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POP3 vs IMAP, Which Do I Use to Set Up My Email?

IMAP is short for Internet Message Access Protocol while POP translates to PostOffice Protocol. In other words, both are email protocols. They allow you to read emails locally using a third party application. Examples of such applications are Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, GNUMail, or (Mac) Mail.

POP simply downloads email to your computer, and usually (but not always) deletes the email from the remote server. The problems arise if you have more than one device (desktop, laptop, tablet or phone) where you read your mail. You have to delete or file the same email on every device. Logging into each device, you will see lots of unread emails with no indication of which you deleted, read, flagged or filed. Any folders you created and organize on one device won't be replicated on the other devices.

On IMAP the email is stored on the server, so your email cannot be deleted/destroyed if your computer should happen to crash, be stolen, or destroyed. If you read a message on one computer, it is read on any other computer you use to access your mail. If you reply to an email on one computer, that reply is available on any computer you use. Because emails only exist on the server in the IMAP protocol, they are safe if the computer is lost or destroyed, unlike with POP3.

Depending on your personal style of communicating and whom you prefer to get your email service from, you can pretty quickly narrow down how you should use your email.

  • If you use to check your email from a lot of devices, phones, or computers, set up your email clients to use IMAP.
  • If you use mostly webmail and want your phone or iPad to sync with your webmail, use IMAP, as well.
  • If you’re using one email client on one dedicated machine (say, in your office), you might be fine with POP3.
  • If you have a huge number of email and you’re using a shared mail server, you may want to use POP3 to keep from running out of space on the remote email server.

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