Sunday, June 10, 2007

cPanel: The Next Generation

The long-awaited next generation of cPanel has arrived! Availability for cPanel's version 11 began in May, depending on what build type, or what branch of the release tree the hosting company subscribes to (* an explanation of this at the end of this post).

cPanel's version 11 will introduce MANY new features and options for users, including a new interface. You can see and play with a demo version to get a feel for the new interface. The most notable change is th ability for each cPanel user to customize the layout. Try it!

Also included with v11 is support for Ruby on Rails and many other cool development tools available through the cPanel control panel. It should be noted that though v11 offers many security enhancements, they won't be used on our servers since we already have implemented better security measures using 3rd party applications.

As cPanel's site states, this is a MAJOR release with significant changes.
Due to the massive amount of changes to the cPanel and WHM code base, cPanel will be releasing this upgrade in multiple stages.

Details of version 11's offers can be found on the cPanel v11 preview, which includes links to more detailed information in .pdf format.

So when will WE be upgrading to v11? Not...quite...yet. In the interest of our users (and my sanity), we'll be holding off the upgrade for a few weeks. In the cPanel user forums I've read mixed reviews on v11, and though upgrading is generally a good thing, my thought is v11 is not quite ready for prime time. There are still some bugs to be worked out, and I prefer not to subject my users to being BETA testers. Again, we're back to the sanity issue. There is no worse way to start a day than to wake up to find everything is different on your web hosting control panel, no one told you, and nothing works.

So just on a lark...we decided to avoid that possibility all together :)

I've been a cPanel hosting provider since 2003. Over the years the majority of cPanel hosting providers had "automatic updates" turned on...because it was one less thing a hosting company had to manage. Last fall cPanel went through a rocky patch, and many hosts, myself included, began to fear the nightly updates. (See the above comment about "there's no worse way to start your day" to have an idea of what last August and September were like for most cPanel hosting providers).

In cPanel's defense, much of that was in response to a security threat they were trying to counteract, and problems happened with the nightly updates they would push on us. Coding is not an exact science, and many times you can just "turn a knob" to have it work right. The problem for the hosting providers is (please allow me to put my little toe on the soapbox for a moment) that we take the heat for ANYTHING that goes wrong on the server...whether we caused it, cPanel caused it, the data center caused it, there's a massive network outage, etc.

A lot of providers were none too pleased with cPanel's screw ups. Some of that air still remains today, though the forums are a lot less tense, and we've gone several months without having a cPanel nightly update "break" things on the server. That's progress.

However...having experienced several botched cPanel updates, I've taken a more cautious approach. Last fall I switched from the STABLE branch to RELEASE, as at the time the security fix for a major cPanel exploit was only immediately available to those on the RELEASE or higher build tree. Since downgrading a build isn't normally advisable, we stayed at RELEASE.

With the announcement of v11 coming I started watching the cPanel forums (a GREAT cPanel resource) and seeing a few problems crop up with EDGE and CURRENT users who upgraded to v11. Along with quite a few other hosting providers we decided to error on the side of caution, downgrade our build to STABLE and switch to manual updates, and to wait until they shake the bugs outta the thing before upgrading to v11. My best estimate as to when we will upgrade would be in early July...but it really depends on when the v11 is stable.

We have done all that needs to be done in order to be "v11 ready" (upgraded Perl to v5.8.8, etc). As soon as we have an upgrade date in sight it will be announced here. Another consideration is that, like most experienced hosts, I prefer to have the upgrade happen on MY timetable, preferably scheduled on a weekend when there is less traffic on the server. Some surprises are good...waking up to everything changed and not working is NOT a good surprise. Trust me on this.

As an added measure, we do full nightly backups onto a second hard drive, and have scheduled the backups to run before cPanel's nightly updates. This way should anything go batwhacky with an update, in theory we should be able to roll everything on the server back to it's previous pre-nightly-update state.

The only thing you, the user, needs to do is check your cPanel and Webmail links. The theme (skin) we've been using, "bluelagoon", is being deprecated and no longer available. This means that is you use a shortcut/link that looks like this: (where "" is the server IP) that link will no longer work after the upgrade, since "bluelagoon" is going bye-bye.

I can and likely will create redirects to direct you to the correct login page, but it would be simpler if everyone used the following format for links:

cPanel control panel:

Replace "" guessed it...YOUR domain. That's all there is to it. These are cPanel sanctioned redirects, and will ALWAYS work, even if the server IP changes.

One last thing...I referenced the cPanel forums a few times. This is an excellent place to go if you have any questions about different features and functions of your cPanel control panel. The search feature is your friend, and it's a public and free resource to anyone using cPanel, hosting providers and users alike. Please remember two things:

1. It is by no means an official outlet for cPanel support. Though some cPanel staff answer posts from time to time, it is mainly "user to user" and/or "host to host" help.

2. The forums are for general questions on using cPanel. Any support-related questions pertaining to your account or our server, please submit a support ticket with US.

The forums can be found at:

* An explaination of cPanel's Build Release Tree:

EDGE Edge is the bleeding edge tree. While it has the newest features; It has undergone the least amount of testing (if any). You generally shouldn't run this build unless you need a bug fix or feature in it. Once an equivalent CURRENT or RELEASE build has been released, you should switch away from this.
CURRENT Current builds are more mature than the EDGE builds since they have been tested in a production environment.
RELEASE Release builds are the preferred builds to run. They are generally current enough to have the latest bugfixes and new features, but without the worry of new bugs being introduced.
STABLE Stable builds are for the conservative people who do not wish to run the latest release.