IMAP and POP

IMAP and POP are the protocols or technologies using which you can download messages from mail servers on your computer and access them with the help of mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird etc. The main advantage of this technology is that you can access your emails via a feature-rich browser-independent mail client. In case of POP, you get offline access to old mails too.

Difference between IMAP and POP

IMAP and POP are two different protocols. There are many differences between these two. The main difference is that IMAP (Internet Messaged Access Protocol) always syncs with mail server so that any changes you make in your mail client (Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird) will instantly appear on your webmail inbox.

On the other hand, in POP (Post Office Protocol), your mail client account and mail server are not synced. It means whatever changes you make to your email account in the mail client will not be transferred to the webmail inbox.

In simple terms, if you are using IMAP and mark a mail as read, it gets marked as read in your web based inbox too (because the changes are happening on the server). However, this won’t be the case if you are using POP, because the mails are downloaded to your PC and the changes won’t reflect on the server.

How to Activate these Protocols

Different mail services have different settings for dealing with protocols. In Gmail you can find options to activate both the protocols: POP and IMAP (Go to settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP). In Hotmail, only POP is present and it doesn’t support IMAP.

IMAP

The biggest advantage of using IMAP is you can access your mail from multiple mail clients and each client detects the change in real-time. Suppose mail server is connected with two different mail clients (let’s say Client 1 and Client 2) on different computers. If the user deletes a message in mail client 1, the change will appear on mail server immediately and also on mail client 2. In IMAP all messages from mail clients and servers are synced with each other.

POP

You can download emails from mail server to your PC using POP. After downloading, the original mail is removed from the server and hence you can’t access it from another computer (Note: In Gmail there is an option to keep the copy of mail in inbox. Thunderbird also provides an option to leave messages on server until you delete them). But there are lots of other options missing (for ex. if you send a message from mail client then you won’t find that message under sent items in your mailbox).

Which is Better? POP or IMAP?

Given a choice, I’d go with IMAP. That’s because IMAP offers two way connection. Changes are synchronized to the server and you don’t have to worry about taking your mail client with you everywhere. However, if you are someone who hardly checks mail on any other computer then you could make use of POP too.

So what do you use? POP or IMAP?

The using of IMAP to access your mailbox has advantages over POP3 and the difference of their working mechanism can be summarized in the following table.

POP3 IMAP
Since email needs to be downloaded into
desktop PC before being displayed, you may have the following problems for
POP3 access:

  • You need to download all email again when using another desktop PC
    to check your email.
  • May get confused if you need to check email both in the office and
    at home.

The downloaded email may be deleted from the server depending on the
setting of your email client.

Since email is kept on server, it would gain
the following benefits for IMAP access:

  • No need to download all email when using other desktop PC to check
    your email.
  • Easier to identify the unread email.
All messages as well as their attachments will
be downloaded into desktop PC during the ‘check new email’ process.
A whole message will be downloaded only when it
is opened for display from its content.
Mailboxes can only be created on desktop PC.
There is only one mailbox (INBOX) exists on the server.
Multiple mailboxes can be created on the
desktop PC as well as on the server.
Filters can transfer incoming/outgoing messages
only to local mailboxes.
Filters can transfer incoming/outgoing messages
to other mailboxes no matter where the mailboxes locate (on the server or
the PC).
Outgoing email is stored only locally on the
desktop PC.
Outgoing email can be filtered to a mailbox on
server for accessibility from other machine.
Messages are deleted on the desktop PC.
Comparatively, it is inconvenient to clean up your mailbox on the server.
Messages can be deleted directly on the server
to make it more convenient to clean up your mailbox on the server.
Messages may be reloaded onto desktop PC
several times due to the corruption of system files.
The occurrence of reloading messages from the
server to PC is much less when compared to POP3.

 

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