UPDATED REVIEW of cPanel vs Plesk — the 2 most popular commercial control panel software of the past decade!
Both are powerful, reliable (mature), user-friendly for both admins and users, and integrate well with other software and applications. Both generally offer the same features and are also priced similarly.
So then where do they differ?! Read on to find out…
More commonly known as “cPanel” by most users, WHM/cPanel (started in 1996) is one software that provides 2 different control panels. WHM is for admins and resellers, and cPanel is for users. cPanel is by far the most popular control panel in the world and especially popular in America. Just about everyone who has ever bought webhosting in the past 15-20 years has probably seen it.
Compared to other existing control panels, cPanel feels much more polished, user-friendly, and reliable. And despite what many users like to complain about cPanel, it’s still a very solid choice for webhosting and has a huge advantage of being familiar. There’s something to say about cPanel still being the most popular despite many complaints over the years about it’s supposed clunky interface, resource-hog, and insecure environments among other things.
The latest cPanel has indeed been cleaned up and with many improvements. It’s much sleeker than the late-1990’s/early-2000’s version, still functions the same as the old cPanel, and with a massive extension market. If you want a safe bet, cPanel is STILL a safe bet for control panels!
- Familiarity – more users know cPanel, also more help guides are written for cPanel.
- Admin-friendly – feels specially-designed for admins. Things are organized around server-related tasks. Useful for admins making quick server configurations, and tweaking modules. Unfortunately, this “admin-friendliness” is part of why many feel WHM/cPanel is not user-friendly.
- Bigger extension market – way more extensions. Useful if you need some really custom features.
- Cheaper pricing – WHM/cPanel is cheaper (for unlimited site licenses). Not a big deal if you only have 1 server, but pricey if you have many servers.
- Process manager – is one click away. Very helpful for diagnosing server slowdowns.
- Terminal – love this feature. Saves admins from having to open SSH apps.
- File Manager – can extract .rar and other formats. Plesk can only do .zip.
- Cleaner integration with LiteSpeed – just my opinion. I’m sure performance is the same.
- Lacking staging options – not having native “1-click staging” option is a big con for cPanel especially considering almost every other panel out there has it. This should be a native feature and not one that requires a 3rd-party extension!
- Ambiguous SSL generation – cPanel’s native way of generating SSL certificates isn’t intuitive for most users. It seems you can do it from multiple options and still, you might not be sure if they generated or not. For this reason, many webhosts have either purchased or built their own “1-click SSL solution”. With that said, we deal with that issue using documentation and the server sets them up automatically anyway.
- Clumsy UI – tons of items you’ll never use, also not intuitive for webhosting newbies, but not a big deal if you’re already familiar with cPanel.
- Ambiguous terminology – I don’t mind all the server terminology in cPanel (modules, plugins, etc), it’s the weird customer-related terms that I don’t like (accounts, packages). I’ve used WHM/cPanel for over a decade now and still forget where I have to go to set limits to what types of accounts and configuring what items they see in their control panel.
- Resource-heavy – this has been a long time complaint about cPanel but it personally hasn’t bothered me none. Their recent versions feel very lightweight on VPS.
- Shared storage space (insecure) – all website files are located in the same container which could potentially allow hackers to access all sites if they manage to get into one. With that said, it hasn’t been much of an issue for us.
- Only Linux/Apache-compatibility – not a dealbreaker since you can use LiteSpeed (which I love) if you want performance. But definitely a dealbreaker if you’re an NGINX-diehard. Well, there’s talks about cPanel finally adding NGINX-compatibility! (WOW—pigs are flying!)
Plesk, started in 2001, has long been that “other control panel” used by popular webhosts. It was offered for a multitude of reasons: some admins liked it better [than cPanel], some users like it better, it was compatible with Windows, or simply because it was NOT cPanel (which some folks hated). But not everyone liked Plesk over cPanel. Those expecting cPanel, like myself, were especially annoyed to see an unfamiliar UI like Plesk. It felt cheaper, busier, and came with a learning curve that we didn’t want to deal with.
But Plesk has gone also come a long way since its old days. The most recent version, named Plesk Onyx, has been heavily revamped and won over many admins. The new Plesk now has been recently touted by many as completely superior to cPanel; citing cleaner UI, better security, better software-integration, more resource-efficient. Not only that but the company behind Plesk has also bought out WHM/cPanel. For diehard WHM/cPanel users, this can be especially scary as they’re not sure if the product will be maintained any further. There are also some concerns about pricing increases due to fewer competition.
The new Plesk is indeed much more pleasantly organized and offers many advantages over the old WHM/cPanel. Let’s go over its pros and cons to see if it really CAN topple the current control panel king.
