25

Do any professional sysadmins really use cPanel, rather than provide cPanel? To me, cPanel is indicative of non-professional (i.e. voluntary, spare time, personal) web hosting use?

Sure, I can see questions from people who run hosting farms and provide cPanel for their users having a place here, but every time I read a question with cPanel in the tags I think, this is surely someone who's not a professional sysadmin.

Being the guy or gal your company made support your little website on a consumer grade hosting service that uses cPanel does not make you a sysadmin?

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    Personal pet peeve of mine is when someone says they're running a "cpanel server". No, you're not. You're running a Linux server that happens to have cpanel installed. – EEAA Jun 25 '12 at 18:15
  • Case in point, see the edit history of this question. serverfault.com/questions/392414/… – EEAA Jun 25 '12 at 18:18
  • I don't think you should discount volunteering carte blanche as off topic. I do plenty of volunteer work for a couple of charities, and I'd expect questions about those environments to be on topic here. – EEAA Jun 25 '12 at 18:31
  • I don't disagree, I'm suggesting it works the other way - people asking about cPanel are likely to be non-professional, I'm not suggesting volunteers always ask non-professional questions. I just know a lot of semi-IT literate friends who end up 'helping someone out' with a website end up with cPanel hosting (drives me insane, I hate it). – EightBitTony Jun 25 '12 at 18:32
  • Ahh, got it. Yes, that makes sense. – EEAA Jun 25 '12 at 18:33
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    "You're running a Linux server that happens to have cpanel installed." No, you're running a GNU/Linux server :-) Linux is not just the kernel, but also include the GNU tools that make it actually work. – aseq Jun 25 '12 at 20:29
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    I'm pretty sure ErikA and everyone else who answered here knows that Linux is just the kernel. ErikA's comment is about a fundamental misunderstanding some people have, yours is just a nit-pick. – Ward Jun 25 '12 at 20:47
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    'Consumer grade' is exactly it - if you're using cPanel, you're probably not actually running the server. – Andrew Jun 26 '12 at 3:33
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    One point I think people might be missing is what if the admin has to maintain cpanel for a web host for users to use not as a tool for the admins. – Jacob Jun 26 '12 at 14:25
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    That was the second part of my first sentence, "rather than provide cPanel?" i.e. IT Professionals might certainly install cPanel on a server they support, so that other people can use cPanel to manage their own hosting on that server, but an IT Professional probably wouldn't be using cPanel to manage a server in its own right. – EightBitTony Jun 26 '12 at 14:27
  • Depressing case in point, serverfault.com/questions/402635/… – EightBitTony Jun 27 '12 at 9:56
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    @ErikA: more likely than not, you're running Apache server or a Django application server or a MySQL database server. Linux is not a server, it's a kernel, some would stretch it to use the term to refer to the OS, but it's definitely too much of a stretch to call Linux the server, strictly speaking. – Lie Ryan Jul 1 '12 at 7:16
  • I'm not sure if they are on or off topic, but personally I'd be tempted to post cpanel related questions elsewhere (webmasters.stackexchange.com)? Please don't assume that anyone who uses cpanel is not a professional admin, as I'm sure there are many small companies that host their web site on systems that have cpanel, that employ or use the services of professional systems administrators. – Bryan Jul 2 '12 at 22:19
  • @Bryan I think the reality is that many small companies who host their web sites on systems that use cPanel have them supported by the web developer who wrote them. However, I'll re-iterate, the driver for my query is the low quality of nearly all cPanel questions on SF. I almost spent a couple of hours today cataloguing exactly how bad it was before I realised that would have been a monumental waste of my time. – EightBitTony Jul 2 '12 at 23:14
37

A question that mentions cpanel is not de-facto off-topic.
It is possible an otherwise competent admin inherited a cpanel disaster and now has to make it work.

HOWEVER - If you are limiting yourself to just "what can be done from within cpanel" you're no longer a sysadmin in my view - you're an application user, and all of your questions should be referred to the application vendor (cpanel).

