You may not know this, but there are two primary ways that you can retrieve email from an email server. They are called POP (or POP3) and IMAP. Each type is very different, and there are very good reasons to use each type. In this article I am going to try to explain the differences, and help you decided which you should be using.

What is POP Mail?

POP MailPOP mail stands for Post Office Protocol. POP mail is a protocol in which email is received and held on a mail server (like a post office). Periodically, you check for mail on that server and then download it to your email client. Depending on how your email application is setup, it will either remove the original from the server, or leave a copy for set number of days, then remove it. POP is a standard protocol built into practically every email client. This method is well-suited for users that don’t want to store email messages online, or have a poor internet connection. Since the email is stored locally on your computer, along with your folder structure, you will want to make sure you are backing your email up. Without backups, you could loose all of that information since it is not stored on the server.

What is IMAP Mail?

IMAP MailIMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is another popular way to access email messages. With IMAP, messages and folders are always stored on the mail server. When users access their email, they are working directly with these messages. This means that any updates made to the email, such as moving, flagging, or marking a message as unread, are stored on the server. IMAP is a convenient option for users who need to access their email online from multiple clients at multiple computers or locations. IMAP also provides real-time push support for IMAP applications, alerting you the second you have new mail. This method is well suited for users who access from more than one device, or need to have mobile access to all of their email. Since all of your email and folder structure is stored on the server, you do not need to worry, as much, about backing up your email. You should still have backups for all of your data, including email, but you do at least have one layer of protection for your email, when using IMAP.

Here are a couple of diagrams that illustrate how each method works.

The above image is an example of POP mail. As you can see each device can retrieve email from the server, but then does not communicate back to the server. In this case each device has its own copy of the email, but does not inform other devices what was done with that email.

This is an example of IMAP mail. As you can see each device retrieves email from the server, but then also communicates any changes back to the server. So if you delete an email it is deleted from all of your connect devices. If you create a fodler and move an email into that folder that folder will get created on your other devices and the email will be moved into them as well.

What about webmail, what exactly is that?

Webmail ExampleWebmail is a way of using your email without an email application such as Outlook or Thunderbird. You login directly to your email account, on the email server, using a web browser. If you have ever used Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or Gmail then you have used webmail. Webmail is very handy if you use a computer that is shared with multiple users, or if you don’t want to worry about setting up an email application.

So which type of email do I recommend?

I personally use both webmail and IMAP. This allows me to access all of my email no matter were I am, or what device I have access to. I know that as long as I have internet access, I can get my email. If you prefer to use an application such as Outlook or Thunderbird, then IMAP is the way to go. I do NOT recommend POP mail, unless you have a very specific reason, such as unreliable internet access. As always if you need help deciding or setting up your email, just send me a message.


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