Ever get confused when setting up an email account on a mail client, such as Outlook on your computer, or your phones Email app, and it asks POP or IMAP? It may seem like its talking about a foreign language, but it’s really the protocol in which your emails are accessed and downloaded. Understanding them is actually very simple, and will help you make that decision next time you are asked.

First let’s begin by explain what each protocol stands for, to help understand them a bit further:

  • IMAP- Stands for Internet Message Access Protocol, created in 1986, which allows email clients to remotely access messages from a server.
    • In short, IMAP starts by accessing the server, retrieving copies of the mail, and temporarily storing them on your client, allowing you to read them. You have the option to store the mail locally, but typically IMAP makes it so you have to be connected to the internet to read any message.email, envelope, green, mail, newsletter icon
  • POP- Post Office Protocol-Created in 1984, which allows email clients to download the messages from a server.
    • In short, POP starts by accessing the server, retrieving all of the mail off the server, store it locally on your device, and then delete the mail from the server. You do have the option to set it to leave the mail on the server though.

You’re probably still scratching your head trying to decipher the differences between the two protocols. It is a bit confusing, as both can generally be configured to meet your needs with some minor tweaking, but not all email providers offer those configurations. So let’s discuss the advantages of each, and when you should use each protocol, to help clarify things a bit more.

IMAP-Good for accessing mail from multiple different devices/locations.

  • Mail can be accessed from multiple devices/locations, while retaining the ability to see the same mail on each device.
  • Doesn’t download mail to your computer, unless prompted to, saving you storage space.
  • No need to worry about backing up mail, due to it being stored on the server.mail, mailbox, อีเมล icon
  • Can allow multiple people to share the same mail account, without worrying about them deleting mail off of the server.

POP-Good for accessing mail from one single device, especially one that isn’t consistently connected to the internet.

  • Internet connection only needed to initially download messages, then mail can be read without a connection for as long as you keep the mail saved.
  • Saves storage space on your mail server, which will come in handy if it is for a company email with limited web hosting.
  • Can configure multiple email accounts to be shown in one inbox to allow easier browsing of the messages.

If you are still confused, it may be easier to go with IMAP, as it is the more modern of the two protocols.  This way you don’t have to worry about backing up your messages, or worrying about accessing it from another device. Most newer email account providers are configured to setup as IMAP, and require a change in settings to switch to POP for these reasons. If you do like the idea of POP protocol, than it may be worth switching your settings over to utilize it. If it gets too confusing, you can always contact your local computer service store to help you out!