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POP vs IMAP

IMAP vs POP
Your mail gets sent from someone and will eventually endup on a weBnerd server.  How you collect the mail is up to you. If you have ever set up an email client or app, you will have certainly come across the terms POP and IMAP. Do you remember which one you chose and why? If you are not quite sure what these terms stand for and how each affects your email account, this article will shed some light. The article explains how POP and IMAP work and will help you decide which one best fits your needs.

IMAP is short for Internet Message Access Protocol, while POP translates to Post Office Protocol. In other words, both are email protocols. They allow you to read emails locally using a third party application. Examples of such applications are Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, GNUMail, or (Mac) Mail.

The original protocol is POP. It 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. Essentially, 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 (temporarily stores) emails locally. In other words, IMAP is a form of cloud storage.
How Do POP & IMAP Compare?

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

    Connect to server
    Retrieve all mail
    Store locally as new mail
    Delete mail from server*
    Disconnect


*The default behavior of POP is to delete mail from the server. However, most POP clients also provide an option to leave a copy of downloaded mail on the server.

IMAP Workflow:

        Connect to server
        Fetch user requested content and cache it locally, e.g. list of new mail, message summaries, or content of explicitly selected emails
        Process user edits, e.g. marking email as read, deleting email etc.
        Disconnect


As you can see, the IMAP workflow is a little more complex than POP. Essentially, folder structures and emails are stored on the server and only copies are kept locally. Typically, these local copies are stored temporarily. However, you can also store them permanently.

What Are The Advantages Of POP?

Being the original protocol, POP follows the simplistic idea that only one client requires access to mail on the server and that mails are best stored locally. This leads to the following advantages:

        Mail stored locally, i.e. always accessible, even without internet connection
        Internet connection needed only for sending and receiving mail
        Saves server storage space
        Option to leave copy of mail on server
        Consolidate multiple email accounts and servers into one inbox


What Are The Advantages Of IMAP?

As mentioned in the introduction, IMAP was created to allow remote access to emails stored on a remote server. The idea was to allow multiple clients or users to manage the same inbox. So whether you log in from your home or your work computer, you will always see the same emails and folder structure since they are stored on the server and all changes you make to local copies are immediately synced to the server.

As a result, IMAP has the following advantages:

    Mail stored on remote server, i.e. accessible from multiple different locations
    Internet connection needed to access mail
    Faster overview as only headers are downloaded until content is explicitly requested
    Mail is automatically backed up if server is managed properly
    Saves local storage space
    Option to store mail locally


pop vs imap
What Is The Best Email Protocol For Me?

Obviously, it depends on your specific requirements and you probably have an idea of what is best suited for your situation already. The points below should help to make a final decision.
Choose POP If…

        you want to access your mail from only one single device
        you need constant access to your email, regardless of internet availability
        your server storage space is limited


Choose IMAP If…

    you want to access your email from multiple different devices
    you have a reliable and constant internet connection
    you want to receive a quick overview of new emails or emails on the server
    your local storage space is limited
    you are worried about backing up


If in doubt, go with IMAP. It’s the more modern protocol, it allows you to be flexible, your email is automatically backed up on the server, available server space usually isn’t an issue these days, and you can still store important emails locally.

Written by: Lance Davey

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Published: 468 days ago
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