Difference between POP and IMAP email Protocols

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Difference between POP and IMAP email Protocols

When setting up your email you have the option to choose POP or IMAP settings. This article highlights the main differences between the two email Protocols.

Setting up email accounts can be one of the most tricky things to do once you purchase your hosting.  Sure, to create the email address is incredibly easy via cPanel, and can be done with just a few clicks, but then you have a variety of choices when it comes to actually accessing that email.

POP vs. IMAP — Which one should you use?

Ultimately this is down to personal preference, and we have included some further information below about the two different types, as well as the differences between Email clients and Webmail. We prefer IMAP because it allows us to access our emails everywhere, and we have a backup of all our emails online due to the very nature.  If you use cPanel hosting, then if you ever change hosting providers they will usually copy across your whole website, and emails by copying the entire cPanel account. So if you check your email on your smartphone, tablet, and desktop, and want that flexibility of having the email sync between devices, then IMAP is definitely for you.

We prefer IMAP because it allows us to access our emails everywhere, and we have a backup of all our emails online due to the very nature.  If you use cPanel hosting, then if you ever change hosting providers they will usually copy across your whole website, and emails by copying the entire cPanel account. So if you check your email on your smartphone, tablet, and desktop, and want that flexibility of having the email sync between devices, then IMAP is definitely for you.

POP3 may be more suitable if you have limited email server space, as IMAP can take up a lot of space with very active email accounts.  Also, if you just use your email on one machine, and are not worried about keeping an online copy of your emails, then POP3 may be OK.

POP (Post Office Protocol)

POP3 is a protocol that has been around for a very long time, with the POP1 being created in 1984, and POP2 in early 1985. POP3 is the current version built in 1988 and remains one of the most popular email protocols in use.

POP3 will download any messages you have from the email server, and any changes you make will be restricted solely to the copy you have on your computer.  In other words, if you delete, copy, move or send messages they will exist only on your local computer, and anyone accessing the email from another location will not know what you have done.

Although most POP clients have the option to leave a copy of the messages on the server, they most commonly connect, retrieves the messages and stores them in your email client, and then deletes the message from the server.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

IMAP was created in 1986 but at that time, we don't think they anticipated how well it fits in with the current "cloud-based" trend that has developed over recent years.  Essentially, whenever you log into an email client configured with the IMAP protocol, it will mirror any changes you make to the email server.

IMAP won't delete the email from the server after downloading, and it will keep any replies you make, read status, and record all other actions.  This means that whether you log into your email server from your tablet, or smartphone your emails will be synced across all devices.

Email Client vs. Webmail

Before we go into the Differences between the two email Protocols that can be used to download your email later in this article.  The first choice is whether you intend to use an email client (whether Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live mail, etc.) or whether you plan to use webmail (i.e. a web interface similar to Hotmail, or Gmail).

Webmail

The advantage of a Webmail is that you can access your emails through any web browser at any time.  There will be no program to download or configure, as with cPanel they are usually pre-configured with Horde, Roundcube, and SquirrelMail.  However, many people will just add their email accounts to their Gmail or Hotmail, which allow you to collate all your different types of emails together (i.e. Gmail can act as an Email Client but is web-based).

Difference between POP and IMAP email Protocols

Instructions to set up a custom email address in Gmail
  1. Open Gmail by going to gmail.com
  2. Click the gmail gear icon gear icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen.
  3. Select the Settings option.
  4. Then open the Accounts tab.
  5. In the Check mail from other accounts (using POP3) section, click Add a POP3 mail account you own.
  6. Enter the email address you would like to access and click Next Step.
  7. Gmail will populate the form with some sample settings, but we suggest that you check with your web host to ensure you have the correct server name and port.  Once you have done this, enter your password.
  8. You then have a few extra options:
    • You can select to leave a copy of retrieved messages on the server, which is useful if you want to keep a backup copy, or access them from elsewhere.
    • Always use a secure connection (SSL) when retrieving mail
    • Label incoming messages
    • Archive incoming messages
  9. Click Add Account.
  10. Once the account is added, you should set a customer "From" address."  This allows you to compose messages in Gmail but have it look like it was sent from your other email address.  Click Yes to set up a custom From address.

As you can see, there are a few options here, but it is relatively straightforward to do.  Both email programs and webmail like Gmail are fairly good at pre-populating the server settings and configurations, but in some cases, you will need to check them manually, and rectify any errors.  There are, of course, other webmail programs that can collate all your different emails, and the above instructions are just one example (in case you want a quick how to).

Email Clients

Despite the rise in popularity of web-based email, many people and businesses still prefer to use either a desktop based, or mobile tablet based email client app.  The traditional Outlook is used by many companies, but there is an increase in the use of email clients such as Thunderbird (which we use ourselves).  This article is not intending to go through a list of the different email clients available, although we hope to cover it in a future article.

Thunderbird setting email protocols

Mostly, email clients such as Thunderbird require you to either download software to your computer or install an app.  They need to be configured with various server details, and authentication by inputting the user name and password you made when creating the email address.

When setting up the email client, you will invariably be given various settings to choose from by your host, or in cPanel have set out for you in the email settings.  It is important to distinguish between the differences as it can impact your ability to access emails remotely, how backups are stored, and even whether emails are encrypted for security (although that probably won't stop the NSA reading them! @NSA sorry ... only joking.)

If you look at the email settings under cPanel they may look something like this:

Differences between the POP3 and IMAP protocols for email

You will see that there is a choice between "Secure SSL/TLS Settings" and "Non-SSL Settings."  It goes without saying that using an encrypted email is better, but you will notice that for the incoming server there are different ports, one for IMAP, and one for POP3. We are now at the actual purpose of this article, and that is to explain the difference between those two settings:

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