Ever wondered what the difference between POP3 and IMAP email is?

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What is the difference between POP3 and IMAP

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 another

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 mail safe.

The storage space on your device (phone, tablet) is running low.

You have reliable and constant internet connection.

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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This post was brought to you with love from the Techiewave Team and with additional info from:  

  • https://www.inmotionhosting.com/support/email/change-pop3-account-to-imap-or-imap-to-pop3?fbclid=IwAR1WwxPBkzIF96bL3pg8dWxqnOx-N9CLsZcpolyIviTsXNWjWTiH9qxJs7M
  • https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/pop-vs-imap/

Featured image credits: Anete Lusina|Unsplash