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2 min read

Ever went to set up your email client and found yourself presented with the option to either use IMAP or POP3 for your email retrieval? Well, you may ask yourself what exactly is IMAP and POP3 and SMTP.

IMAP and POP3 are the protocols used when accessing and retrieving email from a mail server. Every email client requires either protocol to be set up for the proper functioning of an email service that is, sending and receiving mail.

With regard to the protocols, IMAP stands for Internet Messaging Access Protocol. When using IMAP, email is stored on the server and can be accessed via multiple devices such as your mobile phone, laptop and work desktop. Since the emails are stored on the server, IMAP is recommended especially when the email will be accessed from different devices or work stations. The main advantage of IMAP over POP3 is that even after the email is read, the email is still available on the server until the user explicitly deletes it.

On the other hand POP (Post Office Protocol) which was designed for use with only one device, that is whenever an email is received, a copy of the message is sent to the device and then the original message deleted from the server. Being the first of the two (between IMAP and POP), it has some limitations including:

  • The message is deleted from the server once retrieved by the email client.
  • Suitable for single device use.
  • If the access device is lost, previous communications would be lost as well.

Which is better for me?

That mostly depends on your workflow. If you use multiple devices to access your email, for example your smart phone and laptop/work pc then IMAP is the best protocol for you. IMAP also allows for marking emails as read since the emails are stored on the server, thus when the email has been accessed on one device, the changes are synced to all the connected devices. POP3 is more suitable to a single workstation where all email activity is done on a single device. POP3 is also preferable if server storage space is a big deal as older emails are automatically deleted therefore server space is less a consideration when using POP3.