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What is the difference between POP and IMAP?

Once you have set up an email account, you need to learn how to check your email. Before you can check your email you need to make a few important decisions such as choosing whether to use webmail or an email client (outlook, apple mail, thunderbird, etc.). 

If you choose to use an email client, you will need to decide which protocol to select: POP3 or IMAP.

The Basic Difference between POP and IMAP is in which way you want to access your email account and how the transfer of your emails to your desktop/device are handled.

You will want to set up IMAP connection if accessing from multiple locations. (such as desktop, cell phone and/or tablet). An IMAP connection enables you to sync your email accounts on multiple devices.

Our email provider, Rackspace, says to use IMAP every time!

This article provides an explanation of the difference between POP and IMAP:
IMAP and POP mail protocol comparison

POP3 Protocol Explained

POP stands for Post Office Protocol.

A POP account downloads mail to your local computer by default.

Often, when a message is downloaded, it is deleted from the ISP's mail server. This prevents you from reading the same messages when you go to a different computer. Some mail clients, including Entourage, let you tell POP servers to leave mail on the server for a certain period of time. This allows you to read the same messages again from another computer, if necessary. You might want to do this if you read your mail from computers at work and at home, or on a desktop and a laptop computer. Even if you are using a single computer, it is a good idea to leave messages on the server for a day or two, in case you accidentally delete them from your local computer and wish to download a second copy.

Think of POP3 like the post office. If you go to the post office because they have your mail and pick it up, it is no longer there once you retrieve it. In this analogy, the post office is the email server, and you are the email client.

One major advantage to POP3 over IMAP is if you have emails with large attachments, they will open up faster if they are on your desktop. Also, email that you have already received you can read anytime, even without an internet connection.

Another advantage of POP mail is that you have your messages with you and can peruse them even while you are not connected to the Internet, which is particularly desirable if you use telephone dial up access to the Internet.

There are a few disadvantages to POP3 as well.

  1. If your email client crashes, you will lose all your emails and there are no copies on the server.
  2. It is difficult to keep multiple computers synchronized.
    Messages you send from one computer are not copied on the other computers. You must either select one computer as your master computer, or you must download all the mail to each computer, which means more access time. 
  3. If you intend to use a laptop computer while traveling, you may want to consider IMAP access.
  4. If you plan on checking your email from multiple devices such as a smart phone, laptop, desktop computer, or webmail itself - once the email is read it will not be able to be viewed on any other devices.

* Access: Since your email is stored on your computer, you must be at your computer to access your email.
* Storage: You don’t need to worry about running out of online storage space. Since you are downloading your emails to your computer, you can keep as many emails as your computer can store.
* Backup: You should implement an effective backup system for your computer, in case you need to retrieve lost or deleted emails.
* Internet Connection: You will need an Internet connection to download email, but you can view your downloaded email offline (i.e., without an Internet connection).

IMAP Protocol Explained

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol.

IMAP is better than POP for accessing mail from multiple locations because it leaves the mail messages on the ISP's mail server. 

This lets you read the same messages regardless of what computer or device you use to read your e-mail. Messages you send are also stored on the mail server (if you keep copies, which is a good idea), so if you send a message from work, you will see that message when you access your mail from home or from a laptop while on the road.

When you use an IMAP account you are, in fact, viewing your e-mail that is stored on the ISP's computer. There are no copies of the messages stored on your local computer unless you make a special effort to copy them there.

Wherever you are and whatever computer you use, you always are looking at the same set of messages. Mail you read at work will show up marked as read when you view it from home. Replies you send while on the road will be there when you get home. 

IMAP also allows multiple people to check the same email account and view all the emails associated with that particular account.

Using the same post office analogy (as we did above), if you visit the post office and check your post office box, you read your mail but place it back in the box. This way you can come back and access it later. The mail actually never leaves the post office (or server, in this case).

Backup: Email is automatically backed up every evening. If you accidentally delete an email, your email administrator can retrieve it—even up to 14 days later.

Most ISP's set an upper limit on the amount of mail storage you can use, and the size may be too small for you if you get a lot of mail. For instance, five megabytes (5 MB) of storage may seem like a lot, but it can quickly fill up if you receive scores of messages every day, some with large attached files such as photos, which can take up 2- 20 megabytes for a single photo. A couple of rolls of family snapshots could fill your available storage. If that happens, messages addressed to you will be returned to the sender. 

For FASO email storage see this document:
FASO Email Account Storage Capacity

Here are a few disadvantages to IMAP.

  1. Since the email does remain on the server, you may need to periodically delete or archive your emails so the account does not reach its quota or become unmanageable.
  2. If you have a large number of emails, it may take longer to check your email since each time you check your email it will download a copy every time you connect.
  3. You must have Internet access in order to view your mail at all, since it is never copied to your local computer.

* Access: Since the emails are stored on the email server, you can access and manage your email and email folders from multiple computers or mobile devices.
* Storage: If you have limited online storage space, you may need to delete some emails periodically to avoid exceeding your storage capacity.
* Backup: Email is automatically backed up every evening; so, if you accidentally delete an email, your email administrator can retrieve it—even up to 14 days later.
* Internet Connection: If you do not have an Internet connection, you cannot access your email.


Most business owners prefer IMAP over POP3, since it allows more flexibility in checking email.

However, if you are ONLY checking you email from ONE LOCATION, such as your phone or computer, POP3 will make checking your email much faster. 

If you decide to use POP3, we recommend regularly backing up your email account in case of data loss.

NOTE: By default, email software applications (e.g., Outlook, Thunderbird) store your sent, draft, and trash email on your computer, rather than storing it on the email server (as it should with an IMAP connection). You may need to make some adjustments to your email software setup so that Sent, Drafts, and Trash email will be stored in your online Sent, Drafts, and Trash folders.

NOTE: SMTP is for outgoing settings, and is not related to setting email up.


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