The distinguishing factor in my view is that a professional sysadmin may (grudgingly) use cpanel as a tool, but they are willing and able to step outside the tool to get things done. and they typically provide enough other information about their problem to be helped along.

As Ladadadada pointed out these questions are generally crap for other reasons, like lack of information.
Crap questions are crap questions, and should be dealt with accordingly regardless of their content, though being "about cpanel" is generally a good marker for "this question is probably crap"...

  • There's probably a Linux/CLI culture element in this. cPanel may just be a tool for people who prefer to click, without making them "inferior" :-) Pushed to the extreme, in the Windows world, you could say "If you are limiting yourself to just"what can be done from within Control Panel/MMC you're no longer a sysadmin, you're an application user". (That's true in a number of cases, except that cPanel is server-oriented, not quite the same domain as the average user's Windows Control Panel.) – Bruno Jun 25 '12 at 20:37
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    I think it's different - if people want a GUI for administering their Linux server don't they just install webmin and get it over with? With Windows, you have all that stuff by default, I don't know any Professional IT staff who install cPanel to make administering their Linux server easier? – EightBitTony Jun 25 '12 at 20:50
  • @EightBitTony Not everyone can choose what tools they want to install and which resources are available to them. I wouldn't use cPanel myself, when possible, I'm just saying that cPanel questions are not necessarily off-topic. Some places have requirements for which cPanel may be sufficient (or maybe not, but that could be the subject of a question), and the purpose of cPanel is clearly about sysadmin topics, which may well be done in a professional capacity. – Bruno Jun 25 '12 at 21:15
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    @Bruno The key distinction is that it is possible to perform all "normal admin tasks" through GUI tools on Windows - the GUI exists to help you get to those tools. It is not possible to perform even some common admin tasks exclusively within cPanel - the GUI doesn't expose the tools necessary. (It would be more like trying to manage a windows server from, for instance, just the AD MMC snap-in). – voretaq7 Jun 25 '12 at 23:09
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    I will however admit to a STRONG anti-cPanel bias - In my experience people who rely on it tend to be poor sysadmins whose thinking is constrained by what cPanel exposes and where they can click. I've seen it used too often as a crutch for the inept to give it serious weight as a tool for the competent. – voretaq7 Jun 25 '12 at 23:11
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    @voretaq7, I realise there is a bias against it here (and I'm not a big fan myself). However, I'd rather see cPanel questions closed as NARQ or NC if applicable, rather than on the basis that they're about cPanel (OT). The purpose of cPanel is clearly to provide basic access to a (limited) number of sysadmin tasks. In comparison, a question about router admin (for example) via its web interface (even if full access is only via CLI) could clearly be on topic. Rather than aiming at a particular product, downvotes and NARQ/NC closure reasons are perfectly good tools to deal with bad questions. – Bruno Jun 26 '12 at 9:53
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    @Bruno I agree - In fact I said this in my answer. A question should not be closed simply because it mentions cPanel, it should be closed because it is crap for other reasons. Mentioning cPanel is just a marker for crap, like "I was editing /etc/hosts in nano and now nothing resolves"... – voretaq7 Jun 26 '12 at 14:40
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    Feature Request: Whenever someone tags their Question with cPanel, it hides the question from everyone except the author. – Safado Jun 27 '12 at 18:24
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    @Safado: Feature Request closed as invalid, add cpanel to your Ignored Tags and user CSS to .ignored-tags { display: none; } – Lie Ryan Jul 1 '12 at 7:22
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    @EightBitTony, I find it astonishing that you would condemn all cpanel questions and then turn around and actually suggest people us Webmin, which is the worst of the worst in cpanels. – John Gardeniers Jul 3 '12 at 0:56
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    @JohnGardeniers cPanel is primarily focused on web hosting, it's branched out over the years, but that's where it started. I don't use webmin, and can't stand it, but my point was that if you want a GUI to administer a UNIX server, webmin is more generic than cPanel, it's free (cPanel isn't). cPanel isn't generic enough to be a real server admin tool (no support for Samba, AFAIK, for example). I wasn't supporting webmin, just putting an other nail into the 'cPanel is a general server GUI admin tool' argument. – EightBitTony Jul 3 '12 at 8:02
  • I inherited a CPanel / Plesk disaster. What a shock! Just give me a command line to do what needs to be done. CPanel questions are not off topic. There exist CLI admins lost in clicks. – adamo Jul 4 '12 at 14:37
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I've been a professional sysadmin for 6 years and in the web business for 12. I've never seen cPanel.

