What’s the difference between POP3 and
IMAP email configuration?
So, you’ve got a new job and you now
have to deal with configuring your email client. Regardless of whichever mail
client you decide to use, you’ll have to choose a preferred protocol – POP3 or
IMAP. Well, don’t fret, this post will explain to you the difference between
POP3 and IMAP as well as which would be best for you, read on.
What is POP3 and IMAP?
POP3 is short for Post Office
Protocol, a protocol very similar to the manual post office system where
you retrieve your mail from the post office box and take it along with you,
that way you have all copies of it, the post office (mail server in this case)
doesn’t retain a copy.
How POP3 works
With POP3, your mail client (Thunderbird,
Outlook, Roundcube) connects to the mail server, retrieves all mail, stores
them locally on your device and deletes the mail from the server.
NB: Although this is the default
pattern for POP3, most mail clients however allow you leave a copy of the mail
on the server.
IMAP on the other hand stands for Internet
Mail Access Protocol, a protocol that allows you to only retrieve a copy of
your email from the server whenever you connect. The original copy remains in
the server so you can still access it in the future.
No doubt, this is way more convenient
if you have multiple devices – smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop all
connected to the same mail account.
How IMAP works
An IMAP configured mail client connects
to the server, fetches user requested content (e.g. new mail, message summaries)
and stores it locally. It then processes changes made e.g. marking read emails
as read, moving deleted mail to thrash etc.
Switching from one mail protocol to
To switch from one mail protocol to
another, you’ll have to recreate your email account using the new protocol
you’re switching to.
So, if you’re switching from POP3 to
IMAP for instance, you’ll need to create a new IMAP account in your mail client.
Move your messages from the old POP3
account to the new IMAP account (this is necessary only if you still want to
retain the messages) and delete the POP3 account.
When to use which mail protocol
Generally, I prefer IMAP so I can
access to my email from any of my devices but then that’s me, there could be
other circumstances that would make POP3 preferable. Below are circumstances
that make each protocol preferred.
You should use IMAP if
You’re having different devices and
wish to access your email from all of them.
You want to keep a backup of your
emails so even if you don’t have access to your device, you still have your
The storage space on your device
(phone, tablet) is running low.
You have reliable and constant internet
You should use POP3 if
You’re having IMAP resource usage
problems such as sync difficulty when you have lots of messages.
For some reason – privacy,
security etc. you wish to access your email from only one device.
You need constant access to your
email even when there’s no internet.
You have limited server storage.
And finally, the usual
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