POP & IMAP. Which One Should You Use For Your Email?

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.

Compare POP and IMAP

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?

  • 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?

  • 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

Which one to choose?

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.

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