E-Mail Types The Differences Between POP and IMAP

The other week we touched on the differences between webmail and desktop mail clients. This week we are going to take a look at the different e-mail types (or protocols as they are known). This information applies to those planning to use or those already using desktop mail clients, though even if you’re not it makes for a riveting read! If you are currently using webmail then this might entice you away from it as IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) offers, I believe, the best of both worlds.

Essentially in the world of e-mail we have two main messaging types (protocols) available for us to access mail. They are POP3 (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP. Both of these will be setup on some form of mail client (such as a desktop mail client or a phone mail client) on a device.

The main difference between the two is that IMAP does not download the information to your computer. Put simply it views the information from the mail server. This means that you will have a universal view of everything in your e-mail account your inbox, sent items, drafts, you name it, if it exists on one device it will be on them all. POP3 of the other hand downloads the information to your computer, and then deletes it off of the mail server. Note that it can be setup to not delete the information BUT it can get very messy, if you want it setup like that you need to be prepared for some e-mail admin from time to time. Accounts configured in POP3 across different devices will be a local view: each device has its own message store, and its own set of folders. Also worth mentioning is that your sent e-mail will not be synchronised across devices when using a POP3 setup, to view sent items on a device other than the one you sent it from you will need to forward the e-mail to yourself or include yourself as a recipient.

There are obviously pros and cons of each protocol, so what better way to explore them than with some of our famous bullet points!

POP3 is great because:

  • You will be able to view mail offline on any device on which you have previously downloaded the information to
  • Mail manipulation is quicker than it is when using IMAP due to the fact the mail is on your device
  • Once mail is downloaded it will load more quickly than IMAP (e.g. switching between messages)
  • It is supported by the majority of e-mail providers and ISPs
  • All desktop e-mail clients support it
  • You are more easily able to create a backup of your e-mail messages as the e-mails are on your computer
  • You can circumvent the mail box size restriction imposed by most ISPs and e-mail providers as you will most likely be deleting the messages from the mail server


POP3 has its problems because:

  • As the e-mail is stored on your device you will not be able to access it from another device
  • Sent messages, drafts, and the outbox are all stored on your device, which like the last point means you will be unable to access that information from another device
  • Generally speaking (though settings can be changed) e-mails will be deleted from the mail server after being downloaded this will mean they will be inaccessible to other devices
  • The messages are stored in a format that is specific to the desktop e-mail client you are using
  • The onus is on you to backup your e-mail


IMAP is great because:

  • All messages are stored on the mail server: your inbox, drafts, sent items, and outbox will be synchronised across all devices
  • All your folders (e.g. e-mails from Bob) will be synchronised across all devices
  • You can use it in conjunction with webmail, meaning you will have access to your e-mail on any computer or device with an internet connection. A definite benefit to those jet setters amongst you
  • Your ISP or e-mail provider will be constantly backing up your e-mail


IMAP has its problems because:

  • You won’t be able to view your mail whilst offline. Only the headers get downloaded, and you only have a local store of sent mail and drafts
  • You will be forced to conform to the mail box size imposed by your ISP or e-mail provider. The same is true regardless of whether you use POP3 or IMAP. Though with POP3 as you are downloading and deleting the information you are less likely to notice the size restriction (bear mind you may have a 15GB allowance which is pretty vast)
  • The speed of your internet connection will impact upon the performance of the mail client. If you have a slow internet connection using IMAP (which is constantly connected to a mail server) might feel a bit like watching paint dry
  • It might not be support by your ISP or e-mail provider, though most support POP3
  • Certain desktop mail clients struggle to support the format properly; we have found this to be true of Outlook Express
  • It is much more difficult to make a local backup of your e-mail; this point is only valid if you actually plan to backup your e-mail and implement that plan!


Quite a lot of information to take on board there! The way I view it is that POP3 is handy if you download your e-mails to one computer and if you want to make a local backup of your e-mails. If you want access to your mail on more than one device (e.g. phone and PC) then IMAP is probably a sensible choice as it will give you a synchronised view of your mail that is very difficult to achieve with POP3.

For those that are interested in a fool proof method of backing up an e-mail account then take a look at the fantastic new e-mail backup service we are offering. It is on promotion until 31/07/13, so act now to save yourself some money.

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