cpanel-beginner-guide

It is now common knowledge and a generally accepted truth that most business can scale-up by creating a website for their business. But not only that, most of the websites created in recent years have brought changes to the way things are done, how we communicate and socialize. However, a website is not just created and left alone to exist; it needs to be updated continuously to ensure that your business remains in the competition for the online presence which you created it for. To ascertain this, certain things have to always be carried and they include:

  • Replacing old content with new ones.
  • Creating new pages as an addition to existing ones.
  • Rewriting contents to improve SEO performance of the website.
  • Optimizing websites to reduce loading times.
  • Using cloud storage or a storage device to back up data to prevent loss of content or data.

All of these look like a hectic job for you at first glance. However, there is a way to manage and supervise these activities without breaking your back, though it would still require your dedication and hard work. I present to you cPanel.

cPanel is a web-hosted platform which gives you the access to manage every part of your website on a single device as long as you are equipped with the required login certificates. At this time, the standard manager for web hosting accounts is cPanel and it is easily accessible to website hosting platforms such as Bluehost, InMotion, and HostGator amongst many. While its graphical interface is built to be as simplified as possible for beginners to be able to make use of its Linux-appropriated control panel, it can still be quite a handful without a well laid out and explained guide.

While a lot of cPanel beginner guides you will find out there are filled with technical jargons and buzzwords to mesmerize you this one is different. I am not your regular tech-guy who doesn’t consider that newbies like you understand only very little of whatever tech-word I may use. This is why I have written this guide to be as simple as possible for anyone to be able to use to manage their website.

As a beginner, there are quite a number of things to get familiarized with to be able to use cPanel effectively. To ensure that you do not miss out on any of the things you need to know, I will list out those things I will be discussing as we move further into this guide.

  • The cPanel basics.
  • Getting Familiar with the cPanel Interface.
  • Updating/Changing Preferences e.g., passwords and contact info.
  • Working with Domain names.
  • Managing email accounts and settings.
  • Managing files using different means.
  • Website Backup.
  • One-click-installs.
  • Upgrading your security using cPanel.
  • Collecting server error logs.

cPanel Basics

Before I go on, I will like to say that I am aware that there may be a few cPanel gurus who will be looking through this cPanel beginner guide for solutions to some specific problems. If you are one of them, then I’ll like to urge you to move further down and not spend too much time on the basics. However, if you’re all new to this, then forge ahead with me.

In the simplest term, I will say cPanel is the control panel for your website hosting. It is similar to the control panel on your PC where you go to edit various functions and services on your laptop. In its case, cPanel gives you the ability to manage your hosting account. The cPanel is a graphically structured platform that is well-maintained, updated regularly with improved security measures and as such most hosting companies trust their sites to be managed by cPanel.

Without its graphical interface to allow you navigate, then you as a website owner or business owner who owns a site will be required to learn to program, pressing away on your keyboard like the hackers you wow at when you watch Netflix. As it is, cPanel is a user-friendly platform to perform various managerial activities on your website.

What You Can do in cPanel?

In a sequence, you can follow these steps as what you need to do in cPanel to start using it.

  • First, you’ll need to be logged in. More info to come on this later.
  • Next, you connect your domain names to your hosting. For example, for websites hosted on HostGator, Bluehost or InMotion, you’ll connect your domain names to the hosting you’ve purchased on these websites.
  • You go ahead to set up the emails you’ll need for your site.
  • You can now install your CMS (content management system). For example, WordPress or Joomla
  • Now, you have to make sure that your website is backed up to ensure you do not lose all your data in case any issue arises.
  • The next step is to upload your files and manage FTP accounts using FTP
  • There are so many more things which you can do on your cPanel and they will all be discussed in this guide.

Now, to login to your cPanel for the first time, your hosting provider should have supplied you with the username and password to access your cPanel. To make things easy, most hosting companies provide links that direct you to your cPanel the moment you are signed into your hosting account. Also, you can access your website cPanel by entering your website address in the search bar followed by /cpanel as a suffix. On the other hand, you can also input your web address into the search bar and then add: 2082 or: 2083 as a suffix. The difference between the two is that: 2082 is unsecured while the latter is secured. Once that is done, your username and password will be requested.

