Why we hate Plesk and CPanel

There are a few things that we really don't like, in fact it would be more accurate to say that we hate them:

  1. Plesk
  2. CPanel


These two programs have significantly reduced the technical barriers to entry into the web hosting and dedicated servers game. So low in fact that we believe they largely responsible for a lot of bad web hosting experiences inflicted upon the poor website and application developers whose clients end up using them. To be fair, Plesk perhaps doesn't do quite such a bad job as CPanel.

Don't get me wrong, Plesk and CPanel do do a wonderful job at making otherwise complex tasks much much easier. They provide some very useful and easy to use web based interfaces for many of the common server systems administration tasks that are required to operate a web hosting server. For all those people that simply aren't interested in developing systems administration skills but do need to host web facing applications they really are quite useful.


From a systems administration perspective they make a horrible mess and in turn make the systems administrators very unhappy. Why does this matter? Because unhappy sys admins are not particularly helpful when they inevitably need to speak to customers. In more detail, many of the problems that CPanel and Plesk introduce are obscured from the customers, what the customers see is simply poor support from their web hosting or dedicated server company.

Among the evils of these two applications we have the direct and indirect problems that they cause. We'll start with the direct problems.

There are many more technical gripes that we have and it seems we're not alone. To move on to the indirect problems which are caused by these two programs:

In summary - plesk & cpanel are unarguably functional tools that have their place. If you're a business that wants your site hosted in a shared web hosting environment, a host that doesn't operate on plesk/cpanel should be able to serve you better. If you're a business that needs a dedicated server but doesn't have a large number of domains or require frequent changes, a dedicated server without plesk/cpanel but supported by a qualified hosting provider will look after you a lot better. If you want to run your own hosting service but you're not a systems administrator then by all means go down the plesk/cpanel road but best do it with your eyes open for what you're getting yourself into.

As an appendix, I'm well aware of the general level of dislike for plesk and cpanel at Anchor simply by being witness to the day to day conversation and hair pulling by our systems administrators when they have to work with it. When I started this article I posed the question on our internal jabber chat to make sure I hadn't missed anything, as you can see by the response and the time stamps it didn't take very long to get a few reasons:

A list of reasons to hate plesk/cpanel is a very personal thing. Each admin builds their own as they experience the love.
paul: 4:14: cpanel compiles its own versions of software, poor track record for security
oliver: 4:15: no configuration management
paul: 4:15: loves to auto update things. their releases sometimes break servers
egalanos: 4:15: given software versions are often old, stores config/logs in hard to find places
oliver: 4:15: software versions are either terribly old, or so cutting edge it breaks things
egalanos: 4:15: Makes diagnostics/support very difficult
paul: 4:15: the people who use it typically make me want to stab them in the eye.
egalanos: 4:15: They make no commitment to match the support provided by the OS vendor
barney: 4:16:  stuff' much harder" is a great irony of it all...
keiran: 4:16: to prevent the server from being hacked you need to keep it up to date, keeping it up to date means the machine is going to go through major version upgrades which is likely to result in broken webpages
oliver: 4:16: after stabbing them in the eye fails, you feel like stabbing yourself in the eye
matt: 4:16: High level of obscurity with regards to configuration options, much more difficult to troubleshoot simple problems
paul: 4:16: incoherent / dumb gui interfaces to do things
egalanos: 4:17: Custom configuration can often be impossible as control panel overrides what you have done
oliver: 4:17: many specialised configurations are not possible with plesk/cpanel, however often if you do it manually through ssh, cpanel/plesk will clobber the work you did anyway
paul: 4:17: or you clobber cpanel/plesk
matt: 4:17: Generally half our customers that use it tend to ask us to do shit for them anyway, defeating the purpose of it in the first place
keiran: 4:20: cpanel does have it's place though.  If you are one man band trying to run a hosting company out of a box without a clue of system administration, then it can fill that void.  
matt: 4:21: not REALLY a reason.. but cpanel's ordering system requires a ridiculous mouse drawn signature., which while it did give me a chance to be creative is generally a pita
matt: 4:24: yeah plesk on Windows is even dumber, their implementation of bind on windows for example..
paul: 4:24: 2 versions of mysql, v4 for plesk db, v5 for clients.. win
egalanos: 4:32: It takes the most surprises route. It totally ignores all the conventions of the host operating system and does it's own thing.

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Wiki: development/we_hate_plesk_and_cpanel (last edited 2008-12-23 13:59:20 by AndrewRogers)