In today’s day and age we all send and receive a multitude of emails on a daily basis.  It is only logical that we know what is going on “behind the scenes” of how we receive our email.  Read on and I’ll explain.


We all know how to send and receive our emails, albeit on our phone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet or iPad, but how is our email set up?  Focusing mainly on the differences of POP3 and IMAP email protocols, why is this important, you might ask?

Let us take a quick look at the main differences between POP3 and IMAP.


POP3(Post Office Protocol 3)

POP3 is a client/server protocol in which e-mail is received and held for you by your Internet server.  Which means if you are using POP3 as your email protocol, the server holding your email sends emails to your email client (Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook) where you read the mail.  Now, there are two ways of doing this:

  1. Either the email is sent to you email client and deleted from the server
  2. Or a copy of the email is held on the server.

Meaning if you receive your mail and the server deletes it from itself, the ONLY copy you have of that email is now on your computer, so if you lose your device or it gets stolen or seizes to function, you will LOSE ALL THE MAIL, with no option to retrieve it.

On the other hand, if your email is still stored on the server and you have a copy on your device, you will be able to retrieve the emails, but with a catch.

POP3 does not support flags on the server to keep track of message states for example, if a message was read, replied to or deleted, which would cause all your mail to show it as unread when synchronising your email client with the email server.

As well as; if you are using MORE THAN ONE DEVICE, reading a message on one device does not reflect on the other, POP3 is NOT IDEAL when using more than one device for that given email address, in this case it is ideal to use IMAP.


IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

IMAP is a protocol for e-mail storage and retrieval, more or less exactly like POP3, but  with a major difference, IMAP uses flags to show which messages have been read, replied to or deleted. Which is perfect for when you use MULTIPLE devices to access you mailbox, when you read an e-mail on your phone, the message displays as read on your other devices. Also if one of your devices or all of them seizes to function; you merely have to setup your email on a new devices to access your emails as before.


The short and sweet of it:

  1. Use IMAP, especially if you use more than one device to access your mailbox, or need to access your mailbox offline.
  1. Use POP3 only when IMAP is not available.

People who access their mailbox from one computer, and backup their hard drive regularly, can get by with using POP3.


Written by – Charl F Human


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