When you create your first WordPress site, choosing your web host can be a tricky task, and there is no absolute truth about it.

If you ask for opinions here and there on Facebook groups, you will be confronted with the opinions of people who make a recommendation, most often without knowing the specifics of your need.

Am I making the right choice? Can I easily manage it on my own? Will I have access to all the necessary features?

Yes, because don't forget that a hosting provider is a bit like a house. You put in all the files you care about – those of your site -, you trust it, and above all, you hate to leave it.

I'm sure you hate moving too, don't you?

woman crying surrounded by boxes

Moreover, you probably don't want to migrate your site(s), mailboxes and possibly domain names every week in order to finally find the interface that will give you complete satisfaction.

Here is a presentation of the hosting administration interface used to manage around 900,000 sites in 2020 according to the statistics of the Built With site: the cPanel.

While reading this article, you'll stumble upon affiliate links. WPMarmite uses such links for two reasons being: to promote products/services we've tested and approved AND as a way to reward our blog's writers. If you buy one of them through these links, the price will not be any different for you, don't worry!

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What is a cPanel?

This name may not mean anything to you, but cPanel is used by many hosting providers, most of the time on shared servers.

The cPanel of each hosting provider is different. Even if the control panel includes basic features, the setup may vary. For example, here we take some examples of the basic cPanel and BlueHost settings.

Like flatshare, these are servers on which several sites are installed, unlike dedicated servers which are only used by one site.

The cPanel is the administration interface of your hosting provider that enables you to manage a large number of functionalities in a few clicks, and this in a rather visual way.

BlueHost, for example, offers cPanel with its plans.

No need to have extensive knowledge in server management: here everything is explained, simple and at hand.

login screen cpanel with username and password
This is how your cPanel access screen looks like

The home page of your cPanel is organized in different categories allowing you to manage, set up and customize the settings related to your site without having to go into technical details.

You have access to different sections to:

  • Access your site's files
  • Manage your databases
  • Intervene on your domain names
  • Set up mailboxes
  • Track statistics and monitor your hosting
  • Install CMS in one click
  • Manage your account (your contact details, your login or your password)

Before getting to the heart of the matter to discover in detail the features of cPanel, let's see first…

What are the pros of choosing a hosting provider that offers cPanel?

The first advantage of cPanel is the one that makes it the most used solution in the world for web hosting management: its simplicity of use.

If you have already tested different providers, you have surely encountered very different and not always clear interfaces.

cPanel offers you all the features on its home page and enables you to find your way around in the blink of an eye.

You can therefore manage your site and everything related to it, most of the time alone and very easily.

Moreover, once you have taken control of it, you will be free to choose the best offer or the best value for money for your site.

And if you need to migrate to a more attractive offer, you won't be lost and won't need to adapt to a new environment.

You should also know that it benefits from a large community of developers (a bit like WordPress) who regularly develop new features.

If you are interested, I invite you to check out the cPanel blog or forum.

The features of a cPanel

cpanel main screen
This is how your cPanel looks like (source: virtual tour on the cPanel website) – yes, there's a lot of stuff, but we're going to break it all down!

cPanel offers two categories of features.

The first one gathers the basic functionalities common to all hosting providers.

In the second category, the features created or installed by the host itself (like a WordPress plugin).

These additional functionalities can help you in the choice of your hosting provider according to the needs of your site.

To help you get to grips with cPanel, we're going to review the basic features that are most useful in the day-to-day management of WordPress sites.

You'll find the cPanel features under the Advanced tab of the left column menu.

cPanel Files tab

files tab settings on cpanel

This section allows you to access and manage everything related to the files on your web host.

The File Manager

This section allows you to replace an FTP software like FileZilla and offers the possibility to navigate in the file tree of your site.

You can then create, delete, add or even edit any type of file directly online.

When you click on File Manager, you arrive on the following interface:

cpanel file manager overview
This is a screenshot from the cPanel demo to show you how the file manager looks like. Obviously, you'll see similar and different file names on yours.
  • In the left column, you have all the folders present on your FTP:
    • The original folders necessary for the proper functioning of the web host: lib, logs, mail, etc. You don't have to worry too much about it.
    • All the folders of your different sites, if you host several of them. Here, for example, I'm in the WPMarmite site folder (which is the only hosted site I have).
  • In the right part: the list of all the files of your site. You can therefore navigate freely by clicking on them and going back thanks to the links Up One Level or Back on the top.

