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POP3 vs IMAP: Which One Should You Use

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POP3 and IMAP are incoming email protocols. They are used for the management and retrieval of emails. When you set up an email address in an email client, you can opt for POP3 or IMAP protocol to access, read, and store your email. Both use different ways of delivering emails.

Let’s understand how IMAP is different from POP3 and which protocol you should incorporate for email delivery.

Table of contents

What is POP3?

The Post Office Protocol (POP3) acts as a post office for incoming emails. First, it downloads the original emails from the email server on a single device/computer. Then it usually deletes the data from the server’s inbox afterward.

POP3 lacks synchronization; thus, several devices cannot access the same email. This protocol is best suited for people who use a single device (say work computer) to access emails. POP3 saves all the data (including files and other attachments) on the local device. Henceforth, one can access them offline.

But, the downside of POP3 is that if anything happens to your device, you can lose all the emails downloaded on the device unless your POP version is configured to store the email copy on the server.

What is IMAP?

The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) allows the user to access, retrieve and manage email messages on multiple devices. Also, saves the email copy on the server itself, allowing you to view the same emails on different email clients

The mail server is used as the main storage source. Thus, synchronization of email data through different email clients is possible here. Whether you delete an email or make any changes, the results can be seen simultaneously on synced devices and email clients. But, the IMAP increases the load on storage, especially if someone receives many emails.

Related guide: A Guide on SMTP or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol

Differences between IMAP and POP3

There are various technical differences between IMAP and POP3. And the below table represents the major functional differences between these two protocols.

IMAP POP3
IMAP is much more sophisticated and allows all the files on the mail server to be accessed by the user. POP works by approaching your email service and downloading all your incoming messages from it.
You are not directly downloading or storing it on your machine when you read an email message; instead, you are reading it from the email service. The messages are removed from the email service once they are downloaded onto your desktop or Mac.
Multiple backup copies of the email are stored on the mail server, and it can still be recovered if the message from the local server is lost. If this is in delete mode, after retrieval, the mail is removed from the mailbox. But, after extraction, the mail stays in the mailbox in keep mode.

Which protocol should you use?

Both POP3 and IMAP have their respective pros and cons.

Go for POP3 if,

  • You work on a single dedicated device and use one email client only.

  • You have a poor network connection and thus, want to save the email data on a local device to access it offline.

  • You receive a large number of emails and also have less or limited storage space.

Go for IMAP if,

  • You work from multiple devices and use different email clients.

  • You want to synchronize the data over all the devices to access anywhere.

  • You have a good internet connection. Also, there’s no problem with less storage space as such.

Now, it depends upon your requirements on which protocol you should use. We recommend the user opt for IMAP. It is a widely used protocol. Working upon multiple devices and synchronizing email data is a major plus here.

Conclusion

We learned how IMAP is a comparatively better POP3 when it comes to the accessibility and retrieval of email data on several devices. POP3 is also a good protocol. It ensures a smooth workflow with its storage function and availability of email data offline. But, with IMAP, one need not worry about losing the important email data if anything happens to the local device.

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