Brief Overview of cPanel - Functions and Features
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First of all, before we begin, let's glance at the attached screen shot below. That's how the main control panel of cPanel looks. It has plenty of "icons," right? Each of them is a front end for a particular server-side administration or maintenance task. We're going to enumerate and give a basic overview of each of them.
The first thing you notice is the way cPanel displays two panes. The left column contains general information about your account, the server on which your site is hosted, and some brief statistics about your monthly bandwidth and storage status. The right column is the larger one, and it's where you can access various administrative tasks. Basically, that's where all the maintenance happens.
Think of it like this: the left part is the information section, while the right section is where the actions is. At the top right corner of cPanel you can see the Home and Logout buttons. These are omnipresent, so you can always do either of these actions regardless of the menu you are in.
Now let's explore the icons. The first one stands for actions related to Mail. This is where you add, remove, manage e-mail accounts, set up forwarders, mailing lists, auto-responders, configure email filters and anti-spam functions, etc. Then you have the Webmail option, which is basically a web-based email client. Nonetheless, it's rather minimalist compared to a stand-alone desktop email client, but it works decently.
We're going to skip naming and describing the self-explanatory front-ends, such as changing passwords or the ones related to statistics. There are lots of fancy FTP and Web statistics, so check them out! Oh, and by the way, you can access webmail without entering cPanel by pointing your web browser to hostname.com/webmail.
Here at the control panel you can manage your domains too. You can add parked domains, which are other additional domain names that can be set up to redirect to your current hosting account. At addon domains, you can configure new domain names that link to certain sub-folders on your account. You can also create sub-domains, which are basically prefixes to your current hostname, such as "tony.hostname.com."
You can manage your MySQL databases through cPanel. Some of the tasks that you can do with existing databases are "delete," "check," and "repair." You can create new users and new databases, set up other access hosts, and add specific users to your databases. Also, there's PhpMyAdmin, which is a tool that allows MySQL database management in an effective web environment. It is definitely very useful!
The control panel also sports a feature-laden File Manager. It is a simplistic web-based FTP-like client. It doesn't work through the FTP protocol (port 21), but it surely looks like one. Most importantly, you have full access to the whole root of your site (since you are logged in as an administrator in cPanel). You can also password protect some directories. Disk Space Usage and Backups are self-explanatory, again.
At Error Pages you can customize your error pages, such as the typical 400, 401, 403, 404, and 500 ones (bad request, unauthorized access, forbidden, wrong page, internal server error, respectively). You can also set redirects. For example, typing "hostname.com/blog" would always redirect to "hostname.com/blog_index.php."
Some interesting features are the Chatroom and PhpMyChat, especially if you want to create something that resembles the decades-old and outdated IRC. You can also set up a bulletin board (based on YaBB), Agora Shopping Cart (important for eCommerce websites), and then you have the CGI Center and Scripts Library. These let you manage, install, and work with CGI and other add-on scripts.
Newcomers to cPanel who are not familiar with UNIX systems often wonder what cron jobs are all about, so let's briefly explain. The best way to imagine cron jobs are as scheduled tasks. Cron is a time-based schedule in UNIX-like operating systems. A job represents a task. So basically, you can specify which shell commands (or entire scripts) are to be executed periodically on a given schedule.
At Network Tools, you have utilities, such as trace route and domain lookup. These are handy in particular situations. The MIME Types part is important if you know what you are doing; if you don't know what they are, then chances are you don't need them. Here you can specify user-defined types and modify system-defined ones.
Jokes aside, at MIME types you can specify the way file types are going to be interpreted by your web browser (i.e. ".doc" extension should be linked with "application/msword"). MIMEs are part of the Internet standard that extended e-mail support. Should you want to read more about this, I suggest checking Wikipedia.
Apache Handlers are similar to MIME types, but there's a significant difference. Apache handlers specify what Apache, the open source HTTP web server, should do with certain files. So basically, this is the place where you can tell your web server what to do when it comes in contact with particular file types/extensions.
The final front ends to mention are the following: Manage OpenPGP Keys, HotLink Protection, Leech Protection, Index Manager, SSL Manager, and IP Deny Manager. PGP keys are sported by GnuPG, which is a free open source alternative based on OpenPGP standards. You can create public and private keys. The protection front ends can restrict users from publicly giving out their passwords (leech) and prevent others from stealing your bandwidth (called hot-linking).
The Index Manager is where you can turn indexing on or off. Without having an index file at a certain directory, users won't be able to see its content. Once it is indexed, the index file is generated. At the SSL Manager, you can generate keys, sign requests, and SSL certificates. This is really important if you need them!
Ultimately, we must not forget about Fantastico de Luxe. It is a cPanel/PHP-based web-based application that fully integrates with cPanel. There's no guarantee that your hosting provider supports it, but there is a high possibility, since it is an amazing wizard that helps users (clients) automatically install open source web applications on their website. Lately, it has gained a lot of popularity.
The beauty of Fantastico is that it executes the necessary installation scripts, sets up MySQL databases, imports structure, and chmods the required files and directories. Each action is thoroughly reported to the user in a straightforward manner. Installing applications, such as phpBB2, PHP-Nuke, Joomla!, Drupal, Wordpress, 4images Gallery, customer support systems, PHPWiki, and dozens of others has never been easier.
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