What is IMAP and POP?

Apr 8, 2013

POP or IMAP? If you are setting up an email client for the first time, I’m sure you are little confused. IMAP and POP are two of the most common and popular protocols used in accessing and viewing emails on devices. In order to receive and send emails via an email client, you must setup your IMAP or POP account correctly. But which one is right for you? Should you use POP or IMAP is better? Read on to find our more about POP and IMAP protocols. Then decide.


What is POP?

POP stands for Post Office Protocol (POP). It is an application-layer protocol used by email clients to retrieve mails. POP offers a simple way to access mailboxes and download emails to desktop or a mobile device. Typically a POP account downloads emails to the local computer and deletes the same from the mail server. But some email clients do offer an option to keep mails on server. Leaving your messages on mail sever will let you easily access them from different devices.

With POP, users can’t organize their emails on the mail server. Your mail folders remain on the local computer or mobile device and you can’t access them from a different device. In other words, using POP on a different device means starting fresh with download of your emails. POP has several performance issues. For example: deletion of messages from mails server, multiple download of same e-mails, loss of emails during retrieval etc. Unless your email service don’t support IMAP, I suggest you avoid using POP.

What is IMAP?

IMAP stands for Internet message access protocol (IMAP). It is an Internet protocol used by email clients to access messages on a remote mail server. IMAP offers two way communication between your email client and mail server. So, actions you perform on your device will be reflected on the actual mail account and same account can be accessed from different devices. For example: emails you read on your mobile will be marked as read when your open your account on desktop.

With IMAP, all your emails remains on the mail server and you can easily label and organize them. Generally no local copies are kept, unless you set your client to do so. So, synchronization and management becomes easy with IMAP. But this email level protocol may require huge server resources. If you access your mail account from different devices, IMAP is the right protocol for you. Note that almost all email clients or software support IMAP, but all email services may not offer the same.

Difference between POP and IMAP:

  • Email Downloads: POP requires download of emails before displaying to the user. But IMAP keeps all messages on the server and download is not required.
  • Email Deletion: Typically a POP account downloads your messages and deletes them on the server. So, using the same account from a different device mean you won’t find previous messages. But in case of IMAP, all messages remain on server and appears same from multiple devices.
  • Mail folders: You simply can’t create server-side folders with POP. But that’s possible with IMAP.
  • Read or unread emails: With POP it becomes difficult to differentiate between read and unread emails. But when IMAP is used all emails are kept on the server & synchronization is possible. If you read an email on your mobile, the same will appear as read when you access the account from a different device.
  • Outgoing emails: POP keeps sent emails on the local device and can’t be access from a different device. But IMAP stores sent emails on server. So, you can easily access sent mails from a different computer or device.
  • Full message download: POP downloads all messages, including attachments. This unnecessarily consumes bandwidth and memory. While IMAP downloads a full message only when it is opened to be viewed.
  • Message search: IMAP supports server-side searches. With POP it is not possible to search messages on server.
  • Multiple users: With POP it is not possible to simultaneously access same mail account from multiple clients. But IMAP supports simultaneous access from different email clients.

There’s no doubt that IMAP is superior than POP. But all email services may not offer IMAP free of cost. Even commercial email services or ISPs may also have some restrictions or limits on use of IMAP servers. On the other hand, POP is easy to use but has synchronization and performance issues. Now decide which one right for you!

Useful Links:


Leave a Reply

Note: The sign * means required field. Comments are subject to moderation.