The basics of cPanel give you an understanding of how the platform works and how to relate easily to cPanel. However, if you feel you need more info or help, you should be aware that every internal cPanel page has quite a number of documentation available and it is usually listed along the top of that page. If you still need additional help, you can check out some cPanel video tutorials.

Getting Familiar with the cPanel Interface

If you’re logged into your cPanel and you see an interface design that appears to be different from what you’ve been seeing around, it is no reason to panic. That is totally normal because there is no one single interface design for the cPanel. Whatever design you see must have been created by your host. While the designs may differ from host to host, it is, however, pertinent to know that all the designs work with similar section divisions.

Beneath different sections, there are various functionalities that make cPanel what it is. Basically, there are two main themes available on the cPanel interface which includes the X3 theme which is the older one and the Paper Lantern theme which is newer.

Also, you can change the style of your cPanel. What you have to do is look for Preferences section on your homepage which is usually close to the bottom of the page. Once you find it, you will click on Change Style which is a sub-menu. Under the different styles, you can choose between “Retro” and “Basic”. Once you select either one, your cPanel will be converted to look the way those styles have been designed to look.

Navigation Bar

It is very visible at the top right corner of the cPanel page. You can easily recognize it by the Search Features, Account Management, Notifications, and Logout menus it carries.

Search Feature: it serves the same function as a search bar to dig out features easily and faster. It can be used on any page in the cPanel.

Account Management: this menu holds the key to changing your password and security info, language, style, and contact info. Also, you can easily reset the whole cPanel page from the Reset Page Settings menu if anything ever gets messed up.

Notifications: like other notification tabs on different websites, notification is where to find messages and critical updates. Messages on security-concerns and updates, out-of-date apps or other important information will be available here.

Logout: I think this does not need so much explanation. Make sure you click on this menu once you’re done with your cPanel.

Search Bar

To fish out some functions that are not easily accessible, you can make use of the search bar. It is located at the top of the cPanel, below the navigation bar. Type in what you need to find and in microseconds, you’ll have your result waiting for you.

Sidebar

As the name implies, you should expect to find it at the side of your computer screen on every cPanel page. There are four icons present on the sidebar representing Home, Statistics, Dashboard, and User Management respectively.

Home: it serves as the main page of the cPanel where you can find a majority of the features and functions you will be using.

Statistics: it is a numerical and graphical report on the info and data you have in your cPanel. It shows the number of FTP accounts, email accounts and domain names that you own. It also shows how much bandwidth and disk space you’ve consumed and have left.

Dashboard: it serves as a reference page linking to pages that have more detailed reports on various functions and features. It contains links connected to the most used links on your site and also shows you your bandwidth and disk space statistics.

User Management: It belongs to the admin and it is where you get to add and remove users from your cPanel account. From the user management tab, you also get to see all the email accounts you have. You can as well view those who have access to your FTP and web disk if you are sharing the account with another user or there are more than one admins.

Rearranging cPanel Icons

The cPanel interface allows you to collapse different sections by clicking on the “-” sign present at the top right corner so you can minimize sections that are not in use. You can open them back up by clicking on the “+” sign at the same top right corner. Also, you can decide to rearrange how the sections are placed in your interface. You get to select which sections you want to appear at the top so you can save yourself some time and energy.

Updating / Changing Preferences

Remember that you didn’t choose the password you used to login to your cPanel and as such, it is necessary to change once you’re logged in for the first time. Also, you are allowed to update your contact information if you so wish. Not only should you change your password after your first login but also, to prevent your site from being hacked, you should change your password at least every 3 months.

It is quite easy to update this information. Click on the Preferences menu then select Password & Security. You’ll be taken to the screen where you can update your password. However, to be able to do that, you will need to provide your old password so do not forget or discard your previous password.

Updating Contact Info

Apart from changing your password, it is required that you provide an email once you’re logged into your cPanel. It must be an email that is not attached to the domain name you are hosting because it is where you will be able to receive updates when they are available.

On the navigation bar, select Account Management then click Contact Information. A page will be opened where you can enter your email address (you can provide two if you wish). You can tick and untick options for your contact preferences before updating your contact information but I’ll advise that you make sure every box is ticked since they are ways to notify you if there has been an issue with your account.

