A control panel is the administration portion of your webhosting account. It is an interface that you access to administer all the aspects of your account. You can typically control all portions of your site within the control panel without using any additional software including FTP software to upload files, though many people find it faster and easier to do so.
Some web hosts use customized, proprietary control panels but most use one of the more popular platforms. Plesk is one of the control panel options that is preferred along with Server CP and Virtuozzo. However, the leader is in the industry is CPanel. Although there are some variances between the programs, they all have similar functionalities and features.
Control Panel Basics
Control panels offer basic information that can be useful for your site. One of the most important aspects is your account at a glance. You can see how many resources you are using to ensure you are not at risk of exceeding any limitations. There is typically a section where you can change your password, set preferences such as the email address for notifications and the language you prefer. You may see:
Bandwidth usage for the month
Disk space usage
Path to Perl
Path to Sendmail
Add on domains
Of course, one of the most important aspects of a web hosting account is the actual content on your site. This is where the file management system comes into play. Often this will include a means to backup your files so you can download them for security purposes. This is the section where you can also create FTP accounts so that you can use an FTP client for ease of uploading and downloading documents to your site. The actual file manager allows you to view the document map of your site so you can view all files, directories and sub directories. Within the file manager you are typically able to:
Create new folders/directories
Create new files
Move, copy and delete files and folders
Upload and download files
The control panel also performs the important function of allowing you to administer your email settings. This part allows you to create email addresses and set quotas for as many accounts as you are allowed. You can also set a catch-all email if you have this functionality. You may also set up mailing lists, auto responders and forwarders from this section.
Some hosts have the ability to check web mail from the control panel and some offer anti-spam tools where you can choose whether or not to turn on a spam filter and modify your preferences on how to handle emails marked as spam.
Most control panels have a variety of statistical analysis options to help you optimize your site. You may use the statistics to monitor security, analyze traffic for search engine optimization or determine the efficiency of your site. Some of the data you can obtain from the provided statistics include:
Number of visitors to the site
Where browser navigated to within site
How long someone stayed on the site
Where they left your site to go to
All of the information you can garner from this data can be used to target advertising, to optimize your site or to make sure your site is running as efficiently as possible.
You can tighten the security of your site or enact special permissions for various parts of your site with the security section. This is often where you can create password protected directories so any information accessed from that area of your site requires a user name and a password. If you have a problem with particular visitors you can block by IP to deny a particular IP or block of IP’s from accessing your site. You can also enable hot link protection so people do not use your images and link directly to them, effectively stealing your bandwidth.
Many web hosts have available one click applications available to help enhance your website. These may include third party software applications. Fantastico is an especially popular addition. This is a bundled software package that includes multiple applications. Whether your host offers Fantastico or not, you may see the following as additional software options in your hosting account:
Classified Ad Management
Content Management Systems
Customer Support Systems
Your control panel likely has more functions than you will ever use or may even be familiar with. There are advanced options available and the ability to administer various parts of your site. Some additional functions you may see in your control panel include:
Internal links to help files or support
Automatic notifications or news updates from your web host
Want to learn more? Check out all of our great web hosting guides!