- Better UI – widely touted as Plesk’s main strength. A much cleaner and easy-to-understand control panel using sensible terminology. It’s absolutely true. If you’re a first-time admin or webhosting user, you’ll definitely feel like Plesk is organized more sensibly and easier to guess your way around things.
- Website-centric user panel – this is definitely something that many webhosting clients have come to love and expect in webhosting nowadays. The user control panel is organized by websites rather than by server components. For example, cPanel has separate areas for managing domains, databases, files, PHP settings, SSL, emails, and so forth. Plesk simply has separate areas for each domain/website, and within those areas you can edit all the settings for that specific site. This is considered by many to be more organized and also more secure since each site is safely isolated from the other.
- Customer-centric admin panel – Plesk admin panel is laid out more to help you manage customer accounts and troubleshoot their website issues quickly…whereas WHM is laid out more to help you manage server issues. If you’re dealing with tech savvy webhosting customers that don’t need much support, I think you’ll prefer WHM for faster access to server-related issues. If you’re dealing with troublesome customers or you find that most of your admin work is managing individual customer accounts, you’ll prefer Plesk. Either way, both are fine and even if the other options are tucked away, they’re only an extra 2 or 3 clicks away.
- Excellent WordPress integration – the WordPress-specific features are incredible! Convenient automated installs (both quick or custom), easy staging, managing updates, security warnings, and more. I haven’t tried other software integrations (Joomla/Magento/etc) but I’m sure they’re really handy as well.
- Simple staging – super easy staging feature easily enabled with a click.
- Simple SSL generation – easy and clear way to generate SSL. cPanel works easily but takes a few tries to know exactly where to go since there are a confusing multitude of SSL-related options and ambiguous terms for each.
- Windows & NGINX compatibility – huge advantage for those preferring other web servers! Especially a plus for diehard NGINX admins wanting a more polished control panel for users. I feel NGINX doesn’t have many truly polished control panels. It seems most webhosts using NGINX are forced to build their own UI.
- Resource-efficient – supposedly much less resource-heavy than cPanel but I’m also happy with cPanel as is.
- Better security – this isn’t to say that WHM/cPanel is “less secure” by any means. It’s that Plesk encourages better security. There’s more notifications, alerts, and visual cues to help you secure your sites/server. WHM/cPanel on the other hand, assumes you know what you’re doing. It’s a matter of a taste and who your userbase is. Plesk could be considered “naggy” but it’s alright for me.
- Simple extension manager – I love the extension manager! Very clean and easy-to-use. WHM/cPanel feels a bit confusing between installing “modules”, “plugins”, and “software”. You’re never sure which is needed for what you want. Plesk is much more simplified with either “Extensions” or “Updates and Upgrades”. I just wish there were more options but even still, the existing extension market has enough to get 95% of most things done.
- Single panel for all users (admins, resellers, customers) – and not the confusing WHM & cPanel divide. I personally don’t mind how WHM/cPanel works and in some ways I prefer it more as it allows you to be logged in as both admin and user…whereas Plesk only lets be in one mode at a time.
- love S3 backup creates IAM
- Higher pricing – Plesk’s superior UI and extra features are certainly worth the increased pricing but can be a total turnoff if cPanel fits your needs already. cPanel may still be the better fit if your customers prefer cPanel, or you don’t have that many sites, or want to keep your server costs as low as possible, or you don’t need all the features Plesk has.
- Customer-centric layout – instead of server-centric layout in WHM/cPanel. I love that WHM has a long sidebar full of many server options. Also the CPU process count is immediately shown at the top right of any screen and clicking on it takes you right to the process manager. Many server-related tasks feel only a click away whereas in Plesk, they feel several clicks away and sometimes hidden behind unintuitive names. Also the “process manager” in Plesk has to be installed from the “Repair Toolkit” extension. And then to open ports in the firewall, you had to first install a firewall extension. Why the heck do we have to install extensions for basic things?! Little things like this bother me about Plesk. It seems to be built more for resellers rather than actual server admins.
- Learning curve from cPanel – Plesk definitely has better and more intuitive UI but still requires some adjustment time from cPanel. Being a techie person myself, the adjustment doesn’t matter much but I could see it causing friction for less technical users. But then again, this is much less of an issue if you or your users are not so ingrained by cPanel habits.
- Slow UI – I can’t stand this sometimes. It’s really slow clicking back and forth between settings screens. Things load almost instantly in cPanel but Plesk can easily take 3-5 seconds on each click. Maybe you’re a patient person or don’t mind it so much for for someone like me troubleshooting a hundred sites every week, it can get really annoying very quickly.
- Can’t work from both admin and user – I think this is somewhat of an oversight. Plesk allows you to transition smoothly from admin to customer but won’t let you simultaneously function within both. WHM/cPanel with its split panel function allows you to do both. It’s especially handy when you want to diagnose server loads while trying things in the user panel. You wouldn’t have to switch and click back and forth.
