POP vs IMAP Email – What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever sent or received an email, you may have seen the terms “POP” and “IMAP.” The two acronyms often arise when setting up a new email account. If you’re well versed in the world of email delivery, you know exactly what they mean. But most people don’t give them much thought, choosing whatever option their email client designates as a default.

There are, in fact, many differences between the two email delivery services, and one may offer more benefits over the other, depending on your needs and desires. So what exactly are those differences? Read on for our little cheat sheet into understanding POP v. IMAP email.


What does it mean?

POP stands for “Post Office Protocol.” The name belies the function, as POP enables your email account to function like a virtual Post Office.

How does it work?

When we say that POP sets up your Inbox like a post office, we mean that POP lets you download messages from a remote server and store them on your computer. This means that you can access these emails even when you’re offline, as they are stored on your device’s hard drive.

What are the benefits?

Once you have downloaded your emails from the main server, you can access them at any time, and you don’t need an Internet or WiFi connection to do so. If your email account only provides limited storage, you can also avoid using up all the storage because emails are downloaded to your hard drive and deleted from the host server.

What are the downsides?

Since messages are downloaded straight to your hard drive, it is easier to infect your own devices with viruses and other malware. One of the biggest cons is the potential for data loss. If your hard drive crashes without a proper backup plan, emails will be lost forever.

Who should use POP?

People who only have one email account and use it for a limited purpose. It is also a great option for people who are concerned about data security.


What does it mean?

IMAP stands for “Internet Message Access Protocol.” IMAP is basically the opposite of POP – instead of emails being directly downloaded to a device, the emails live on a host server and can be accessed from anywhere via username and password.

How does it work?

IMAP is the reverse side of the email delivery coin. Whereas POP downloads emails locally and deletes them from the host server, IMAP stores emails on the host server and allows access from anywhere. When a user accesses their email account, messages are transferred to their computer, tablet, or phone, but also remain on the server. Every action you perform is also stored on the server (i.e., sending or forwarding an email), allowing for easy synchronization across multiple devices.

What are the benefits?

IMAP email delivery is great for people on the go, who are constantly accessing their email from multiple entry points. IMAP also offers a built-in back up system. If your computer or smartphone crashes or fails, your emails remain on the host server and can still be accessed.

What are the downsides?

If you don’t have internet access, you can not read old and work with your old emails.

Who should use IMAP?

People who want to access their email from smartphones and tablets, or who don’t often work from the same computer. Also, IMAP works best with a fast internet or WiFi connection and can be frustrating for those with a slower connection speed.

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