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POP and IMAP are email protocols that you can use whenever you are setting up your email on an email program like Outlook, MacMail, etc. This article will help you decide which protocol is for your needs.

What is POP?

POP3 or Post Office Protocol allows you to download copies of your email messages to your personal computer. Any changes you make will NOT be visible to other users or computers accessing the email account since you are only making changes to local copies. Consequently, messages sent, moved, or deleted from a computer using POP can only be viewed on that individual computer's folders.

The copies of the email messages on the server usually are unchanged. Still, it is easy to unintentionally configure your POP3 program to delete those server copies whenever you download the emails or at a future time.

POP is recommended for:

  • Users who prefer to keep a backup of all their messages
  • Users who have very minimal time to be online but need to read emails
  • Users who need to archive permanent copies of their emails (e.g., before you terminate that email name or its hosting provider).

What is IMAP?

IMAP4 or Internet Message Access Protocol allows you to read emails as they appear on the hosting server. All messages and any changes you make (delete, reply, forward, move) are seen by anyone who logs into webmail or IMAP. Depending on program configuration, messages may be temporarily saved for offline viewing.

IMAP is recommended for:

  • Users who connect to email accounts from many computers
  • Users with mobile devices with internet access, such as smartphones or tablets
  • Multiple users who need to access the same email account.
  • Users who always wish access to have their messages, including sent messages and message folders, saved on the server.

Difference between POP and IMAP

  • IMAP is perfect for multiple users who need to access the same email account or one user who needs to access emails from multiple locations.
  • POP3 is perfect for quickly downloading emails and reading them offline or on the go (though you have to be online to reply to emails). POP3 is also a great way to save copies of your emails on your personal computer.

Should you use POP or IMAP?

Ultimately, you get to decide which connection type you will want to use, POP or IMAP. Below are some scenarios that may help you decide on selecting the connecting type.

Scenario POP IMAP
Download and store email backup to a computer.  
To have the ability to access email on multiple devices.  
I want to keep all emails in my inbox.  
I don't want to exceed my mailbox limit.  
I want to use my smartphone and tabler to check my email.  
To have the ability to read my email even if I'm not connected to the internet.  
I want to delete my email once.  


Webmail vs. Email Programs


Webmail is often preferred due to its ease of use and the fact that emails can be accessed from any computer through a web browser. Plus, it has the same advantages as IMAP.

However, webmail depends on a web browser (e.g., Firefox, IE, Opera, Chrome, Safari, etc.), which can take some time to load, access the webmail page, login, and load the GUI. Also, webmail often displays a limited view of the inbox, allowing the user to view only one email message at a time.

Email Programs

An email program can be launched right from your desktop and provides you rapid access to all your emails. They also have advanced tools and features that webmail may not have.

While email access through an email program is speedy, it can be less secure than webmail if you let the program remember your password.

There are many programs to choose from, including the program included with your computer's operating system.

  • Microsoft Windows includes either Outlook or Windows Mail.
  • Apple includes Mail.
  • There are also third-party programs such as Mozilla's Thunderbird and Qualcomm's Eudora. 

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