DirectAdmin vs cPanel: How to choose the right control panel in 2024?

Is it time to make a switch? Last Updated: Sat, May 04, 2024

DirectAdmin Logo VS cPanel Logo

If you're new to Web Hosting then you may be wondering what is the difference between cPanel and DirectAdmin? And you probably want to know which one is best for your website. Should you go for the seemingly cheaper DirectAdmin hosting plans or the seemingly more popular cPanel hosting plans? In fact, you might even be wondering what exactly is a control panel and why do you need one?

What are Control Panels?

Think of a web hosting control panel as an online tool in the form of a Dashboard that sets up and manages everything about your website/s. In other terms it's a user-friendly interface for a web admin to manage their hosting account. It's somewhere to upload and edit files on your website. Somewhere to tweak settings, add email accounts, add databases and view statistics. Somewhere to install and manage software running on your website. Somewhere to simplify and automate all the technical things behind your website that would otherwise be impossible for the average user.

There are actually many different control panels available, such as:

  1. cPanel
  2. DirectAdmin
  3. Plesk
  4. Webmin
  5. ISPmanager
  6. Vesta
  7. Centos Web Panel
  8. Virtualmin
  9. ZPanel
  10. H-Sphere
  11. ISPConfig

But the most formidable of these are cPanel and DirectAdmin, some would also include plesk, but that is for another discussion.

The Pros and Cons of cPanel

cpanel screenshot

whm screenshot

Most agree that cPanel is the bigger control panel in terms of user base, general size and development history. cPanel has pretty much been the industry standard for decades, it was one of the first control panels to rise in the late 1990's and has dominated for 2 decades. cPanel is designed to work seamlessly with Alma Linux, Rocky Linux, CloudLinux and Ubuntu operating systems, offering a wide range of tools to simplify web management. With cPanel you get 2 user account types, a standard user account (cPanel control panel) and a reseller account (WHM control panel).

The Pros of cPanel

  1. Is mostly easy to understand, use and navigate.%C2%A0
  2. Offers a comprehensive range of functions and features.
  3. Is well funded, with a large development team and proven development process.
  4. Has been around a very long time and is very stable and secure.
  5. Has a large support community for general DIY support.
  6. Has a large marketplace for addons and plugins
  7. Packages are better making upgrades much simpler (packages are not separated into 2 types)
  8. Offers Sitejet Builder - a useful website builder

The Cons of cPanel

  1. Its expansive and full feature set can be daunting for first time users
  2. It's bit of a resource hog, leaving a large footprint on the host server.
  3. Despite its longevity it can still have its glitchy moments
  4. It's usually more expensive
  5. Being larger, its slower to adjust to changes
  6. It has a more restrictive licensing model, charges per account, has no economy of scale
  7. It recently changed ownership (2018), causing future licensing price uncertainties

Some cPanel History - from a Web Hosts perspective

As the author of this blog post, being a Web Host business owner gives me a certain perspective on this topic. I'll state it immediately that for ethical reasons I prefer DirectAdmin over cPanel, even though my business exclusively used cPanel for over a decade. However being purely pragmatic and overlooking the past - cPanel is the superior product.

It all started when cPanel got taken over by Oakley Capital back in 2018. Prior to this takeover cPanel was a "people first" company, kinda like how google used to be. Back in those days (prior to 2018) we could purchase an unlimited cPanel license for each of our servers for only $9.95/m USD.

Then after the takeover the licensing model was changed and charged on a per account basis. We had thousands of users and quickly realised our licensing costs were about to explode overnight if we stayed with cPanel.

So what were we going to do? Force all our hosting clients to pay twice (or 3 times) as much for their hosting plans? We couldn't do that, but not only that, we disagreed with the way the new management of cPanel forced these changes through. Did they care about devastating Hosting Companies that relied on their control panel? Clearly they did not, so we looked for an alternative and thankfully DirectAdmin was ready and available to replace cpanel.

It was also very easy to migrate from cPanel to DirectAdmin and personally after some time I found myself preferring DirectAdmin, although at that time it was a bit of a risk as we weren't 100% certain of the reliability of DirectAdmin.

Well 5 years later I can report that we have encountered ZERO issues with DirectAdmin. It has been rock solid, stable, and reliable. It turns out that it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

The Pros and Cons of DirectAdmin

directadmin user screenshot

directadmin reseller screenshot

DirectAdmin is known for being a light weight control panel that's slightly younger than cPanel. DirectAdmin was released in 2003 by JBMC Software. DirectAdmin is designed to work seamlessly with RHEL, CentOS Stream, Alma Linux, Rocky Linux, CloudLinux, Debian and Ubuntu operating systems, and also offers a wide range of tools to simplify web management.

The Pros of DirectAdmin

  1. It has a more modern User Interface
  2. Offers a decent set of features and functions, almost on par with cPanel
  3. While smaller it still has an active and vibrant Development team
  4. It's a resource light weight (more efficient use of resources)
  5. Proven to be stable and secure. We have never encountered any stability issues in 5 years of using it
  6. It has the majority of plugins that cPanel has
  7. It has decent enough support
  8. Licensing model is cheaper and offers an unlimited tier

    The Cons of DirectAdmin

    1. Navigating can sometimes be confusing
    2. API can be more glitchy than cpanel
    3. Not as many functions and features overall
    4. Smaller Development team and company funding
    5. Slower support and smaller online support community
    6. Less plugins and smaller marketplace
    7. Packages come in 2 types, "user" and "reseller" packages, this can make upgrades more difficult
    8. Still offers an unlimited license but has changed pricing unexpected over the years (for new licenses)

    Conclusion - so who wins?

    As a Web Hosting service provider and software developer who has coded plugins for both of these control panels I can offer a mixed response. As a Web Hosting provider I prefer DirectAdmin and would recommend you choose DirectAdmin plans to host your website/s. This is for 2 main reasons, value for money and rock solid stability. Having administrated many DirectAdmin servers over the last 5 years I can confirm they are rock solid and provide all the functionality you should ever need at a much better price.

    However as a plugin developer I personally prefer cPanel as it's much easier to develop plugins (APPS) for cPanel. In cases where you want to host very large and complex websites - I would recommend you pay extra for cPanel.

    Diving a little deeper there may be some future price uncertainties about cPanel licensing going forward. The new owners of cPanel have increased their per account licensing charges a number of times since taking over in 2018. So there is a high likelihood this will continue in the years ahead. Of course there is no guarantee that DirectAdmin won't increase its prices too, but for me the choice is DirectAdmin as they seem more committed to fair pricing.

    For the average website owner - it won't really make a lot of difference which control panel you use, they are pretty much equivalent. cPanel will give you more bells and whistles at a higher price, while DirectAdmin plans will typically be cheaper but still give you enough to do everything you'd ever need. So imho DirectAdmin is probably the better choice, unless you really need an extra feature that cPanel offers.

    So is it time to move away from cPanel?

    I'm going to get straight to the point here and simply say up front that imho DirectAdmin will be a better choice for most website owners due to the cost savings. cPanel may be better for those with bigger sites and/or larger budgets.