7 free cPanel alternatives to empower your server
Updated: October 31, 2018! 🎃
Contrary to popular belief, cPanel isn’t free, which is why many server users seek out cPanel alternatives. The world of cPanel alternatives can be complicated and difficult to parse through on its own, so we thought it was time for a comprehensive look into your choices. We’ll do our best to guide you through the alternatives, why they’re great and why you might look elsewhere, and give you direct instructions on how to install a few of our personal favorites.
Most of these cPanel alternatives are open source, which means you can browse and examine the underlying code. You can even make changes if you’re willing and able. They are all free as well, or offer a feature-rich free version for everyone but enterprise-level customers, which means you can start saving money today by switching from cPanel. That’s the beauty of the FOSS world—developers are both skilled and generous enough to create incredible alternatives and offer them free-of-charge, just to make the community better.
Let’s get into our cPanel alternatives!
In our opinion, Webmin is the most feature-rich cPanel alternative out there, and that’s why it’s the go-to for most. You can essentially do everything you can with the pay-for-play cPanel, but entirely for free. With the built-in modules, you can backup configuration files, set up and configure Apache webservers, monitor bandwidth, configure fail2ban, establish your iptables firewall, administer users, set up cron jobs, secure your SSH connections, and much more.
This control panel might not look great, but that’s why we recommend combining Webmin with the Authentic Theme. These updated themes are easier on the eyes and make working with Webmin a little easier.
Whether you’re running Ubuntu, Debian, or CentOS, the Webmin developers have a package and installation procedure for you. If you’d like to dig in a little deeper, Webmin’s source code is available on GitHub.
2. CentOS Web Panel
If you’re running CentOS on your virtual private server (VPS) and don’t think Webmin is quite right for you, CentOS Web Panel is the go-to solution. It allows you to deploy and administer Apache webservers, firewalls, MySQL databases, SSL certificates, an Nginx reverse proxy, self-hosted email, and much more. You can also manage users, deploy backups, and keep tabs on your system’s health via the services monitor.
One unique feature of CentOS Web Panel is its Auto-Fixer, which scans important configuration files and attempts to auto-correct them in case you (or the panel itself) make a mistake.
To install, you need an updated CentOS installation, a functioning LAMP stack, and at least 1GB of RAM. It’s important to reiterate that CentOS Web Panel is only officially supported on CentOS—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.
Ajenti is a comprehensive control panel that bills itself as “an admin’s tool for a more civilized age, providing you with a fast and secure way to manage a remote Linux box at any time using everyday tools like a web terminal, text editor, file manager and others.” There’s a responsive remote terminal, the ability to establish firewalls, install packages, manage users, monitor resource usage, and more. Ajenti also comes with a number of plugins, with the ability to add more, or develop even further with Python. And, according to the Ajenti developers, the control panel “doesn’t tell you how to do your job,” leaving your system as intact as possible.
Ajenti is a great control panel for those who already have a few services running on their server. Other panels simply wipe out existing configurations, but Ajenti promises to at least attempt to pick up your current configuration without changing it. Ajenti also considers itself “caring,” in that all changes are non-destructive and won’t overwrite your files, options, and comments.
The core project is open source and can be found on GitHub.
YunoHost bills itself as a “server operating system aiming to make self-hosting accessible to everyone.” It’s not meant to be as comprehensive as cPanel or Webmin, as it’s only goal is to install various self-hosted applications for you. You won’t find firewall management or reverse proxies here, only a number of officially-supported “apps” for installing various programs, such as Baikal, Nextcloud, WordPress, Zerobin, and more.
You can administer your VPS via the YunoHost web interface or the command line. YunoHost officially supports Debian 8 and is coded primarily in Python under an open source GPL license. The code is available on GitHub.
Froxlor bills itself as the “lightweight” alternative to 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.
ISPConfig is another longstanding competitor in free cPanel alternative space and just might be the dark horse of this comparison. 40,000 downloads a month is nothing to sneeze at. You can also configure Apache2/nginx web servers, mail servers, DNS, mirroring, and much more, just as you would with Webmin or Ajenti.
The most unique feature of ISPConfig is its ability to manage multiple servers from a single control panel. If you’ll be working with more than one server and want a consistent experience across all of them without having to install the same control panel on each one, ISPConfig just might be the ticket.
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 Debian, Ubuntu, and CentOS, making it flexible for just about any application. The source code is available via the organization’s GitLab repository under an open source BSD license.
7. Vesta CP
VestaCP is a beautifully-designed control panel core written in Bash, which Linux diehards will love. 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, Debian, and Ubuntu, and it’s licensed with GNU. The source code is available on GitHub.
Note: Starting around summer 2018, we’ve heard of an increased volume of VestaCP servers being subjected to automated attacks based on unknown vulnerabilities. Common solutions include securing your SSH connections through the use and enforcement of keys and disabling the root user entirely. We’re not going to remove VestaCP from this list entirely due to its popularity, but thought would-be user should know.
How about no cPanel alternative?
Control panels are great for VPS beginners who want to quickly host a website without having to crunch a year’s worth of terminal education into a weekend. They’re equally good for advanced sysadmins who need consistent results across a handful to a few dozen machines.
But there comes a time when every burgeoning server administrator needs to take on some of the responsibility for themselves. There’s an incredible value in learning how to navigate a server, download and deploy services, and make fixes when something goes wrong. You don’t need to deploy an advanced Docker Swarm cluster on your first go—maybe try something easier, like EasyEngine’s WordPress auto-install?
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.
Conclusion: taking cPanel alternatives to the next level
We hope this gets you on the right foot if you’re interested in using a control panel with your server but don’t want to pay up for cPanel. There are some others paid solutions available too, such as Cloudron, Plesk, and ClusterCS, but looking into the featuresets of each is well beyond the scope of this post. We want to help you find free cPanel alternatives, after all!
The great thing about a control panel is that for many, it offers more choice and opportunity. With the power of a control panel, you can stretch every dollar you spent on your server even further, and without most of the headaches that come with server administration for the rest of us.
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