So what do we do about them?

There seems to be a distinct lack of quality in these questions. Typos and bad grammar are normal and there is often loads of irrelevant information and none of the relevant stuff. Someone nearly always has to ask them for more information before a diagnosis can be made.

We shouldn't just go migrating them in their current state to webmasters.SE because we don't migrate crap.

We can:

  1. Extract information and answer the question.
  2. Extract information and migrate to WebMasters.
  3. Close as non-professional.

There are lots of related questions here on Meta.

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    Agreed, they're often crap, particularly the DNS questions, where the person asking seems to have no idea of how DNS works. Sometimes they're NARQ, sometimes OT, but often they're crap. – Ward Jun 25 '12 at 20:45
15

I do freelance sysadmin stuff (amongst other things). I dislike cPanel, and wouldn't use it on any of my own servers, and consequently am not especially familiar with how to use it. Some clients do have cPanel on their servers, and I might have questions about how I, as a sysadmin, can achieve the things that need to be done on those servers using cPanel.

If those questions would be considered offtopic on SF, I'd be much obliged if someone could point out the error in my reasoning.

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    A fair point. For me, having read your reply here, a better question than "Does it meet some narrow definition of 'on topic' or not" might be "where can people get good answers to their cPanel questions?". Clearly the answer to the first question might well be "yes, sometimes it is on topic" but if the answer to the second question is always going to be "not here" then its something of a moot point. – Rob Moir Jun 26 '12 at 13:35
  • For me, it seems that questions like that ought to have a home on webmasters.se but then its never been entirely clear to me what they do over there so I could be wrong. – Rob Moir Jun 26 '12 at 14:19
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    I don't think such questions would be off-topic here, provided that (a) you tell us enough about what you intend to do that we can figure it out and help you, and (b) if the answer is "You have to step outside of cPanel" you are both willing and able to do so. Again, for me it's the distinction between a "cPanel application user" and a "system administrator who is in charge of a server that happens to run cPanel" – voretaq7 Jun 26 '12 at 14:50
  • @DJPon3 That's an excellent point. – nickgrim Jun 27 '12 at 14:31
  • @voretaq7 On (b), I'd agree providing that it's clear that you really have to step outside cPanel (similar to: try to install software using the package-manager before Just Compiling Your Own). I guess I'm hoping that the community can avoid a slightly-sneery attitude leaning towards "Here's how you do it properly, not with cPanel". – nickgrim Jun 27 '12 at 14:36
12

It depends. As a professional System Administrator, particularly for a contractor, one might be required to manage company web sites that are running on hosted systems that only give control via a cpanel. No matter how much we might loath any kind of cpanel, in such a context the question is most definitely on topic for SF. Scary as it might sound to some of you, this is the situation for a great many pros working in the small and medium business areas.

8

The FAQ says "Server Fault is for Information Technology Professionals needing expert answers related to managing computer systems in a professional capacity", which is not quite the same as "questions from professional sysadmins" and even less the same as "questions from full time sysadmins" (it could be argued that a number of people perform sysadmin tasks in a professional capacity, but amongst other tasks).

I can understand why cPanel can be looked down upon by full time, professional sysadmins, but as far as I understand, it's still a tool for system administration of servers. (I must say I've only seen it once.)

