing Between Plesk and cPanel
We hope these differentiation points will help you pick the right control panel for your web administration needs. Both products offer free demos on their websites, so be sure to check them out and see if you have a preference.
The devil is in the details. While both panels perform similar functions, their differences are great enough to provide vastly different user experiences. Some criteria – like the use of Windows servers, for example – can make the decision easy. Other points – like the interface design – depend on personal preference.
One last issue to consider: Switching a server between the two panels is not recommended. Plesk offers uninstall scripts; cPanel, however, does not. It requires reformatting the server and reinstalling the operating system if you wish to remove it. Additionally, Plesk data cannot be exported and imported into cPanel, or vice versa. This makes it difficult to migrate data from one panel to another, or from one host to another.
So choose wisely from the outset, visit our blog for more web hosting advice, and good luck with your web hosting management.