What is the difference between POP and IMAP and which should I use?

POP and IMAP are email protocols that allow you to read email locally using a third party email client such as Outlook, Windows Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird, Mac Mail or a mobile device.

POP (Post Office Protocol)

POP3 allows you to download your email from the mail server to be stored locally on your personal computer or mobile device. As email is downloaded, it is removed from the server. Most email clients also provide an option to leave a copy of messages on the server. This means that unless you leave a copy of messages on the server, you can only ever read your downloaded email in that email client, on that computer or device. Leaving a copy of messages on the server will allow you to access any previously downloaded email using another device, or using another email client, or through Webmail. With POP, sent emails can only be viewed in that particular device's sent folder.

POP is recommended for:

  • Users who prefer to keep a backup of all their messages - mail is stored locally and is always accessible, even without an internet connection;
  • Users who are limited by internet connectivity/online time - an internet connection is needed only to send and receive mail ;
  • Users who wish to save mail storage space or who wish to consolidate multiple email accounts into one inbox.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

IMAP allows you to read emails as they appear on the mail server from any email client or device, until you delete them. All messages and any changes you make (delete, reply, forward, move) are seen by anyone else who logs into IMAP or Webmail. For example, an email deleted on your computer will be deleted from the server and not be shown on your phone or tablet. With IMAP, you are always viewing the same emails, no matter how you access the mail server. However, since your email is stored on the mail server and not locally, you may run into email storage plan limits.

IMAP is recommended for:

  • Users who connect to email accounts from many computers and/or mobile devices with internet access;
  • Multiple users who need to access the same email account;
  • Users who wish to always have their messages, included sent email and folders, saved on the mail server.

Conclusion

  • POP is perfect for quickly downloading emails and reading them offline or on the go. POP is also the best way to save copies and backup your email to your personal computer. Choose POP if you want to access your mail using a single device or you need constant access to your email, regardless of internet availability.
  • IMAP is perfect for multiple users who all need to access the same email account or one user who needs to access email from multiple devices. Choose IMAP if you want to access your email from multiple different devices keeping your folders synced and have a reliable and constant internet connection.
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