Adding a New User

Owning a website is no small job and as such, from time to time, you will be using the help of different people who you will need to provide access to your cPanel too. You don’t have to give them your username and password which would only put your website at the risk of being hacked. Instead, you can create a new user account for whoever needs access to your cPanel.

In the Preferences section, click on User Manager and a page will be displayed where you can add a new user and also edit existing users.

For new users you will create, there are three important icons that will be displayed next to the accounts within your cPanel:

  • A mail envelope: shows the account has an email account associated with it in cPanel
  • A delivery truck: shows that the account is given access to FTP
  • A disc drive: shows that the user is allowed to use web disk services.

Once you click on the “Add User” button sitting at the top right corner of this page, you will be transferred to the page where you have to fill in the user’s details such as his/her name. Username, domain, an alternate email, and password. Please, try to make sure the password you use for the new user is different and unique from the other ones you use. Once you’re done with that, you will see a section at the bottom of the page that says Services. You will be able to edit some important information and features here.

Email: gives you the access to enable or disable email accounts for the user (they have to be an email that is existing). You can also dedicate a limited space for each account as emails can consume quite a lot of space on your hosting plan.

FTP: you will be able to enable and disable accounts from having access to FTP from where they can upload files to your site. You can also restrict their movement to only a few directories they will need to have access to and also limit the space they have available for use.

Web Disk: you should only give out permission for this to top-level admin accounts. A web disk access can give user Read-Write level access which is a ticket to do whatever you want within a certain directory which means they can decide to delete your files if they so wish. Or you could give them Read-Only access which restricts the user to just reading, downloading and listing files.

If you’re satisfied with the setup, you can proceed to click on “Create” or “Create and Add Another” to save the new account.

Working with Domain Names in cPanel

In your cPanel, the “Domains” section is important to you whenever you’ve purchased a new domain name and you need to add it to your hosting account, manage or create new subdomains, and also to redirect a domain you own to a different website. At the time you signed up for your hosting account, you would have been prompted to configure a domain to the account. This particular domain will always be your primary/main domain.  To make things clear, I will give an example, say your primary domain is “cpaneltalks.com”. As long as you go with a good hosting company like Hostgator, Bluehost or InMotion, you will be able to add two different types of new domain names;

  • Addon Domain – they are a different domain name from your primary domain name. For example, “iknowwhatisay.com”.
  • Subdomains – they bear a semblance to your primary domain with a little addition to them. For example, “kitty.cpaneltalks.com”.
  • These are some of the options you will find in the domain section to try your hand on.

Others include:

  • Aliases
  • Redirects
  • Simple Zone Editor
  • Advanced Zone Editor

Adding a New Domain Name and Subdomain

You will click on “Addon Domains” in the Domains section to add a new domain name to your cPanel. This will create a whole new domain name which you can use to build a different website for yourself. What this means is that on a single cPanel, you can host multiple domain names. To add your new domain name, you will need to fill the required boxes.

New domain name: it would be the exact domain name you bought and registered excluding the “www” part that begins it. For example, let’s say you registered your domain as www.letstalktech.com; you will enter your domain name as letstalktech.com.

Subdomain: it is a subdomain for the primary domain you have on your cPanel account. It automatically redirects a visitor on your website from the subdomain to your new domain name without him/her knowing it.

Document root: it points to the location on the server where your new domain’s file will be stored.

Note: once you input your domain name in the “New Domain Name” box, cPanel automatically fills in the other two fields. I will advise you to leave the input as they are without changing anything.

You can now click “Add Domain” to complete the setup.

Editing/Deleting a Domain Name

On your “Addon Domain” screen, where you see a list of your domain names, a “Modify Addon Domain” section is available which would enable to you to edit the document root of your domain (this is risky for your files), manage redirects, and to completely remove a domain.

Managing Email Accounts and Settings

The good thing about owning a website and having the ability to manage it using a tool such as cPanel is that you have bragging rights. Consider this scenario where you have to send a marketing email to a client or potential client about a new line of product, would you rather send it from a josephcurt@gmail.com or a joecurt@letstalktech.com? I think it is quite clear which one carries more trust behind it. This is the beauty that the Email section of your cPanel brings to the table. What’s even better is that you do not need platforms like Gmail to manage these mail.

All you have to do is click the Email Accounts option in the “Mail or Email” section in your cPanel. In the “Email” section, you will be able to add new accounts, manage spams, generate different mailing lists and even create auto-responders.

