IMAP or POP3: What’s the Difference? Which Should You use?


When it comes to setting up the email address that you host with us on your devices, you will have two protocols to choose from. POP3 or IMAP. The basic rule of thumb here is if you are unsure which one to use, use IMAP.

What is POP3

POP stands for Post Office Protocol and is much older than IMAP. It has been used since 1984 as a way to download emails from a remote server. So far there have been other versions released called POP2 and POP3. POP4 was proposed but no work has been done on it as of yet.

The way POP3 works:

  1. POP3 connects to the email server from your email client.
  2. It grabs all of the new emails on the email server.
  3. Stores the emails locally on the device.
  4. Finally, it deletes the emails from the email server.

What is IMAP

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol and was designed in 1986. It has a more modern approach. It allows your email client to access remote emails stored on a remote server and temporarily cache the emails on your device, making it similar to a form of cloud storage.

The way IMAP works:

  1. IMAP connects to the email server from your email client.
  2. It then fetches all new emails or the contents of a specific email.
  3. It caches the emails and their contents locally on your device.
  4. The server will process any changes like deleting an email or sending a new email.
  5. Once changes are made they will always be processed on the mail server and update the locally cached emails on your device.


When choosing between POP3 and IMAP, consider how each of them works. If you only need your emails on one device, need constant access to your emails (online and offline) or have limited server storage, consider POP3. If you need your emails on multiple devices, have a stable internet connection or your local storage is very limited but server storage is not, consider IMAP.

There are inherent risks with POP3 because it removes emails from the server which means it’s not so portable and after the default (2 weeks), no more backup on the server. The only place that email will be found is on the client. So if the device crashes, then it’s a big problem because all emails will be lost.

The solution is to always use IMAP. The protocol cannot be changed from POP3 to IMAP server-side or converted client-side. The course of action is to add new accounts to your email client and then specify IMAP as the protocol. Then once you are familiar with the difference, the POP3 accounts should be disabled. Do not delete the POP3 account but disable it.


IMAP vs POP: Which Should You Use?



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