Contrary to popular belief, cPanel isn’t free—the administrator panel that comes built-in with many shared hosting options generally doesn’t come with a virtual private server (VPS), too. If you’re using a VPS and you want the cPanel experience, you’ll have to over $20/month for a license. Given that you’re already paying for the VPS itself, this might seem like a lot of additional cash, and you’re not wrong—that’s why developers have been building open source cPanel alternatives for years.
Instead of paying, you can choose from some free, open source alternatives that offer the same features, have their source code available online for your perusal, and will help you save money. Here are some of the most popular options.
|The Webmin interface (with the Authentic Theme installed).|
Webmin leverages your web browser to help you configure user accounts, Apache, DNS, file sharing, and much more. Webmin helps with backups, user administration, web servers, cron jobs, mail servers, and much more—it’s likely the most feature-rich of any of the options listed here.
Many users recommend combining Webmin with the Authentic Theme to make the interface a little prettier (and maybe a bit easier to use as well).
A large variety of installation sources exist, from a tar/gzip, RPM package, Debian package, and more. There are also some repositories available for integration with your distribution’s package manager. Webmin officially supports dozens of distributions.
Webmin’s source code is available on GitHub.
|The CentOS Web Panel interface.|
If you’re running CentOS on your VPS, the CentOS Web Panel is the go-to solution. It allows you to deploy and administer Apache, firewalls, MySQL databases, self-hosted email, user management, and other core system configurations.
To install, you need an updated CentOS installation, a functioning LAMP stack, and at least 1GB of RAM. The installation is rather straightforward but takes time due to the downloading of dependencies.
It’s important to reiterate that CentOS Web Panel is only officially supported on CentOS 6.x/7.x, RedHat 6.x/7.x, and CloudLinux 6.x/7.x. If you’re running Debian/Ubuntu, you’ll have to look into one of the other options.
Unfortunately, the CentOS Web Panel code is not fully open source, but it remains free for use.
|The Vesta CP interface.|
Vesta is a beautifully-designed control panel with a core that is written in Bash. Built-in features include rolling out iptables/fail2ban for security, Nginx and/or Apache for a web server, various email solutions, monitoring solutions, backups, and much more.
If you prefer to work via a command line rather than a web interface, you can do that with Vesta as well.
Vesta works with CentOS 5/6/7, Debian 6/7/8, and Ubuntu 12.04-16.04. The installation process can be narrowed down to two commands (if you still have SSH into root enabled).
ssh [email protected] curl http://vestacp.com/pub/vst-install.sh | bash
Vesta is licensed with a GNU license and has source code available on GitHub.
|The YunoHost interface.|
YunoHost bills itself as a “server operating system aiming to make self-hosting accessible to everyone.” There are a number of officially-supported “apps” for installing various programs, such as Baikal, Nextcloud, WordPress, Zerobin, and more.
As with Vesta, you can administer your VPS via the YunoHost web interface or the command line.
YunoHost officially supports Debian 8.x.
YunoHost is coded primarily in Python and is under an open source GPL license. The code is available on GitHub.
|The Froxlor interface.|
Froxlor bills itself as the “lightweight” alternative to other options like Webmin. From their website: “Developed by experienced server administrators, this open source (GPL) panel simplifies the effort of managing your hosting platform.” Features include Let’s Encrypt installation, PHP configuration, MySQL management, and more.
Froxlor has Debian packages available and a .tar.gz for production installations. Only Debian is officially supported, but it seems possible, with a little effort, to install it on Ubuntu as well.
Froxlor is licensed under GPL 2.0, with source code on GitHub.
|The ISPConfig interface.|
ISPConfig is a complex control panel that allows users to manage multiple servers from a single control panel—a unique feature among the competition. You can also configure Apache2/nginx web servers, mail servers, DNS, mirroring, and much more.
You can download the .targ.gz file yourself or follow the “Perfect Server” tutorial to set up Debian 8, Apache2, BIND, Dovecot, and ISPConfig 3.
ISPConfig works with many distributions, including Debian 5-8, Ubuntu 8.10-16.10, CentOS CentOS 5.2-7, and Fedora 10+12-15.
The source code is available via the organization’s GitLab repository under an open source BSD license.
We hope this gets you on the right foot if you’re interested in using a control panel with your VPS but don’t want to pay up for cPanel.
Of course, we can’t recommend enough the value of learning how to do some Linux administration yourself. That way, you’ll be better established in case something happens to go wrong. For some introductory steps, take it slow with our SSH keys tutorial and establish a baseline by which to administer your system. From there, our LEMP and Ubuntu 16.04 tutorial is a great next step. Still in the mood for more open source alternatives? Our ultimate guide to self-hosting as you covered.
The great thing about a control panel is that for many, it offers more choice—you can take the time to install specific programs yourself, but for the truly complex, let the experts behind the source code take over.
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