Creating an Email Account

Once you click on Email Account, a new page will be opened on your screen where you have to fill in all the boxes following these steps:

  • Email: input the address you want to be reached on. For example, you can have “hello@”, “joecurt@” or “sales@”. Whatever you want, fill in the box.
  • Domain: here, you have to select from a list of drop-down menus which domain you want the email linked to. You need to have added your domain name to cPanel before you can do this.
  • Password: select a very strong and secure password. You have to make sure it is one you can remember easily as well.
  • Mailbox Quota: this indicates the space dedicated to this particular email account. You can adjust it to whatever figure you want.
  • If you’ve filled in all the details above, you can now click on “Create Account”. Your email will be added to the list of email accounts you may have created before.

Using your Email Account

It is one thing to create your email account; it is another to make use of the account. To use your email account, you will need the help of a mail client. It would be an entire discussion on how to set up a mail client; instead, I will suggest a faster and easier way to access your mail.

  • Go to your address bar and type http://yourdomainname.com/webmail e.g. http://letstalktech.com/webmail
  • A login page similar to the cPanel login page will be displayed. All you have to do is enter your email address you wish to access and the password associated with it.
  • Now that you can access your webmail, there are certain things you may want to put in place.

Forwarding Your Email

You already own an email address where you emails come into like joecurt@letstalktech.com but then you also need to be able to access these emails on another email you own like josephcurt@gmail.com then what you need to do is click on “Forwarders”. On the forwarders screen, you will be prompted to input the Address to Forward which is the email address linked to your domain (joecurt@letstalktech.com). You will also be asked to input the Forward to Email Address which is your destination email address (josephcurt@gmail.com).

Replying emails from your destination email address will not reflect as a reply from the email associated with your domain name. If you need to send emails from the email associated to your domain name, you will need to log into your webmail or construct your Mail Client and MX Records. However, these are not within the scope of this guide.

Setting up Spam Filters

If I have to ask you what annoys you when dealing with emails, among your first two answers, spam has to be mentioned. It can be really frustrating but using cPanel, you can save yourself from that headache. What you need to do is click on the “Apache SpamAssassin” icon under the Email section.

You can:

  • Select “Enable Apache SpamAssassin” to activate the intelligent spam filter
  • Select “Auto-Delete Spam” so that you’re not only filtering out spam emails but also automatically deleting them.
  • Adjust the sensitivity of your spam filter between 1-10, with 1 being considerate and 10 being brutal.
  • Activate “Spam-box” or wipe all the spam messages out.
  • Include advanced settings by clicking “Configure Apache SpamAssassin”. This allows you to add blacklisted email addresses or whitelisted email addresses (to protect an email from being deleted).

Once you’re done, you can leave the page.

Managing Files with cPanel

Most existing users of cPanel can understand it clearly when I say that the “Files” section of your cPanel is the single place where your website can be made and marred. It is your final stop for anything that has to do with any file that is available on the cPanel for your website. You can upload new files onto it, back up your website through this means and also manage the file transfer protocol accounts that you own. Basically, there are two ways by which you can upload your files to your web server and they include:

FTP Accounts: using an FTP account connects you the web server through an FTP program which assists in uploading your file.

File Manager: you can upload your files directly to cPanel through your web server.

While File Manager can help you upload a few files to your server at a time and also move the files around on your server, it is not the ideal option when you need to upload a large number of files. FTP is a more suitable option for this purpose rather than the convenient File Manager that doesn’t require a third-party program to work.

File Manager

You can upload your files directly with HTTP using File Manager. You have to locate the “Files” section on the dashboard of your cPanel and select “File Manager” amongst the icon options. Please remember that this is where you have all the files for your site so you need to be careful with any changes you will be making.

On the left side of the File Manager page, you will find your root folder (the folder with the home icon before the name) and subfolder. In the middle of the page is where the contents of any selected folder will be displayed.

Creating a New Folder

You can create a new folder by clicking on the +Folder button located at the top of the File Manager menu. You can now input your desired name for your new folder and the destination which the folder will be placed. Once you’ve entered all the details, click on “Create New Folder”.

