To control panel, or not to control panel? It’s a perennial question, and one all conscientious web masters have had to ask at some point during their career. It doesn’t matter what kind, style, or flavor of website you’re hoping to create: Odds are you’ll have to wage the costs and benefits of using a control panel (like cPanel) to manage your media, or going Bear Grylls and relying entirely on the command shell. However, just because the problem is a ubiquitous one does not mean it has to be a hard one. In fact, with a little foreknowledge and just a smidgen of guidance, you might find the decision between graphical front-ends and pure control is simpler than you think. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the pros and cons of using a control panel alongside your website. It’s by no means a complete listing, but if you’re on the fence, it will certainly help you along the right path.
1. No Software Required: We may have just modified a Phil Collins song to meet our needs, but that doesn’t make the point any less valid: If you’re using a control panel, there’s absolutely no need to clutter up your home computer with FTP software of any kind. This, after all, is really the point of having a control panel in the first place. With something like cPanel in place, you can access your site from any location around the globe via browser. From there, you’re free to upload, mangle, and download your system’s files as needed. It’s quick, efficient, and saves you hard drive space in the long run.
2.Easy Stats: Another advantage to using a control panel over the traditional terminal are the various statistical tools available for your perusal. Using these tools, you can stay up to date on a minute-by-minute basis with who has been accessing your site, from where, and when down to the second. Want to know how many of your users have been coming from the Southeast? With a control panel in place, it’s no problem at all to find out. In fact, we might even say it’s easy as pie—especially considering pie charts are a definite possibility.
3. Ease of Installation: Another benefit to using a control panel is its ease of software installation. Essentially, with a package like cPanel creating a front-end for your site, you’re allowed to add, remove, or modify web applications as you please. Want to add a forum to your site? No problem, assuming you have a control panel! How about shopping carts, bags, help desks, image galleries, billing software, or even a content management software like WordPress? With all of the above, it’s a done deal, assuming you’ve got the control panel to match. Best of all, these installations can be removed just as easily as they’re added, allowing for an unprecedented level of control over your site’s performance.
4. Know Your Usage: Typically, when a web hosting provider comes stock with a control panel, the panel is capable of tracking your data usage, just like Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T allow users to track their minutes and allowances from the Web. In this way, it’s a cinch to keep a tab on just how much of your plan you’ve been using, allowing you to scale back next month if needed, or ramp up the features, should your site experience a sudden hike in popularity.
1. Big Tasks Suck: However, a control panel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, when it comes to certain filing procedures, they can be a right pain in the derriere. For example, let’s imagine you have a directory that’s currently housing something like 5,000 unique files. Now, what if you wanted to move all 5k of these items to a new folder? How about only the files that begin with a specific phrase? Using a graphical control panel, this could take hours of tedious clicking and sorting. However, with the command line, a single string can take care of the whole operation in only seconds. Now that’s power!
2. Getting Dirty Requires Less: Let’s create another example: Let’s say your server begins acting strangely, and all of your files suddenly change their permission states. With a control panel, sorting out the mess could, again, require hours of manipulation, and even then, privileges are notoriously hard to manage with a graphical front-end. When it comes to such root level functions as modifying folder permissions, visibility, or password protection, using the shell terminal is really the only way to go.
3. Security is Shell-Oriented: Another notch in the terminals favor is the fact that graphical interfaces are typically far less secure. These control panels rely on a software relationship between the hardware, the shell, and the pretty, eye-candy studded panel you deal with on a daily basis. All of this connectivity adds up to an impressive level of control, but also to a lot of compromised security. Not to mention the fact that cPanel’s popularity makes it a prime target for hackers looking to make a quick steal. The shell terminal, on the other hand, is direct, password encrypted, and one-way. With this in mind, it’s nearly impossible to hijack a shell tunnel, providing an infinitely more secure experience, and at no cost to your overall control.
So there you have it! On the whole, there’s really only one quick question you need to ask yourself when considering the application of a graphical control panel: And that is, “How much ease of use am I really after?” If quickly and simply managing your site is of the utmost importance to you, there’s no better way to do it than with a program like cPanel. Otherwise, for the dedicated and control-based webmaster, the shell truly is king.