Cpanel is a back end area of sorts offered by many web hosting services such as Hostgator. It is an amazing tool but it can be a bit overwhelming at first. This guide will go through some of the very nice features offered by Cpanel so that you can make use of them with your website.
First things first, if your website has a Cpanel you can access it by going to your website and then /cpanel. You will then see a log-in screen and will need to put in the user-name and password that your hosting provider gave you for your website. Once you have done this you will come to a screen with a whole lot of icons. The newest version of Cpanel has a tutorial and I would suggest using it if it is your first time using Cpanel. Between the tutorial and this guide you should end up with a good idea of the many many features you can use to enhance your website.
The Cpanel window is divided into categories. The first one to two categories are probably going to be unique to your web hosting service. For instance if you use Hostgator the first area gives you discounts from other services that are partners with Hostgator and the second area gives you access to Hostgator only areas such as payment systems and support ticket submission. Under those areas you should come to the parts of Cpanel that are pretty much the same to everyone.
The first area pertains to Cpanel. It has a link to the above mentioned tutorial, an area to change your password if you wish to do so, an area to update your contact info, as well as areas to change the language and style that Cpanel is displayed in. The final feature, shortcuts, is pretty nice and allows you to create a desktop icon for quick access to Cpanel. Overall your probably not going to use this area that much except maybe when you first start using Cpanel. Its nice to have, the features are nice, but it doesn’t really do much for your website.
The next area allows you to setup e-mail accounts from your domain. Depending on the service you chose you should have a certain number of e-mail addresses you can create, for instance with Hostgator its unlimited. The E-mail accounts icon lets you create new accounts, for instance johndoe @ yoursite dot com. You can set features for the accounts such as how much space their e-mail can take up, what their password is, etc. The Webmail icon gives you several services that you can use to access your e-mail from any computer over the Internet. This is nice for when your not on your main computer and don’t have access to Outook or other mail readers. Of the ones they offer, Cubemail seems to be the best for me, but that’s just my opinion.
Box trapper is an anti-spam feature that allows you to create a list of people you accept e-mail from. Those that are not on the list will receive an e-mail they must reply to or their e-mail is deleted. This may or may not be a good feature for you depending on how reliable your new clients are to respond before you get them on the list. Spam assassin is another anti-spam tool that filters your e-mail and tries to get rid of spam before it hits your inbox. The rest of the icons let you do a variety of thing such as set auto-responders i.e. I’m out of the office, forward e-mail from one address to another, and create filters to protect what information comes in and out of your organization. There is a lot of nice stuff here, its just going to take you some time to go through.
The third area we will cover is the File area. This has some essential features that you will regularly use with your website. The first two icons pertain to backups. You should regularly make backups of your site. Cpanel makes it very easy to do so. Just use the backup wizard and follow the directions. It will create a full backup of all parts of your site and compress them into a zip file that you can download. The backups are then also stored on your site. I would suggest depending on how often your site is updated that you have frequent updates, at least weekly. There is nothing more frustrating then getting a website working just how you want it, making one mistake, and having to start over. The next two icons are for the file manager.
This gives you the ability through cpanel to see your files on the site, edit them, delete them, change server permissions, and upload new files. Honestly, its much better to use a ftp program to do this, but in a pinch it works very well. There is even a simple html WYSIWYG editor for making changes to your pages. The webdisk area allows you to place files on your site and use it as storage for those files. Use of this depends highly on what your hosting provider allows. Disk space shows you how much space you are using, how it is used, and how much you have left. Finally, the last three let you set up ftp (file transfer protocols) accounts for accessing your site with ftp software.
The fourth section is called logs. I won’t go over each icon because this whole area just basically tells you who is accessing your site and what they are doing once they get there. This is great for seeing how much traffic you are getting as well as what points on your website people are leaving. If you constantly monitors these tools you should get a good return on the number of people visiting your website and be able to fix any problems they are encountering. Of all of them, if you just want a nice clean visual of your traffic use Awestats. Just remember that its data is always a day behind.
The fifth section is all about security. The first icon allows you to password protect folders. That way if you want part of your site to be completely private you can do so. When someone tries to access it they must put in a user-name and password to get through. The second icon lets you set IP addresses that are banned from your server. You can do this to prevent spamers, hackers, or other undesirable visitors. The SSL/TSL icon allows you to encrypt parts of your site so you can do things such as securely obtain credit card numbers for purchases. Your ability to do this will be dependent on your hosting provider and may cost extra. Hotlink protection allows you to prevent sites from stealing your bandwidth. For instance, if you have a picture on your site that others want to use, they can’t just link to your site and use your bandwidth to display the picture. Depending on what your bandwidth limits are this could be very important in preventing your website from becoming very expensive very fast. Finally, GNUPG allows you to create encryption keys to encrypt your e-mail messages so that only someone with the correct key can read them.
The sixth section is the domain section. This area lets you do a few different things. First you can create sub-domains. This allows you to create areas of your site such as billing.yoursite.com or firstgrade.yoursite.com. Add-on domains allow you to have multiple websites on one account. This feature may or may not be allowed by your provider. For instance, I currently run three domains off of the same hosting package with Hostgator. It saves me quite a bit of money. Parked domains are ones that you own that you can just point to your site. This is good if you want to have the .com, .org, .net, etc. of your domain and all have them go to the same place. Finally, redirect lets you set exactly where people end up where they type your address.
The seventh section is the database section. I am not going to cover this section beyond giving you a warning. Do not mess with this area unless you know what you are doing or have precise instructions to do so. A lot of server run programs now use MySQL databases and this is where they are managed. If you mess around with it without knowing what you are doing your WordPress blog or your Wiki could very easily stop working and have no easy fix. I know this from personal experience. Do not mess with this section unless you have a reason to do so.
The eighth section is probably the coolest one. This is where you can install lots of cool software like WordPress, Coppermine Image Gallery, etc. I am only going to cover one icon in this section as the others are a bit complicated without prior knowledge in things such as PHP. That icon is Fantastico. If you click here you will be brought to a large menu of software that you can install on your website free of charge. Some of the really cool ones include
– WordPress (very very good blogging software)
– Joomla (web content manager allows you to create many different types of websites)
– Help Center Live (allows for live help chat assuming you have someone manning the computer, otherwise provides a ticket system)
– phpBB (full featured forum system)
– Coppermine Photo Gallery (allows you to upload and organize pictures into attractive galleries)
– Tikiwiki (nice wiki software)
– Moodle (allows you to create online courses)
– Web Calendar (allows you to create an online calendar)
There are many more really cool programs here, but that is a sample of some of the best. You can get all sorts of functionality out of your website from these programs, just be prepared to spend the time to learn them. Hey, you can’t beat the price and trust me there are many software packages you can get that do the same type of thing but cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The final area is called advanced and is named that for a reason. Just like the database area you probably shouldn’t mess with this area unless you have a reason to. There are two exceptions and the first is the Image manager icon. This allows you to see the pictures on your website and even convert them to popular file extensions such as .jpg. The second is Front Page extensions. If you are using Microsoft Frontpage (I think its called Expressions now) you will need to enable these extensions to take benefit of all of the features of the software.
Overall, Cpanel is an amazing set of scripts and programs from which you can manage your website. If you are lucky enough to have a hosting provider that offers it, it is in your advantage to use it. I certainly hope that this guide has helped you to see the value of Cpanel and that you have great luck with it in the future.