How to Upload Using File Manager

You’ve seen some images or documents on someone else’s site and you would also like to have a pretty image on your site, then you should follow these steps:

  • Select the folder where you wish to upload to. For example, you can select “cache” to upload an image.
  • Click on the “Upload” button just above on the menu bar.
  • You can now drag and drop the file you wish to upload or click “Select File” and browse for the file.
  • Managing FTP Accounts
  • Once your cPanel account has been fully set up, you can use FTP accounts to upload files. You will need just two things to be able to do this.
  • FTP Account Credentials
  • FTP Program

Since your cPanel has been set up, you will have access to your account credentials which are your cPanel’s account username and password. All you have to do now is to download an FTP program such as FileZilla to help with the upload.

However, let us assume that you don’t have your FTP credentials yet or you want to create a new FTP Account, you can easily do that. Follow these steps:

  • Click on “FTP Accounts” under the “Files” section and a new page will be launched where you have to input details about the new account.
  • In the Login box, you need to create a name for the user which would be used to gain access. Make it something interesting and easily remembered.
  • In the domain box, you have a list of domains from a dropdown list. There will only be domains that you have added to your cPanel.
  • Create a very strong and secure password for the account. Mix character, numbers, and letters to make your password difficult for hackers to predict. You can also use a few upper case letters.
  • You have to select a home directory for the new FTP account. According to cPanel, the directory text box defines the new FTP account’s top level of directory access. To be clearer, say you enter letstalktech in the text box, the FTP account will be able to access /home/$user/letstalktech/ directory as its home directory. It will also be able to access any subdirectories within it.
  • Finally, you can set the maximum quota you want the new FTP account to have access to depending on what you want. Remember, not every user needs an unlimited amount of your disk space.
  • Once you’ve filled all the boxes, click on “Create FTP Account” and you’re all set.
  • If you need to make changes later, click on the “Configure FTP Client” button at the right end of the FTP user in the list of FTP accounts you manage.

Website Backup

Do I need to tell anyone what a hellish experience it is when you lose files and unfortunately, you don’t have a backup for it? The devastation that would cloud you for days will be so immense that you might not be able to function properly for a while. Just as you can lose the files on your computer, you can also lose the files on your site.

However, to keep you from such tragedy, cPanel provides you with an easy of making sure you always have a duplicate of all your site’s file available. You can manually back up your site whenever you want.

  • In the “Files” section of your cPanel, click on the “Backup Wizard” icon. You can as well click the “Backup” icon but Backup Wizard takes you through a straightforward process and isn’t that what you need a beginner?
  • Next, you click on the “Backup” button that appears in the Backup Wizard page that is open. There will be a new screen where you have the option to choose if you want a full backup of all your files or just a partial which will include your Home Directory, MySQL Databases, Email Forwarder & Filters. I will suggest that you go for the full backup option to be on the safer side. You can also backup your site to an external hard driver or any other secure location you may have access to.
  • You will now have to select a backup destination for the backup process. If you have a remote FTP server to store your backup, then you’re good to use it. But if you don’t, leave the destination as “Home Directory”.
  • You will also include your email address so that you can be notified when the backup is complete. You can as well choose not to fill in this particular option.
  • Click “Generate Backup” and a complete backup of your site will be created.

What is Your Disk Space?

If there are so many unlimited spaces for thousands of people, you have to wonder where your hosting company is getting space for everyone. Of course not, your disk space is definitely not limited. You are new to the web game and as such you need to be aware of just how much space you’re consuming.

From time to time, you need to check on your disk space and also examine the parts of your website that are taking the most space. You can then decide on what to do – either to compress them or delete some unnecessary files.

Under the “Files” section of your cPanel, click on the Disk Usage icon. It will open a page that gives you a succinct report on how much space the different sections of your file manager is taking. If you’ve set a limit or quota, you will be able to see it right at the bottom of the table showing your disk space usage.

Sometimes, you will see a file directory having a blue bar that is full; it is good to know that this does not mean that you have consumed all your space. They are made to appear that way as the other directories are relative to the size of your largest directory.

One Click Installs via cPanel

cPanel has tools that make installing apps easier and with seamless. Tools such as Softaculous App Installer under the “Software” section of your cPanel can be used to install WordPress faster. On some cPanel homepage, you may find the Softaculous App Installer under the “Autoinstallers” section. The Softaculous App Installer does not install only apps but also CMS (content management systems) such as WordPress.

