In general, there are few true differences between a cupboard and a cabinet. The two terms are almost synonymous, though some people consider the difference between them to be the presence of shelves within the unit: cupboards have shelves, while cabinets do not. This is a loose distinction, however, and some people consider a more accurate distinction to be the primary use of the item: cabinets are a broad term for storage units, while cupboards are used specifically for displaying cups, plates, and other flatware by using doors with glass panes.
A cupboard and a cabinet can be a freestanding unit or a wall-mounted unit, and very often no physical differences are apparent between the two. Many people will label a cupboard as a cabinet with a wood and glass door that allows a person to see into the unit to view the contents; some cupboards even feature no doors at all, revealing the plates and cups within. A cabinet can be more multi-purpose, and storing items in a cabinet can be done with or without shelves. Pots and pans, for example, are often stored in lower cabinets beneath a countertop.
Some freestanding units will combine a cupboard and a cabinet. The higher cupboards may be used for display purposes, while the lower cabinets can be used for storage of heavier items or less attractive items that the owner does not want to show off. Kitchens also often feature several wall-mounted cupboards as well as wall-mounted cabinets for storage of different kitchen tools and cooking items. Another distinction between cupboards and cabinets lies in this kitchen configuration: some people contend that cupboards are used for storing foods, while cabinets are used for storing cooking tools such as pots and pans.
Regardless of the true distinction a cupboard and a cabinet will serve generally the same purposes, and it is up to the owner to decide how the cabinets or cupboards are used. Many people convert cupboards and cabinets into spaces for storing dishwasher units, trash compactors, and other common kitchen tools that can be otherwise unsightly. The cupboards and cabinets are very often made from wood, but other types of materials can be used; stainless steel is a popular choice for durability and aesthetics, and composite materials have become more popular for cost savings, durability, and resistance to water damage.