Thursday, May 8, 2014

Email: IMAP vs. POP3


This is a subject that we’ve been talking about for 10 years but we’re still getting questions so we thought we’d cover it again. IMAP and POP3 refer to the settings that email software (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird) uses to access your email. If you know what IMAP is and you only access your email with IMAP or only access email through a web browser, you can stop reading and find a funny cat video on YouTube to watch. Otherwise, read on…


In the days when we all accessed our email only through one computer, POP3 was the setting that almost everyone used. Unfortunately, many people are still using it. With POP3, when we open our favorite email software (e.g. Outlook), that software downloads the email from the mail server to our computer and then removes it from the mail server so it cannot be found again by another device. If you have only one computer to access your email and you do a great job of backing up that computer, then POP3 is an okay way to go. However, those simple days are gone and IMAP is the ideal solution.

When you access email from a number of different devices (e.g. computer, smart phone, tablet, laptop), you want to have access to email from any of those devices. We think that you should not only have access to the new emails but to prior emails. That’s what IMAP does for you.

What IMAP does is keep your email on the mail server. With IMAP, the software that reads and sends your email doesn’t automatically remove email from the mail server. So the first benefit of IMAP is that emails stay on the mail server and can be seen no matter what device you use to read email.

The next benefit of IMAP is it gives you the ability to better manage your email. Whatever, I read an email and want to keep it, I file that email into a folder by subject matter. Those folders are actually stored on the mail server. Therefore, no matter what device I use to access the email later, I will find the email in that folder. So, organizing email is something that you need to only do once per message vs. having to do it on each device.

Another benefit is that your emails stay on your email server and those companies typically do a great job of keeping backups. I say “typically” because “stuff” does happen. In a previous blog posting, we recommended that you get a free Gmail email account and automatically copy all of your emails to that account as a free and easy backup method.

Finally, there is one other benefit to IMAP that you’d use rarely but it’s critical when you do. While IMAP normally stores only the email header on your computer, you can have it download the entire email onto your computer (while still retaining the original on the email server). Then if you get a new email service, you can upload those same emails in those same folders to the new service.

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