Beginning Web Developer Course: Getting Started With cPanel

By David Fiedler

In our last episode, we learned how to register your new domain name, and how to find the best web hosting service. Before we sign up and start setting up our server, there's just one more big decision you have to make, and that's what operating system you want your server to run on.

The first web servers ran on Unix systems, and today Unix/Linux-based servers still make up the vast majority of the market because they're very efficient, scale well, and are familiar to almost any competent webmaster. However, if for some reason your particular website is written in ASP.NET or some other Microsoft-proprietary language, you may have to find a hosting service or server based on the Windows platform. And if you're a diehard Mac fan, probably nothing will do for you but having an Apple-based server as well (fortunately, that means you're still running Unix, whether you realize it or not).

Other than these special cases, you should generally work with a Linux or Unix server. If nothing else, most webmasters and system administrators are familiar with Linux, so it's relatively easy to find someone to help you, online or otherwise. The good news is that it's no longer necessary to even learn Linux. With the advent of control panel software such as cPanel and Plesk, you can easily perform virtually any necessary administration function remotely using menus on web pages, up to and including installing new software.

Thinking Inside The Box

Let's take a look at a typical shared hosting setup running Linux and using cPanel for a Web-based control panel interface. After you've signed up, your account will be configured with your primary domain, and when you sign into cPanel, you'll see a box like this one on the lower left:

And here's the explanation of all the fields:
  • Package: this is the name of the hosting package you signed up for. Make sure it matches the one you thought you signed up for!
  • IP Address: this is the address of your server. It's important to know this in case your domain has, or develops, any DNS propagation problems, because you can always access the server through its IP address (assuming it's up and running, of course).
  • Server Name: this is the name of your shared server, internal to your hosting provider's network, and it's how the provider's IT support staff will probably refer to it if you have occasion to talk to them. It's usually in a format like host27.yourprovider.net or sometimes just host27.
  • Name Servers: these are the name servers, on your provider's network, that will resolve your domain's DNS entry. Now that you have a hosting account, you can return to your account on your domain registrar's site and enter these names for your Primary DNS and Secondary DNS. They're usually in a format like ns001.yourprovider.net.
  • Home Directory: tells you where your home directory resides on the shared server's file system.
  • Operating System: what type and flavor operating system the shared server is running.
  • Server Time: mostly useful for figuring out the time difference between your location and the server's location, if any.
  • Server Status: clicking on this link will quickly show you if any essential services are down or crashed.
  • Program Paths: if you install software to the server and have a problem on initial startup, it's often because the software expects a particular program to be in a specific place. Clicking on this link will show you where many of these programs actually reside, so you can edit the software configuration files and fix the problem:

  • Program Versions: lets you check the exact version number of system programs, which can also help in troubleshooting problems with installed software.
  • Resource Alerts: if your shared server has run out of resources (CPU, memory, disk space, etc.) this will let you know what happened.

Managing Your Domains

When you registered your main .com domain, you probably bought the .net and .org as secondary versions of the same name (see this article for an explanation). Now it's time to set them up so that they all point to the same place: your main website. The first thing to do is verify that your DNS has been properly set up, so make sure that your server's own name servers are properly entered in your registrar account for these secondary domains. Then, scroll down the cPanel interface until you see an area that looks like this:

Click on the Redirects link, and you'll get to a form something like this:

On this form, where you see davidfiedler.com is where you would put the full name of your secondary domain (.net or .org), and after “redirects to -->” you should enter your primary .com domain name. After pressing the “Add” button, requests for yourdomain.org or yourdomain.net will be automatically routed to yourdomain.com, the one website that you want people to actually go to.

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