Tech Tips with Mr. Tech Savvy

Thursday, May 29, 2008

POP is good. IMAP is better.

Many business users already know what POP is and use it at their offices. For others who don’t, POP is a method that let users download emails on the server to their computer. In practical understanding, it allows you to download those emails on your Yahoo or Gmail account, or your own domain name emails, into your email applications like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, on your computer.

And why would you want to do that? Because you can read them while you are not connected to the internet. Getting the picture? This will also allow you store the emails “locally” on your computer which is a nice way to keep a backup of your precious emails.

So that’s POP. But what if you are a Super Multiple-Gadget user? You probably have a PC at home, another at the office, a laptop while you travel and a trendy mobile phone with you all the time. And you love checking mails, so, you check them all day on all devices.

POP will not help you much in this case. The downside of POP is that it is a one-way communication. With POP you only download emails from the server and that’s it. The server is not told if you have read the emails, replied to them, or even sent a new email. When you shift from your first gadget to the second your emails get downloaded again, and since the server doesn’t know about your previous actions, it will show nothing but new “unread” emails to you. Even more, your replied message is not available since you sent it from your first device.

How to get it all organized? How to make every action you do with your emails be common in all your devices? Here’s where IMAP comes in.

IMAP is an alternative method to “access” your emails from the mail server. Instead of downloading emails, you synchronize them. When you read an email, it tells the server that this mail has been read. And when you send an email, the same email gets “uploaded” and stored in the server as well.

Now when you use any other device, if you check emails using IMAP, you get the emails with their read or unread status. Your sent emails will be downloaded to your local “Outbox”. Even better, if you have organized your emails into folders, all folders will be automatically created and updated in all your devices. Way to go, IMAP!

However, all that glitters is not gold. IMAP does have a small downside. The storage space for your emails depends on your mailbox size allowed by the service provider. If you are a heavy email user with a mailbox limited to 100MB size, then you will have to delete emails every few weeks or so. This, therefore, will not let you keep an archive of your emails on the server.


Now, all the POP fans out there may wonder, “Should I make the shift?” Well, it’s really your personal preference. If you are a single-computer user then you may want to stick to POP as it already suits the purpose. But if you are the Super Multiple-Gadget user, then this suggests you switch right away. It will help you get organized in a very big way.

Note that when you move to IMAP, do so on all computers and devices and stop using POP. Using both will get it all muddled up.

Update: Gmail Fans, here is a recommended reading for you posted by Gmail guys themselves!

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In a web address like:, what does “http”, “www” and “com” stand for?

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  • http: Hypertext Transfer Protocol
    www: World-Wide Web
    .com (commercial) = a generic top-level domain (gTLD) used on the Internet's Domain Name System.


    By Blogger turned, At May 31, 2008 7:54 AM  

  • Hi there,

    I saw this linked on the Gmail page. It was really helpful in understanding the difference between the two, but I have one question I'm still not sure about. I want to set up an email on a POP server that multiple people will need to access for a project. If Person A connects to the POP server with an email client (like Apple Mail), and Person B connects a bit later using another client on another computer, will Person B get the emails that Person A already accessed? That is, once an email has been accessed by one client, will another computer's client also access it or is it a one time thing?

    Thanks if you can help!

    By OpenID fallonme, At June 1, 2008 9:34 AM  

  • @fallonme:
    There is an option to leave messages on the server when using POP, which will allow others to fetch the same mail, too. However, if you don't explicitly activate this feature, mails once fetched via POP are deleted from the server.
    This doesn't happen with IMAP - since every mail stays on the server all changes are synchronized. Also, if one of your buddies moves the mail to a different folder within your IMAP (e.g. a "completed" folder), this change will be reflected in your mail client.

    I myself am using IMAP for years now and I really don't get why that many people are still using POP. IMAP is simply superior top POP.

    By OpenID NeverPanic, At June 3, 2008 11:05 AM  

  • Thanks neverpanic,

    I would much prefer to use IMAP, but my company is stuck in the dark ages and still using POP. Hopefully I can convince someone to switch soon. Do you happen to know how to activate that feature that leaves messages on the server?


    By OpenID fallonme, At June 5, 2008 8:46 AM  

  • @fallonme: Depending on your mail client this feature, usually somewhere in your account configuration, though. E.g. in Thunderbird it's at Extras > Accounts > select your POP3 account from the list on the left > Server settings > Leave messages on the server (I re-translated from german, so it might not be accurate if you're using the English version).

    By OpenID NeverPanic, At June 9, 2008 10:15 AM  

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