The menu at the very top will be the most useful.

cpanel file manager top menu on bluehost

It enables:

  • To add a file or a blank folder via the buttons + File and + Folder
  • When you select an item, you have the possibility to:
    • Copy or move to the folder of your choice using the Copy and Move buttons
    • Remove completely from FTP.
    • Download. I also advise you to do so before a possible deletion if you are not sure what you are doing.
    • Rename, display or edit it directly from the browser. Also, if you're not sure what you're going to do I advise you not to edit it directly from the FTP. Rather work on a copy in case you make a mistake.
    • Change the read or write permission of a file or folder via the Permissions button.
    • Upload files directly to your FTP from the Upload button. So you don't need third party software like FileZilla to do it.
cpanel file upload screen
The interface to send your files, either by drag and drop or directly by selecting them on your computer

Images

This tool allows you to create thumbnails of images on your server, to modify their size and format.

Warning: Remember to make a backup of your original images before using this tool.

Directory Privacy

You can protect certain folders on your site with a username and password.

This can be useful to protect an entire site when you are developing it online or to add extra security to your /wp-admin page.

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FTP Accounts

If you collaborate with several people on your site or if you ever have problems and need to call on an outside person, you will probably need to give access to the files on your server.

For security reasons, it is best never to give your own credentials that have full access to all files.

If you have several sites, you can choose the accesses to the different folders that you will grant to different collaborators.

Here you can create different accounts with different access rights and define which folder everyone can access.

cPanel Databases tab

cpanel databases tab settings

The databases is the place where all the data from your site is stored.

It is a bit like the complement of the FTP where the site files are managed. All the data of all your sites installed on the web host will be available and administrable via the databases.

Generally speaking, you will only need the first two icons:

phpMyAdmin

phpMyAdmin is a tool to display your databases. It allows you to view the different tables they contain and to interact directly with your databases.

You probably won't use it often, but it is important to know where your data is located, and how to access it.

Warning: The slightest change can have consequences on your site. Only touch it if you know what you are doing.

phpMyAdmin from cpanel

So this is what this austere tool looks like at first glance.

The left column lists all the tables of the database of my site and the right column lists all the data of the selected table, here the “options” table.

As a reminder, a database is made of different parts called tables. Each of these tables contains very specific data, for example your articles, your users, etc.

Everything is therefore stored and organized in a precise way.

I deliberately blurred the prefix of my tables for security reasons, and I invite you not to leave the basic one which is wp_.

If you ever need to modify values from phpMyAdmin, always remember to make a backup of your database beforehand with your backup plugin (or export it directly from phpMyAdmin via the “Export” tab, you choose).

MySQL Databases

This is where you will be able to create databases, users (the databases administrators) and manage them.

We will see how to add a new database to your web host and how to assign a user to it.

Start by defining a name for it in the following field:

create new database cpanel bluehost

The blurred text matches my database prefix. It is not editable and is defined from your cPanel ID.

Our new database is finally created.

We now need to add a user who can access this database.

This is done in the following form:

add new user MySQL bluehost

Nothing complicated here, you have to define:

  • An ID for the username
  • A password with a high level of security, i.e. including upper and lower case letters and special characters.

The last step is now to link this user to the database, and this is done using the following form:

add user to database bluehost

Here, you simply select the user and the right database from the options in the dropdown field. Then click on Add.

A new page will open asking you what permissions this user will have on the database (create, delete, update, etc):

manage user privileges MySQL databases bluehost

Check the box ALL PRIVILEGES to have all the rights and click on the Make Changes button.

This tool will be useful if you ever migrate a WordPress site by hand and this is where you will define all the constants that are used by the wp-config.php file to make the connection between WordPress and the database (the name of the database, the username and the password).

wp-config.php file MySQL settings bluehost

Note that the MySQL Database Wizard option allows you to do this step by step very simply by being guided.

Now let's move on to the next part about the…

cPanel Domains tab

cpanel domains tab settings

The Domains section is the third most important part of cPanel. It allows you to manage everything related to your domain name(s).

If you're with Bluehost, you won't find a domain tab because they manage this part on their side.

Domains tab cPanel bluehost

Next you will find the…

Addon Domains

This is where it is imperative to register all the domain names you wish to use on your hosting provider.

You must therefore register:

  • All additional domain names purchased through your web host.
  • All domain names that are external to your hosting provider and for which you have pointed the DNS towards it. Nothing prevents you from buying your domain names from 10 different registrars and using them all on the same web host.

Note : the DNS of BlueHost are the following:

  • ns1.bluehost.com
  • ns2.bluehost.com

You can also find examples of DNS changes in the official documentation.

To add a domain, you just have to register its name and the folder to which it will point in the following form:

create an addon domain form on cpanel
  • New Domain Name: enter here the name of the domain to be added, without HTTPS nor WWW.
  • Subdomain: I advise you not to touch it. It is automatically filled from the domain name.
  • Document Root: this is the folder on your FTP where the domain name will point to. This folder will contain your WordPress installation.
    You can leave it as it is or you can define a folder name of your choice.

