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POP vs. IMAP: What’s the difference?

Date Submitted: 2-8-2010 by sean

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Topic: Email

Email is a part of our daily lives. We use it at work, at home, and everywhere in between. But, did you know that there are different types of email? It can be slightly more complicated (and cooler) than just coming into your Inbox.

If you exclusively use Web-Based Email, you won’t notice a difference in your email service. But if you use an email client like Microsoft Outlook® or Apple Mail®, the type of email service you use can make a big impact.

Primarily, people use two different types of email services: POP and IMAP. To understand the differences between the two, it’s important to know that every email message is actually a file on your mail server. An email client reads those files and displays them as email messages.

POP (Post Office Protocol) can do two things with an email message files:

  • Move: The email message file is removed from your mail server and placed in your email client. This means that the email message file now only lives in one place, so you cannot access it from multiple clients or locations.
  • Copy: The email message file is copied from your mail server into your email client. This means that the email message file stays on your mail server for other mail clients in different locations to use.

This illustration shows your mail server moving email messages to your email client using POP email.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) only does one thing with email message files:

  • Synchronize: All email message files and folders are copied from your mail server into your email client. Then, all email message files and folders from your email client are copied to your mail server.

This illustration shows your mail server synchronizing files and folders with your email client using IMAP email.

You’ll notice that POP email does not copy messages onto your email server or handle email folders. The consequence of this is that you must manually recreate email folders on every email client in every location from which you access email. For instance, items sent from your email client and placed in your Sent Items folder are not accessible from multiple locations with POP email.

Because of IMAP‘s synchronization features, you have access to all of your emails, sent and received alike, from every email client in every location. This can make working remotely a lot easier. But beware! When you delete an email permanently, it’s gone from all of your email clients.

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