What is the difference between POP and IMAP?

POP and IMAP are two different ways for accessing email on your device. When you first set up your email on your computer, phone or tablet, it is important to make the correct decision!

Unless your device has been automatically configured, when you first set up your email application on your computer, phone or tablet, you might be prompted to choose a type of service or protocol that you computer’s email can connect to. The decision might be to select the “default” but if you are looking to do access your email on more than one computer, that decision becomes a bit more complicated. The main two types of protocols in use are POP and IMAP.

The first type of protocol is POP, which stands for Post Office Protocol. Generally internet service providers (ISPs) provide you with a POP-based email when you sign up with their internet plans. Upon checking an email from a POP server, your email is downloaded from their servers and saved onto your computer. It doesn’t stay on the mail server for long (unless for you to keep messages), as generally there isn’t much storage space allocated to keep them on there!

An alternative is IMAP, which stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. With IMAP, mail can stay on the server which is stored, and email is simply accessed via the email client. It can both store and send email messages, meaning they are not saved onto your computer (although they may be stored locally onto your computer for improved performance), and you can access these emails from any device which you access in the same way.

When you are configuring your computer, phone or tablet, if you have the option between POP3 and IMAP, it is suggested you use IMAP as this way you can access your computer from any device. There are also alternatives to POP and IMAP, and proprietary systems (such Microsoft Exchange) and web-based email systems such as Outlook.com and Gmail. It is important to select the appropriate one that suits your needs.

Apologies: The original article presented “SMTP” rather than “IMAP”. This has been updated throughout this revised article.

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