To register a domain name directly from BlueHost: on the left column menu, go to Domains > Register (or you can use the top right button + Add Domain). Also, you can go to Domains > Assign and follow the steps.

assign domain bluehost

Follow the steps and once validated, your domain name will be visible in the list of all your domain names.

If you buy several domain names for the same site, for example with the extension .com and .blog, it is possible to redirect one to the other. I explain this a little further on.

Subdomains

This tool allows you to create subdomains very simply from the domains present on your cPanel (Domains > Subdomains).

In fact, it is used to create URLs such as subdomain.mysite.com.

In the same way as for domain names, all you have to do is give a name to your subdomain, choose the domain to which it will be attached and define to which folder on your hosting it will point:

create a subdomain form on cpanel

Just to be clear: the above screenshot is from the cPanel interface whereas the below one is from BlueHost. From another hosting, it could look different from these two!

subdomains bluehost
This is how it looks like from the BlueHost interface

Here I create an english subdomain for my domain name wpmarmite.blog.

The complete address will be english.wpmarmite.blog and will host a WordPress installation completely independent of the first one, in another folder, which here has the name of the subdomain.

The advantages are multiple:

  • Create development areas so as not to modify the online site. You can for example duplicate it on the subdomain dev.my-site.com and work on it without risk;
  • Create your customers' sites on subdomains of your professional site. This allows them to follow the progress in real time and manage the project at the same time as you;
  • Segment the different parts of your site to improve performance. Installing many plugins on a site can often cause slowdowns. So creating a subdomain for each feature can be a good idea. For example: shop.my-site.com to install your shop, forum.my-site.com for a discussion forum, etc.

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Aliases

This tool enables you to point a URL A to a site B and display URL A to your visitors.

create a new alias or remove one on cpanel

Except in very special cases, it is unlikely that you would use an Alias.

Redirects

As its name indicates, this tab (under Domains > Redirects on BlueHost) will be useful for creating and defining redirections of all types.

add redirect form on cpanel

The redirections allow you to redirect a link to another, for example if you delete a page or an article from your site, or even redirect an entire site to a new URL if you change your domain name.

For this last possibility, a generic redirection from your old URL to the new one will allow you to do it in one click as on the image below:

redirects bluehost
Example of redirection from the BlueHost interface (under Domains > Redirects)

In the redirection type, two choices are available:

  • Permanent (301)
  • Temporary (302)

To learn more about the different types of redirection, I recommend Johanne's article on the subject.

I redirect here a domain name, that I don't use but that I keep, to my main site.

The options to be defined are the following:

  • Type: I want my redirection to be permanent, so I select the 301.
  • Https?://(www.)? : all the domains in your possession are listed here, you just have to choose the one you want to redirect. You can't redirect a domain name you don't own. (Imagine that someone can redirect Google.com to his domain name… 😉 )
  • Redirects to: you have to type here the domain name to which you want to redirect the initial domain name.
  • The last step allows you to choose whether you want to redirect the domain without www, with, or both. It's up to you!
  • Wild Card Redirect: is useful if you change your domain name. By checking this box, all your pages will be redirected automatically from one domain to another.

Zone Editor

Once again, here you can see the Zone Editor screen from the classic cPanel (above) and from the BlueHost interface (below).

DNS zone editor bluehost

The Zone Editor tool (Domains > Zone Editor) will allow you to modify the DNS of your domain names (the A Types) or those of your email addresses (the MX) in case your site is on a different web host than your domain name.

Warning: These are quite advanced settings. So be careful with your modifications before validating them!

As a reminder, the DNS are used to make the link between the domain name and the IP address of your server.

If you are using one of your domain names on another hosting provider, then you will need to change the DNS of your domain name to point it to the new web host.

To access it, click on the Manage button to the right of the domain name you want to modify.

manage zone editor cpanel

If you want to know easily what are the DNS of your domain name, you can use the DNS Checker site.

cPanel Email tab

email tab settings on cpanel

This section allows you to create and manage all the messaging part of your website.

If you are using your site for professional purposes, chances are that you want an email address like contact@mysite.com rather than mysite@gmail.com.

That sounds more professional, doesn't it?

Well this is where it all happens.

I'll explain how to create one and how to use it on your email client or on your phone, then we'll briefly go over the other features that you'll have less use for.

create an email account on cpanel

I think you got it now: above one is from cPanel and below one is from BlueHost.

email accounts bluehost
  • Click on the Email Accounts tab: the list of all your email accounts are listed in a table;
  • If you don't have one yet, click on the blue +Create button on the right to add one;
  • 4 fields are to be defined:
    • Domain: if you have more than one domain name on the web host, you can choose the extension of the email to be created. For example @mysite.com
    • Username: this will be the name of your mailbox. For example contact@mysite.com or hello@mysite.com. You are free to put whatever you want in it.
    • Password: set a password for your mailbox.
    • Storage Space: this is the size allocated to your mailbox on the server. Always choose the unlimited option (if you have it), it's the simplest.
  • Validate by clicking on the + Create button.

