What is the Difference Between POP3 and IMAP?

Author: Julie Foster - MarCom/Wednesday, November 30, 2016/Categories: Home Internet

If you’re someone who has worked at configuring an email client before, there’s a good chance you’ve come across two terms – IMAP and POP.  What do these terms mean and is one better over the other? Let's find out...


POP stands for Post Office Protocol. POP works like it’s naming convention, whereas the Post Office receives your physical mail and holds it until an individual picks it up. POP, in the email world, receives and holds your email virtually until it gets received.  With POP, you can access emails locally through the use of third party applications. Some of the applications that make use of POP include GNUMail, Eudora, Thunderbird, and Outlook.

The latest version, POP3, is one of the most used styles of email protocol. POP3 creates local copies of email and deletes the originals from the server. This version makes it easy for personal computer users to access their mail with higher efficiency.

POP works well for users who access emails from their computers or create back-ups of their hard drives. Of course, it is also possible to have one’s emails stored on remote servers. However, remote server storage is a bad idea if you need to access a large number of emails.

Key drawbacks with POP include:

  • The need to file or delete emails individually on each device.
  • The lack of syncing, which means that a read email in one device might be marked as unread on another. This causes confusion.
  • Folders created on one device will not be synced in the other. You will be forced to repeat the process.


IMAP or Internet Message Access Protocol is a little different from POP3. IMAP allows users to log into many different email clients or webmail interfaces and view the same emails, because the emails are kept on remote email servers until the user deletes them.

When you access an email via IMAP, the email is downloaded onto your device on a temporary basis. The key benefit with IMAP is multiple device access. If you’re someone who relies on various devices to access email, IMAP should be your protocol of choice. For example, if you were to read an email on one device, it will appear as read on the other. This prevents a lot of confusion.

Another benefit is managing your emails also becomes much easier. You can, for example, archive the email on your device, while retaining a backup version on the server. IMAP is also more secure since it permits added security measures that come with email encryption. This is one of the reasons why business users prefer IMAP over POP.

Why IMAP is preferred?

If your email client relies on POP, you will be forced to download all of you emails from the server. However, IMAP clients will retain the emails on the server, making it easier for you to access your email from multiple devices.

If you use multiple email clients, you will have to deal with synchronization issues as well. For instance, a POP client on one device might show email to be present in your inbox, while another device using an IMAP client might show the same email as being deleted. This is because the POP client downloads every single email from the server and saves them. So, deleting on the IMAP client does not mean that the email has been deleted on the POP client.    

We at Consolidated Communications are recommending that all customers switch to using IMAP as the preferred method of accessing your inbox. This will allow for less confusion and issues when running multiple clients to access your email.

To confirm you have your email settings correct on your devices, you can verify your email settings with Consolidated's lookup tool.


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