What is the difference between POP and IMAP?

When working with a remote email application its highly likely that you will have heard of both POP (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol). These 2 protocols allow the user to read emails locally through a third party application (the most common of these applications being Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, to name a couple). In terms of how they work, both are very similar but there are some important differences that you should be aware of!

Both POP and IMAP were developed in the mid eighties to allow access to remote emails on remote servers. POP was the first Protocol to be developed (in 1984, IMAP followed shortly after in 1986), allowing for a user to connect to a remote email server from any device that is connected to the internet.  POP and IMAP do the same job fundamentally but there are slight differences are worth mentioning…..

POP downloads all emails from the server to the local device, the idea when developing POP was that a single user would be accessing a remote server and accessing emails from the same local device. This has definite advantages as downloading the emails to the device frees up more space on the server. Also, a user can download their emails onto a device and can then access those emails even if the device is offline at the time. This protocol carries out its purpose perfectly but can have drawbacks when it comes to multiple users using various local devices – emails that has been downloaded can become ‘scattered’ between different devices. In terms of IMAP, it operates in more or less the same fashion but differs in the way it stores downloaded emails. Technically, emails aren’t downloaded when using IMAP rather information about the email is sent to a cache. This information can then be retrieved by the user through the local device, in this way you can think of IMAP as functioning in the way of a ‘cloud storage’ system. This leads us onto some disadvantages of the IMAP protocol, as it is a cloud storage system the information that is stored is ‘in the air’ so to speak so requires a solid internet connection to retrieve it (its worth mentioning that once an email has been retrieved it can be later accessed without being online). If there is no internet connection from the device there would be no way to the emails from within the cloud storage. As the emails haven’t been downloaded they will be taking up space on the server. This can be viewed as both a benefit (if the user is using a device with limited storage) and a drawback (there is less room on the server for other tasks, executions etc.).  Essentially it can be boiled down to……

POP – Download emails (from a remote server)

IMAP – Access emails (from a remote server)

As usual this is just a quick introduction to the topic aimed at helping you choose the right protocol that will work best for what you need. Both are extremely useful protocols but its very much a case of using the right tool for the job! If you would like any more information on this topic or have any other queries please don’t hesitate to contact us by launching a support ticket (open a ticket) with our hosting department, we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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