I’m going to start a mini series of posts here called Alternatives to Cpanel, first you might ask why not Cpanel and its worth pointing out that Cpanel is arguably one of the most popular and most comprehensive control panel solutions for web hosting out there, it might not be good for some people or some use cases the first of which that comes off the top of my head is using Nginx (pronounce it Engine-X) instead of Apache. granted there are now plugins that allow you to run Nginx in front of Apache on Cpanel, both a paid and free option, both still don’t eliminate Apache completely like Litespeed can do (that’s perhaps content for another blog post)
Today I am going to talk about Webmin, I’m going to briefly recommend install instructions for Debian and talks about some of its strengths and weaknesses. Firstly I should point out that Webmin out of the box is not a web hosting control panel like Cpanel, if you want that level of functionality you need to install the Virtualmin addon package (GPL or paid) which totally extends Webmin into a hosting system. on its own Webmin allows you to just about tweak any setting on your Linux, Windows or even Mac computer – yes I did just say mac, I run it on my local mac to manage Apache vhosts rather than have to pay to use MAMP Pro.
If you have CentOS/Red Hat or Debian/Ubuntu, installing Webmin is actually pretty simple, the install instructions are here: Debian, CentOS, there is one caveat though regarding Debian install instructions, the developer recommends adding both mirror servers to your apt sources list, while there’s arguments for both sides I don’t recommend it purely due to the possibility of the mirrors becoming out of sync and potentially giving out of date information, CentOS and YUM handle this much much better by using the idea of a mirror list and it tests on the fly for the best mirror and uses that one unless there is a problem, as of yet Debian and APT don’t have such a feature. here are the quick Debian install instructions:
edit the /etc/apt/sources.list file on your system and add the lines :
deb http://webmin.mirror.somersettechsolutions.co.uk/repository sarge contrib
NOTE: I have used only one server despite the instructions saying add both, I would recommend testing the speed of each and picking the fastest for your needs
You should also fetch and install the GPG key with which the repository is signed, with the commands :
cd /root wget http://www.webmin.com/jcameron-key.asc apt-key add jcameron-key.asc
You will now be able to install with the commands :
apt-get update apt-get install webmin
All dependencies should be resolved automatically and webmin installed with your root username and password being the default user.
once you have installed you will get a login screen like this if you navigate to yoursiteip:10000 in a browser
What webmin is really powerful with and what makes it brilliant for more advanced server administrators is that it generally parses config files on the fly and writes back to config files on the fly, it doesnt attempt to “take control” of config files like Cpanel and some other Control panel solutions do, which means if you make a command line edit, it will show up in webmin and vice versa, you wont end up fighting ping pong between the 2 if you want to make a change.
there are quite a lot of plugins for webmin as well and its possibly very likely that if it isnt in the core setup that there is possibly a module for that ftp server you use (like vsftpd) however at this time there isnt really a reliable nginx plugin available yet which is a shame because the 2 would go hand in hand with building a very lean production webserver we live in hope for it to mature though, initial work has been done here but needs someone to take it forward.
Another advantage of Webmin is that it runs its own mini-server (originally called miniserv.pl) now normally i wouldnt recommend spending extra resources if you can avoid it but in this case i make the exception purely because Webmin does use so little resources, and its also another way to access your server if you break ssh or something (note, breaking network settings breaks all services not just ssh!)
I use webmin on most servers i setup that aren’t cpanel purely because the firewall system CSF&LFD (another post another day) has a great webmin module which makes managing your firewall and brute force protection much much easier on non cpanel servers – CSF was originally written for cpanel but then they made it work generically on all linux systems and even wrote the webmin module.
one of the biggest pros of webmin is that its 100% free which is great if your building servers on a budget too
I’ll leave this post here for now, but I would love to hear your comments about Webmin, also I’d love to hear of recommendations for other alternatives to Cpanel