In this post I’m keeping a log of all the DirectAdmin control panel peculiarities, comparing it with cPanel. Primarily for my own reference. After cPanel price hike, DirectAdmin has become a panel of choice for many hosting providers who wish to offer cheap shared and reseller hosting, so I think it is wise to learn the ropes of this tool. Separate posts explain setting up reseller accounts with DirectAdmin, migrating a website from cPanel to DirectAdmin, and configuring automated backups with DirectAdmin.
Update, September 2021: two years after the first version of this article, my experience is that DirectAdmin isn’t too bad in and of itself, but the biggest problem is that many (most?) hosting providers are still learning the ropes of this panel. They are migrating to it out of necessity, i.e. to avoid cPanel’s extortionate prices (understandable), but without enough experience with DirectAdmin. With different providers I’ve faced different kinds of inconveniences, but my general impression is that I only wonder what kinds of problems I’ll face, not whether there’ll be any problems (smaller, or greater).
A bit like Ducati V-twin motorbikes – solid machines, but hardly anyone knows how to ride them! 🙂
1. DirectAdmin peculiarities – differences compared to cPanel
1.1. Error log location
Most cPanel hosting accounts keep error logs in the directory where the script causing the error is located. DirectAdmin keeps it all in one place, the path is:
1.2. Location of public_html directory
One of the things I don’t really like with DirectAdmin is the default directory structure. cPanel (used by over 70% of the hosting industry) uses:
while DirectAdmin uses:
The path is, in my opinion needlessly, lengthened. Pay attention to this when doing website migrations.
1.3. File manager operation
It is a bit less intuitive. Files are first selected, then you must click on “Clipboard”.
Then you go to a directory you wish, click on “Clipboard Actions” menu and choose copy, move, compress or some other option.
2. What I like about DirectAdmin
Needs fewer server resources (notably in terms of RAM and CPU), compared to cPanel.
Update, October 2021: judging by the CloudLinux resource usage reports, with reseller hosting, just for running the panel (not doing anything else but looking at the resource usage stats), DirectAdmin takes about 1 GB of RAM. With a similar setup, cPanel requires 0.5 GB of RAM.
“One good measurement is better than a thousand expert opinions.”
The built in backup works quite well. The main downside being it only supports FTP(S)/SFTP storage (how to create automated backups with DirectAdmin), so I can’t use cheap Backblaze B2 storage, but still, as a backup, it is superior to cPanel’s built in backup tool that requires manual action. Backup is fast and reliable.
It is cheaper, i.e. the price is based on per-server, not depending on the number of created accounts. This also makes it simpler for expense accounting.
3. What I don’t like – what needs fixing
3.1. Major complaints
SSL/TLS certificates by Let’s Encrypt take about 30 minutes to install properly. So it’s practically impossible to migrate a website to a DirectAdmin server without about 30 minutes of downtime.
With cPanel, I can do this without any noticeable downtime (especially if using Cloudflare).
Good quality virus scan plugins are lacking – so one can do a virus scan from within the shared/reseller hosting account.
Cloudflare Railgun integration module is still not created. Cloudflare can be set up “manually” – I prefer doing it that way. However, Railgun service costs around 200$ per month if bought “directly” from Cloudflare. Shared/reseller hosting providers who use cPanel, often offer Railgun included in the hosting price (since they pay per server). With DirectAdmin that is still not possible.
There’s also no JetBackup integration module. JetBackup is very practical since it allows creating and restoring backups on a per control panel level, so customers can easily manage those by themselves. It also allows the setup of automated backups and easily connects to cloud storage services like Amazon S3 and Backblaze B2 – which are cheap and reliable but don’t offer a standard FTP interface.
Update, August 2021: JetBackup support was implemented, but JetBackup have made some bad changes.
File manager makes no warning if a file you’re uploading is already present (and will be overwritten).
3.2. Minor complaints
Sub-domains are stored in the main domain’s subdirectory – so anyone typing example.com/subdomain would get to see the subdomain. It’s not something that’s always desired. One of the reasons for creating a subdomain is to divide/separate things. A workaround is adding a subdomain as a domain (add-on domain). Not a very intuitive, straightforward, way, but it works, which is important. Related topic on DirectAdmin forum.
The user interface looks a bit like “cPanel designed by a beginner”. It has improved over the past months, but it is still lacking. Can’t put my finger on what’s wrong, but cPanel looks cleaner, easier to navigate.
Related to the previous paragraph, there’s no list of created database users. One must open each database to see which users have rights to it.
Once again user interface related (which is what using a control panel is all about), take a look at the difference between cPanel and DirectAdmin for: setting up remote mail exchanger. I find cPanel a lot simpler, more intuitive.
Mail account settings can’t be re-visited, they are only shown immediately after creating an email account (SMTP, POP servers, username, ports etc.). cPanel does this a lot more conveniently and it looks like this:
4. Conclusion and author’s personal opinion
In spite of the above-noted flaws, DirectAdmin is a good quality product – I’m using it. Depending on your needs and priorities, it can be a better choice than cPanel – not just because of the lower price.
I would love to see DirectAdmin improve and become an excellent alternative and competition to cPanel. For now, for my needs, it is still a cheaper and less practical alternative – that does the job, quite reliably, but isn’t my first choice unless the budget is very tight. At that, DirectAdmin doesn’t make savings with cheaper licenses alone, but also with taking fewer server resources. This is an important consideration for hosting providers and VPS users.