  • Once you click on Softaculous App Installer, you will have a list of apps you can install. You will quite a handful of apps you may want to try but you should not be distracted to add apps you will not be using. Before installing any app, try to research on them.
  • Move to the WordPress icon among the list of apps, once you hover on it, you will see the Install option becoming visible. If you are yet to install WordPress on your domain, click “Install”.
  • You will be presented with a page where you will have to fill in a lot of details to configure your domain names and site names.
  • In the “Choose Protocol” box, you can choose a protocol you wish to use. However, if you are yet to have SSL configured for your website, you should leave the input as HTTP://. Do not worry about how to know if you have SSL configured for your website because if you have it, you will definitely know it.
  • Next, you have to select the domain you wish to add your WordPress. Select from the dropdown list. Be careful not to select a domain name that already has WordPress installed on it.
  • The “In Directory” section of your WordPress installation needs more attention. Adding WordPress as a blog to a website that is already existing is different from having WordPress as your complete website. For the former, you need to fill in “wp” or “blog” while for the latter; you leave the “In Directory” box empty.
  • The “Site Name” field requires that you input a name that is related to what your site is called. Usually, I just re-enter my domain name in that field. Excluding the http://www and .com that precedes and ends the site address. To understand better, if your site address is http://www.letstalktech.com you write your site name as Lets Talk Tech
  • Next, for your admin name, you can as well leave it as admin but you can also change it to whatever you want to be called.
  • The password section always has the field filled in as “pass” automatically. You want to ensure that you change it because if you don’t then you will definitely be hacked. Choose a password that includes capital letters, characters, and numbers.
  • Enter an admin email to an account that is already in existence. You will be able to change this later, so you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Choose the language of your choice
  • In the “Limit Login Attempts”, enable it by clicking on the radio box in front of it. This can help safeguard you from brute force attacks.
  • Selecting a Theme
  • Since you have installed your WordPress using Softaculous, you can choose a free theme right after installing your site.
  • You can use the “Search” option to find themes that you love and when you find it, all you have to do is select the theme and click “Install”. You will be able to change your theme whenever you want but you should also ensure that you select a theme you can work with so as to avoid disarray when you want to transfer to another theme.
  • After clicking “Install”, all you have to do is wait while your theme is being installed automatically.
  • To login to your website, if the “In Directory” field was left blank, all you have to do is type http://www.letstalktech.com/wp-admin/
  • That’s it. Your website is good to go.

Upgrading Your Security Using cPanel

cPanel comes with a few tools which you can use to increase the security of your site. These tools can help you add a password to some folders on your server and also lets you block traffic from specific IP addresses that may be troubling.

Under the “Security” section of your cPanel, you will find Password Protect Directories and IP Address Deny Manager.

Password Protect Directory: once you select this icon, a popup shows where you can select the document root you want to password protect. You have to select “Password Protect Directories” to move to the next page where you will be able to select certain folders and add passwords to them.

IP Address Deny Manager: click on the icon under the “Security” section of your cPanel. It opens up a screen where you will be able to input the IP Address or domain you wish to block.

Collecting Server Error Logs

This is not a feature you will get to use on a daily basis but it is worth being aware of. If your site happens to be having issues regularly, your server’s error logs are one of the tools you’ll need, or maybe your developer will need to be able to diagnose what the problem is.

All you have to do is visit your “Visitor Stats” section on your cPanel and select Error log. You will be able to see all the information contained there.

What More Can I Say?

You have taken the time and patience to read through this well-detailed and simple cPanel beginner guide which I have written to help everyone get the basic information on how to manage their website using cPanel. With hosting companies like HostGator, Bluehost, and InMotion, you can seamlessly get your cPanel up and working in no time giving you the opportunity to work with its many amazing features.

You may not be well-versed to do everything discussed in this guide at once but I am certain that with time and asking questions, you will no longer be intimidated by the cPanel gurus who always talk jargons just to confuse you.

My last advice is this: if you feel something is getting too difficult for you to handle, go through the guide again and if that still doesn’t help, contact a web developer to put you through what to do. You keep learning every day.

Written by Mark Bynum

Mark Bynum is tech writer and WordPress enthusiast from Atlanta. He loves playing with latest tech gadgets and testing various products and services. When he is AFK, you can find him hiking somewhere in the woods.

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