In a Nutshell - POP vs. IMAP Email Protocols

Robert Valcourt
Feb 17, 2016

Setting up your Email? Learn When to Use POP and IMAP Protocols!

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You are setting up your new email account available with POP and IMAP options. What do these mean? Which should you choose? Learn the difference between these terms to help you make the right choice for your needs!

Which is best? IMAP or POP Email

History of POP & IMAP Protocols

POP is short Post Office Protocol, and IMAP is short for Internet Message Access Protocol. Both are email protocols that have different workflows though both allow you to read emails locally using a third party application.

The original protocol is POP. POP was created in 1984 as a means to download emails from a remote server. IMAP was designed in 1986 to allow remote access to emails stored on a remote server. The main difference between the two protocols is that POP downloads emails from the server for permanent local storage, while IMAP leaves them on the server and just caches messages locally. IMAP could be considered a form of cloud storage.

POP & IMAP Compared

The two protocols are best compared by looking at their most basic workflows.

POP Workflow:

  1. A connection is made to the email server
  2. A copy of all messages are transferred to your computer or device
  3. The messages are deleted from the server *

* Some email clients can be configured to leave a copy of the messages on the server for a user-defined number of days. This is helpful if you need access to certain messages from a different device at a later date.

POP is ideal for users who only have one email client and do not need remote access to messages or for users who have limited storage assigned to their account. Folders and Contacts are managed on the user's computer or device.

IMAP Workflow:

  1. A connection is made to the email server
  2. A copy of all messages are transferred to your computer or device
  3. Messages are NOT deleted from the server
  4. When a user replies, deletes, reads or moves a message this action is mirrored on the server

IMAP is ideal for users who access their email from many computers or devices. Because all actions performed on messages, contacts and folders are mirrored on the email server, your configuration is synchronized across all devices. Folders are managed on the email server while Contacts can be managed via the server and the device accessing it.

Note: Because all messages are stored on the email server, a user can consume their assigned storage very quickly and risk having messages rejected due to overuse. It is important to keep an eye on your usage and archive old messages as needed.

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