IMAP vs POP

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There are 2 standard types of e-mail when we talk about hosted e-mail accounts (there are more, like Hosted Exchange, but they’re not as popular, so we’ll stick to the 2 most popular). There is IMAP, and POP. These are 2 very different animals, and we’ll quickly go over the differences.

POP, or Post Office Protocol is fairly simply. When someone sends you an e-mail, that e-mail gets “held” by your e-mail host’s server. When you open your e-mail client software on your computer, it then contacts the server, downloads you e-mail and you can read it. In general, the server does not keep copies of your e-mail, it only holds what you haven’t downloaded (these days, most POP e-mail servers will keep copies for between 7 to 14 days, in case something didn’t transfer properly to your e-mail client). There is no simple way to coordinate your e-mail account between your computer’s e-mail client and webmail and a mobile device.

IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, is a fundamentally different method of working with e-mail. With IMAP servers, all the e-mail is actually kept on the server, and never downloaded off it. Essentially, one way you can think of it is your e-mail client becomes a “viewer” or a “monitor” for your e-mail account. This way, you can “view” your e-mail account through any medium, like webmail, Outlook, Thunderbird, iPad, smartphone, etc. It doesn’t matter which device or method you use, because all its doing is “viewing” the e-mail account on the server. If you change something (like mark an e-mail as read), it updates the server with that change. Since all the different devices are simply viewing the server, they will also display that same change.

In the real world of today’s IT, IMAP is the only way to go for hosted e-mail. Besides the obvious synchronization advantages, it also keeps backup headaches away. No longer are you reliant on a single computer’s hard drive storing all those historical e-mails. If a computer dies, no problem, go get another one, setup your e-mail client or log into webmail and away you go, all synced up.

Remember, just because POP was “the way it was done since ever” doesn’t mean that it continues to be the best solution available.

Author

Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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2 Comments

  1. Alexander Vega Aguilar June 11, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I liked this pots thank you .

    • Martin Lehner June 11, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      No problem, thanks for reading 🙂

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