- Semi-flawed migration tool from cPanel – it’s frustrating because it’s almost perfect! Trying to migrate 50 accounts from a cPanel server to Plesk had about a 70% success rate. I loved that the process was smooth and many things worked perfectly when the worked. The annoyance was that the database migration often failed. The main reason was because of either database name or user name length limits. If your database name coming from cPanel was too long for Plesk, Plesk wasn’t smart enough to simply use a shorter name. It would just fail and make you copy or reconfigure things yourself. I think this issue is no excuse considering that cPanel is the #1 most popular server and also owned by Plesk!
- Limited File Manager features – there’s no “trash” function in Plesk. So if you accidentally delete anything, it’s gone forever! It’s scary if you (or your users) are test-deleting things and then find out later you can’t undo it. Also, Plesk only handles .ZIP compression format. It can’t do TAR or the other ones like cPanel can. This is annoying in case you spent hours copying over files from another server only to realize Plesk can’t extract them. ARGH!!! These things may seem small but were especially annoying to me.
- Ads in admin panel – huge turnoff for me. They need to put them at the bottom or anywhere else instead of taking up precious screen space from showing links to more useful admin functions. They make me feel like Plesk is a greedy business.
- Database management confusion – sometimes databases aren’t clearly connected to the website. Don’t get me wrong, cPanel doesn’t either. But at least with cPanel, all your databases and websites are in one place. With Plesk, it feels like websites are in separate bins but databases are in the same one. I’m speaking about this from a UI point of view, not actual location in the server.
Overall thoughts on cPanel vs Plesk
Personally, WHM/cPanel is still the winner for me. cPanel’s better pricing, admin-friendly and customer-familiarity are the top reasons to overcome Plesk’s better-organized UI, website-centric organization, and staging features. It’s not that I don’t prefer Plesk’s superiority. It’s more that I already like what cPanel has and just hoping it will eventually pick up the 2 or 3 things that I liked in Plesk. But likewise, we can also assume that since Plesk is the company’s main focus, it’s likely to be improved more rapidly over time.
There are however some absolute dealbreakers that can be taken into consideration. Plesk is NGINX-compatible whereas cPanel is not (although it has released a beta version for it). cPanel is more familiar for most shared hosting customers. Plesk allows staging natively whereas cPanel would need an extension to do it. Many people also love Plesk’s “isolated environment” for security.
If it matters to you, I think many admins out there prefer Plesk as the new school UI of webhosting control panels. I’m a bit of an old school guy myself so I prefer cPanel. In time, I can see myself switching over but I don’t see it happening within the next 2 years. I just don’t think Plesk has everything need to completely topple cPanel.
WHM/cPanel main points:
- (PRO) better pricing
- (PRO) admin-friendly
- (PRO) customer-familiarity – only for longtime webhosting customers
- (PRO) new features coming – will probably pick up some of the features we like most in Plesk
Plesk top points:
- (PRO) better UI for admin/users
- (PRO) website-centric organization
- (PRO) easy staging feature – although cPanel can do it with an extension
- (PRO) NGINX compatibility
They were both purchased by the same investment group…
And cPanel recently increased in price by 100-400% for most users.
It’s time to start investing in alternatives even though they have fewer features at the moment.
Yeaup! And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. 🙂
Have you looked at / used Webmin / Virtualmin. To me it is the best Server GUI there is, Webmin you can control everything and I mean everything on the server which from what I know, though maybe wrong since it is quite sometime I used them, you can’t do with either cPanel or Plesk.
The free version of Webmin / Virtualmin is fine to use, I have been using it for years hosting over 200 sites.
I’ve reviewed it on my more comprehensive guide: Webhosting Control Panel Review.
It’s a great GUI control panel for server admins doing lots of server functions and prefer using proper linux server terminology. But terrible UI for non-technical users just trying to do basic webhosting tasks.
I think the UI is very easy to use in Virtualmin and you can create server templates to limit access to various functions etc etc.
It may not be as “pretty” as Plesk but all the functions in Virtualmin are easily viewable / accessed, whereas with cPanel and Plesk they are nested and you have to route around for them at times.
One of the things you have access to which certainly Plesk didn’t when I last used it and maybe not cPanel, are realtime server error and access logs, which can of course be extremely useful for debugging.
For cpanel there is a quite good free plugin named engintron for nginx which I have used with great success.
Thanks for sharing that; I heard similar things from others as well. Can’t believe how long it took for cPanel to finally having have NGINX support. I saw it in the options but of course will not be trying it on production sites.
I have installed it on production servers the last 2 years with no problems so far, so I think it’s a viable option until cpanel supports officialy nginx (if ever that is)
with all the latest developments and many control panels coming out,
what’s your favorite one or two maybe?
I still like the same stuff. I haven’t seen much evolution in others to make me switch.