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POP vs IMAP: The difference? Anyone?

by Graham Huber on February 2, 2010

1457672707_116017e339If you’ve kept up with mobile technology in 2010, there’s no way you haven’t accessed your email via the web. Even for just a peek. On a friend’s phone… At dinner… While they were in the bathroom.

There’s no denying it: in an unintentional homage of vaguely Biblical significance, the trend toward mobilizing your data online to the Big Guy in the Sky has become known as cloud computing. The dream? To access your data anywhere, at anytime, with (almost) anything.

So you want the goodness for your email?

Allow me to introduce you to your new friends: POP and IMAP. Both are standard email protocols for accessing your email via a remote server. Both can deliver your email to your waiting hands, no matter where you are. But each work in two very different ways.

Here’s the difference:

POP (Post Office Protocol) delivers your mail from the server at once, in a one-time pop. You connect to your mail server (through an Internet connection), download a copy of your awaiting messages via POP, and then disconnect. Pop!

POP is a one-way ticket. By default, POP deletes mail from the server once it has been retrieved by you. You can opt to leave a copy of the message on the server to be downloaded again later if necessary (by another device or program, for example), but there is no two-way synchronization between your device and your mail server.

The advantages are:

* A local copy of your email.
* Very little remote server storage space overhead required (if emails are deleted from the server as they are retrieved).
* Consolidation of many email accounts and servers to deliver to one inbox.

Traditionally, this is how most personal email systems were set up. For one, online storage used to be comparatively very expensive, so it made a lot of sense to clear email off the server once it was downloaded elsewhere.

However, POP is not without its limitations. The disadvantages are:

* No remote copy (if emails are deleted from the server as they are retrieved)
* No remote web access or synchronization between several programs or devices.
* All mail is stored in one (and only one) place.
* Local copies of messages still requires disk space to store messages.
* Local copies of messages are vulnerable to data loss or security threats.

Now, as mobile technology grows more ubiquitous, more and more users are seeking to permanently store and access their email online.

Enter IMAP.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is true two-way email management. Any change you make in any IMAP client will synchronize with the server.

This means any email read on your device will also automatically appear read when you check your account later via webmail or your desktop computer. Any messages or folders you read, move, or delete will be updated across all devices. No matter which client you use, you will see the same inbox, with the same settings.

IMAP also supports offline use, so any changes made without an Internet connection will be updated when you connect to the server again. All messages are permanently stored on the server until purposely deleted.

IMAP can work alongside POP. You can forward all incoming messages from many email accounts via POP to one IMAP account, which is then used to manage and synchronize all mail activities.

For instance, if you use a web-based email service like Gmail or Hotmail to manage your mail, you can set up other email accounts (such as your work or Internet Provider email account) to forward all incoming messages to your web-based IMAP account using POP.

There are some unique advantages to IMAP:

* You can keep a local archive, as well as rest assured knowing a copy is stored on the mail server.
* With a persistent Internet connection, only email headers are downloaded, so you can see your mail faster. The full message is only downloaded when you request to read it.
* Size of your message archive is limited only by your account’s server space, not your personal device(s).

What if you don’t use a popular webmail to access your email? Mail2web.com can turn any email service into webmail.

Mail2web.com allows you to access your own private or business email server by POP and IMAP, giving you to access your privately hosted and secure email from anywhere in the world, from any device. Mail2web.com supports TLS/SSL connections and APOP authentication for data security. Mail2web.com can also help you access your email account if your Internet connection blocks popular webmail hosts.

Web accessible email has become an absolute must for any serious business or personal user. If you need to access your business or personal email from anywhere, on any device, at anytime, Mail2web.com may be just the answer you’ve been looking for.

{ 7 comments }

Starrie February 16, 2010 at 4:17 PM

I had no idea this kind of thing was so technical… There’s a lot more to it than I realized! I never once thought about how much goes into my checking the email, saving it or anything else…

Very informative post!

mary_k February 19, 2010 at 3:08 PM

All that stuff still throws me for a loop when I try to process it all. Using pop to access mail through imap and all that stuff, it just goes right over my head.

It is good to know though that this service is compatible with all sorts of providers so I don’t have to understand the technical side of things. That takes a lot of pressure off me as a user.

mailfanatic February 23, 2010 at 4:02 PM

So what are most providers like yahoo and gmail?I was always under the impression that they were Pop mail accounts, but if mail isn’t stored on those servers where is it stored?I certainly can’t access my mail offline so it seems like it’s stored online.

Melissa Smich February 24, 2010 at 5:30 PM

I dont think Yahoo offers either, but Gmail.. I think… offers both :)

cable box July 27, 2010 at 8:38 AM

Thanks for taking the time to share this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

M.W. June 7, 2011 at 8:53 AM

How to do it? You say that POP email accounts (like my accounts with embarqmail.com) can forward incoming messages to my IMAP email account such as my gmail.com account. However when I use Outlook 2010 and access the account settings for my embarqmail.com account and click on the button to attempt to change delivery location for new messages – it allows only my POP accounts/folders (also shows the file path of the .pst4 folder location where the messages will be stored) but does not allow a choice for my gmail/IMAP account as a location to deliver new messages even though it accesses the same gmail account to show me my new messages.

So how to do it? Do I have to get out of Outlook 2010?

Cheryl Hanson July 4, 2011 at 5:06 AM

A great detail on the local vs server application, and how they interact. The frustration on getting mail to work on all of our devices can be very confusing! I think it would be so helpful to have a plan on email directions to avoid the lost email chain. Example, on how to setup from the host, to the end devices, that would be so helpful.

Look forward to your next posting!

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