POP vs. IMAP – What’s the difference?

We send a lot of email these days — at work, at home, on our phones… Whether you use Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, or email configured on your own website — there’s more to receiving email than you might think.

If you’ve ever used a Gmail, Hotmail or other email account, chances are that you’ve used webmail. If you work in an office and use a program like Microsoft Outlook, or Mozilla Thunderbird to manage your emails, you’re using an email client.

Webmail is an application that operated over the internet via a browser, usually with no downloaded applications or additional software necessary. All of the work, so to speak, is done by remote computers (i.e. servers and machines you connect to through the internet).

Email clients are programs that are installed on local machines (i.e. your computer, or the computers in your office) to interact with remote email servers to download and send email to your contacts.

POP3, Post Office Protocol

POP, or Post Office Protocol, is a way of retrieving email information that dates back to a very different internet than we use today. Computers then, only had limited, low bandwidth access to remote computers, so engineers created POP in an effort to create a dead simple way to download copies of emails for offline reading, and then remove those mails from the remote server.

POP3 is the current version of this particular style of email protocol, and still remains one of the most popular. Since POP3 creates local copies of emails and deletes the originals from the server, the emails are tied to that specific machine, and cannot be accessed via any webmail or any separate client on other computers. At least, not without doing a lot of email forwarding or porting around mailbox files.

If you access Gmail via a phone or email client using POP, you may be frustrated by the fact that any action you take, such as reading, sorting or deleting, doesn’t sync with your Gmail account. You may have read and sorted all your new mail on your phone, for example, but when you log back in to Gmail using a browser, you’re presented with a full inbox of unread messages that you have to re-read and re-organize. What you may not realize is that you have another option that solves these problems: IMAP.

IMAP, Internet Message Access Protocol

Compared to POP3, IMAP allows users to log into many different email clients or webmail interfaces and view the same emails, because the emails are kept on remote email servers until the user deletes them. In a world where we now check our email on web interfaces, email clients, and on mobile phones, IMAP has become extremely popular.

Because IMAP stores emails on a remote mail server, you’ll have a limited mailbox size depending on the settings provided by the email service. If you have huge numbers of emails you want to keep, you could run into problems sending and receiving mail when your box is full. Some users sidestep this problem by making local archived copies of emails using their email client, and then deleting them from the remote server.

In Short: Which Do I Use to Set Up My Email?

Depending on your personal style of communicating and whom you prefer to get your email service from, you can pretty quickly narrow down how you should use your email.

  • If you use check your email from a lot of devices, phones, or computers, set up your email clients to use IMAP.

  • If you use mostly webmail and want your phone or iPad to sync with your webmail, use IMAP, as well.

  • If you’re using one email client on one dedicated machine (say, in your office), you might be fine with POP3.

  • If you have a huge history of email, you may want to use POP3 to keep from running out of space on the remote email server.

  • If you use Hotmail or an Exchange Server Email, MAPI or Exchange ActiveSync will give you similar cloud-based syncing, like IMAP.

  • If you don’t use Hotmail and you want email sync, use IMAP. If you do use it and want email sync, use MAPI/Exchange ActiveSync.

So which email retrieval application service do you use/prefer? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below 🙂

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3 Responses to POP vs. IMAP – What’s the difference?

  1. Kintal Shah May 27, 2013 at 5:13 PM #

    IMAP is better for me. 🙂

    But to be honest first time i came to know the meaning of POP and IMAP and the actual difference between the two. Thanks to you guys.

  2. Amreen June 4, 2013 at 11:41 AM #

    We’re glad we could provide you with content you found informative 🙂

  3. karthik June 14, 2013 at 10:28 PM #

    Difference between POP and IMAP is highly informative.

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