March 1, 2021

IMAP vs POP: What is It and Which Should You Use? 

If you have ever configured an email client or application, you will have come across the terms IMAP and POP. You may have chosen one but you didn't know why at the time. If you're not familiar with these terms and what they stand for, and how they affect your email accounts, hopefully, this blog post will shed some light.

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What is IMAP?

IMAP is short for Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP allows you to access your email wherever you are, from any device. When you read an email message using the IMAP protocol, you are not actually downloading or storing the message on your computer; in fact, you're reading it from the email server. As a result of this, you can check access your email from different devices, from anywhere across the globe: your laptop, mobile, a colleague's computer.  

IMAP Flow:

  • Connects to the server.
  • Fetch user-requested content and cache it locally, e.g. list of new mail, message summaries, or content of explicitly selected emails.
  • Registers user edits, i.e. marking an email as read, deleting email, etc.
  • Disconnect.

What is POP?

POP is short for Post Office Protocol. POP works by sending a request to your email server and downloading all of the new messages. Once the messages are downloaded onto your PC or Device, they are then deleted from the server. This essentially means after the email is downloaded, it can, and only can be accessed from using the same device. If you try to access your email from another device, that email that was previously downloaded from the other devices will not be accessible to you. 

POP3 Flow:

  • Connect to the server.
  • Retrieve a copy of all mail.
  • Store locally on your device/client.
  • Delete the email from the server.
  • Disconnect. 

What Are the Advantages of IMAP? 

As mentioned at the start of this blog post, IMAP was created to allow remote access to emails stored on the remote server. The premise of the idea was to allow multiple connections from clients to access/manage their mailbox. So whether you log in from your home or your work computer, you will always see the same emails and fold structure as they're stored on the server and all changes you make to local copies are automatically synced with the server. 

What Are the Advantages of POP? 

Being the original protocol, POP takes on a simplistic idea that only one client requires access to mail on the server and that emails should be stored locally. This leads to some great advantages that would slip your mind:

  • Mail is stored locally, i.e. you can access mail anywhere without connection to the internet. 
  • Connection to the internet is only needed when sending an email. 
  • Keeps server storage low.
  • Have the option to leave a copy of the mail on the server.

What Is the Best Email Protocol for Me? 

It obviously depends on what you're looking for and have a rough idea of what is suited to your situation. The summary points below should help with the final decision. 

Choose IMAP if...

  • You want to access your mailbox from multiple devices.
  • Have a good and reliable internet connection.
  • You want to receive a quick overview of your existing emails, new emails, etc. 
  • Your local storage space is limited. 

Choose POP if...

  • You want to access your mail from one single device.
  • You need constant access to your email, regardless of internet availability.
  • Have limited storage on the server

If you're ever in two minds, go with IMAP. It's a more up-to-date protocol, it offers a lot more flexibility and your email is automatically backed up on your server if anything was to go wrong. Furthermore, server space isn't really a problem these days, and you can still store important emails locally. 

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