Not every environment requires the same sysadmin needs. Generally, I'd consider cPanel to be more appropriate on ServerFault than on SuperUser. WebMasters.SE may often be a better place, but questions about e-mails and cPanel would be more off-topic there.

It may be on at the "easier" end of the spectrum, in terms of what it can do and who its target users are, but I don't think this implies it's off-topic. System administration can involve a wide range of skills; few master them all (there can be a Linux/Windows divide, for example).

In addition, there are today 485 questions using the tag, which puts it on page 4 (out of 146) of the most popular tags. 28.5% of these questions are unanswered, which I guess isn't too bad.

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    The vast majority of those questions have 2 or fewer votes, and many, many of them have 0 or fewer votes (on the questions, not even considering the answers). I think the question here is, how many people 'manage computer systems in a professional capacity' using cPanel? In my experience, it's used almost exclusively by web hosting resellers and people who've bought consumer grade / small business hosting, and who use it rather than administer the system on which it sits? – EightBitTony Jun 25 '12 at 20:40
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    @EightBitTony. If the questions are inherently bad ("Typos and bad grammar are normal and there is often loads of irrelevant information and none of the relevant stuff" as Ladadadada says), they should just be closed as "not constructive" or "not a real question" (when appropriate). I'm just saying that not everyone administers supercomputers or large clusters. I'd argue that even small business hosting can be on-topic. If they "manage computer systems in a professional capacity" using cPanel, fair enough; that's not what I would use, but that doesn't make it off-topic. – Bruno Jun 25 '12 at 20:46
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    You're not administering a server with cPanel, you're interacting with a web hosting application. I see it pretty clear cut at that level, I appreciate some might not agree with me. But just so we're clear where I stand. – EightBitTony Jun 25 '12 at 20:48
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    @EightBitTony, I don't think it's a clear cut. If you look at their demo, even the simple "domain owner" interface talks about SSH access, FTP, DNS MX entry, SSL config, cron jobs, DNS zones edition, MySQL/PostgreSQL admin, Apache handlers. Even if it's a simplified interface that doesn't give you full control, all these topics are in the realm of system administration (and not solely "web"). Some answers may require expertise from sysadmins who would know how to perform these tasks without cPanel. – Bruno Jun 25 '12 at 21:00
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    When you look at it in real number terms 486/117565 it's not as many as you make it appear. – Iain Jun 26 '12 at 6:41
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    I don't think it's a clear cut. - I think its very clear cut. As a system admin, cPanel is an application you install to allow customers (and maybe customer service agents) to administer their slice of a hosted service offering. It's not a tool you'd install to use to administer the server yourself by choice. The only area I think it's possibly on topic on is a sysadmin who's asking for help with getting cPanel to work. – Rob Moir Jun 26 '12 at 10:18
2

I used Cpanel and WHM (when you control the entire server) , and I think some of WHM configuration you need to know a little bit more of system administration (when you need to install it on console and stuffs like that), and when you set up a server (even with whm) you must have the idea of what you need and for what is that thing you are installing, but in some cases (as I saw on last versions) there is always a default option to help final users... I think cpanel is completly different, and even if it administrates a hosting service, could be from a final customer and not necessary an administrator (also I think an administrator would find the answer fast and wont need to ask). For me cpanel is not for a pro

1

I would consider cPanel questions on-topic as long as the quality and content of the question relate to the administration of the server, resource, or content that is being managed through the tool. It's no different for other web server management tools such as Helm, WebsitePanel, etc. If the question relates to something technical that a professional administrator would encounter we should entertain the question.

If not lets clean up the question, close it or migrate where appropriate. Admins utilize a wide variety of tools to manage our systems and we shouldn't close a question based on the technology utilized, rather it should be closed based on the merit and content being discussed.

Of course as pro and longtime admins we may also want to suggest other tools that could better or more easily assist the OP with the task they are attempting to complete. For instance: If someone is trying to make bulk DNS changes it is far easier to execute those against the actual DNS consoles/shells than you will find in cPanel or the other tools, so that would become a good suggestion for the OP. I'd rather be told I'm using the wrong tool for the job than waste hours or days trying to shove a square peg in a round hole.