Your new professional mailbox is finally available!

Back on the list of our email addresses, click on the “Manage” button to the right of the address you want to access.

To use it, read and send emails, you have two options:

  • Directly from the interface of your cPanel as we currently do by clicking on the Check Email button. You will then be able to choose one of the webmail applications offered. Please note that only the design changes, the functionalities remain the same.
  • By setting up your favorite email client, such as Thunderbird or your phone email client. Click on the Connect Devices button to access the manual configuration settings for your email address. Note that automatic scripts are available to set up your mailbox in one click on Iphone or Outlook for example.
Secure SSL TLS email settings bluehost

Congratulations, your new email address is now fully functional!

The Email tab offers a few other features that may be of use to you:

  • Forwarders: a tool to redirect emails from one address to another.
  • Autoresponders: Are you going on holiday? Notify your contacts by setting a message and a date interval for sending it.
  • Global Email Filters: you can set up email filters based on a word or expression in the subject line, the sender's address, the content… and define different actions accordingly (such as deletion for example).

Now that you know how to manage your mailbox with cPanel, let's talk about the…

cPanel Metrics tab

metrics tab settings on cpanel

This tab gathers different tools to follow the events of your sites or your hosting provider.

You will probably only use them very rarely, but be aware that if you notice significant slowness of your site or many errors, you might find a lead here.

  • Visitors: you can see the last 1000 visited pages of your domain, as well as the IP of the visitors.
  • Errors: if you have problems with your site, take a look here to find a lead on where they came from. The last 300 errors found will be displayed here.
  • Bandwidth: you can see here the bandwidth consumption of your site. No special knowledge is needed here, but if you notice a high consumption or very frequent peaks, it may be necessary to optimize your site.
  • Raw Access: this tool allows you to download an archive of the latest visits to your site.
  • Awstats: it's the equivalent of Google Analytics but provided by cPanel. It can be useful if you want some advanced statistics of your traffic but clearly remains a less ergonomic and practical tool.

cPanel Security tab

security tab settings on cpanel

The Security tab brings you interesting features for your WordPress site, the most important and frequent of which is the creation and installation of an SSL certificate.

Various tools are offered here including:

  • SSH Access: it allows you to access your server in a secure way on the command line (via a terminal). It is however reserved for experienced users.
  • IP Blocker: if you notice one or more regular IPs via the Metrics section with strange behavior on your site, you can block them completely here by adding them to your blacklist.
  • SSL/TLS: if you have an SSL certificate purchased from an authorized reseller (Comodo for example), it is via this tool that you will have to register it with its private key.
  • SSL/TLS Status: From there, you'll be able to set up an SSL certificate on your domain name(s). To do so, you need to check the box of the domain name(s) for which you want to install the SSL certificate. Then, you click on the Run AutoSSL button and that's it.

cPanel screen (top) vs BlueHost screen (below). They look the same!

SSL TLS status bluehost

Having a website in https is essential to encrypt the sensitive data of your visitors but also to reassure them during their visit on your site.

BlueHost provides a free “Let's Encrypt SSL” certificate with each of its hosting plan. Feel free to take a look at our post about moving from HTTP to HTTPS.

free SSL bluehost for every hosting plan

We will now move on to the…

cPanel Software tab

software tab settings on cpanel

Here only one feature will interest us:

  • MultiPHP Manager: since the release of WordPress 5.2 and the addition of the health center of your site, it will check that the PHP version of your server is adequate. If it is not, it will use cPanel's MultiPHP Manager tool to change it in one click.

Warning: If your site is not up to date, a change of PHP version could lead to display errors or even a site crash. Make sure that everything is correct after your modification.

Softaculous Apps Installer: it is a tool that enables you to install CMS in one click on the domain of your choice, especially WordPress. If you want to know more about this tool, Thibaut explains everything in the article How to install WordPress like a Pro.

The other tools are not WordPress related, we will not talk about them here.

We've just gone through the most useful cPanel options for managing ypour WordPress sites on a daily basis.

You can now be autonomous for most of your needs.

Feel free to take a look at the slightly more advanced features we haven't talked about here. You never know, it might come in handy someday.

Conclusion

cPanel remains the most widely used hosting management solution in the world and as we have just seen, its biggest advantage lies in the simplicity of site management and the autonomy it leaves to its users.

Remember that each hosting can customize the cPanel interface with specific features and settings (as we showed you in this post with BlueHost).

Be aware that there are other hosting management interfaces such as Plesk, ZPanel, Webmin, Virtualmin and even many other proprietary interfaces developed by some hosting providers themselves (but these are still less widespread).

What do you use on your side? Are you satisfied with your current interface, and what would you like to see improved?