That seems to be the most fair for everyone and the community.

  • Context is key though, it is different, because it's often (very often) provided for non-professional website management, and many, many of the questions on the site with cPanel involved are low quality and/or nothing to do with professional IT use. – EightBitTony Jul 2 '12 at 14:30
  • @EightBitTony Agreed. Just the same as many other panel systems. But as others have stated, there may be a legit need or interaction revolving around cPanel or another panel system. Like you said, all about how the question is asked, not the underlying technology being used. – Brent Pabst Jul 2 '12 at 14:32
-1

cPanel related questions are not off topic in my eyes, and I tell you why: I have seen professional sys admins working together with clients, while they need an interface which can be used by both of them. In some cases they use Plesk, Confixx or Webmin/Usermin, and in other cases they use cPanel. It is ok for me when it does the job, and it certainly is "professional" when the sys admin provides this interface to his customer. So there are scenarios with professional background, although they not all seem to be reasonable to us.

Now if you forbid questions about cPanel, you should also consider declaring questions about all other sorts of web interfaces as off topic (I am thinking about interfaces for virtualization software or proprietary software here, just as an example). And if we are already there yet - why not also reconsidering questions about Windows client OS (yes, I know, some of them are also used as "servers" sometimes) or Yast or the system-config-tools from Red Hat? Or even PHPMyAdmin?

It seems that there are no clear borders and a clear definition is hard sometimes. But before you ban a topic (just because it is unclear if it's always professional) you should allow it for the chances there might be. Don't forget that software vendors also read serverfault.com, therefore there is a new chance for the professionals to make the vendors aware of the problems.

Now how to handle questions like "how do I add an e-mail address"? Well, my suggestion would be to migrate them to Superuser.

  • You'll note in my question I didn't speak about banning or preventing. I asked if any professional sysadmins used cPanel, later corrected by others to be, do any IT professional really use cPanel. Banning is something other people have inferred. – EightBitTony Jul 3 '12 at 18:36
-2

Here's an analogous question: "Are SSH questions really 'professional sysadmin' related?"

CPanel is ultimately a type of web-based "remote shell", granted it's a fairly limited (specialised, if you will) shell, but it is essentialy a shell for doing common server administration tasks for webmasters.

CPanel is a tool to install softwares and edit various config files for various softwares and what does a sysadmin do essentially? Install softwares and edit various config files for various softwares.

I think the argument that "I am a professional sysadmin and I don't use cPanel, therefore cPanel is not a professional sysadmin tool" is kinda elitist. Granted cPanel is easier to use than most other sysadmin tools and is often also used by normal users and therefore it does attract a swath of low-quality questions; but that's not a reason for discrediting the tool nor does it make questions relating to cPanel off-topic. Granted often Webmasters.SE is more appropriate for many cPanel-related questions, but that does not necessarily make it off-topic either.

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    I'd suggest that SSH is a tool that is used by professional sysadmins far more than cPanel. However, as I said in my comments to nickgrim's answer, I'm not sure we should be asking "Does it meet some narrow definition of 'on topic' or not" when "where can people get good answers to their cPanel questions?" is a much more relevant question for the person looking to post cPanel questions. And I strongly suspect / suggest the answer to my last question is "Probably not serverfault", at least not for "how do I use cPanel" style questions. – Rob Moir Jul 1 '12 at 9:39
  • As a professional sysadmin who despises CPanel, I think this answer is getting unnecessarily dogpiled. Just because I use qmail and bash on Linux, and you use sendmail and tcsh on AIX, does not mean that I can't try to help you solve your problem. I won't be able to tell you what to type, but I can certainly tell you to "check whether you can connect to the machine on port 25" and you can interpret that accordingly and implement the test. If you can't, then either it's a CPanel limitation or you're not professional. In either event, the question should (only then) be closed. – BMDan Jul 2 '12 at 15:06

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