POP or IMAP are tools we are using every day to access our e-mails. We take those tools for granted, but without, we would not be able to receive e-mails to our computers and email programs. Part of my work is to set-up and configure e-mail for my clients. I have been asked the question several times. What is better, IMAP or POP?

What is POP and IMAP?

POP (Post Office Protocol) is an Internet protocol used by local e-mail clients like Microsoft Outlook, to retrieve e-mail from a remote server.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) IMAP) is an Internet protocol that allows an e-mail client to access e-mail on a remote mail server.

POP and IMAP are the two most common Internet standard protocols for e-mail retrieval. Most modern e-mail clients and servers support both. Which one is the better one to use? Well it depends.

POP has been used much longer than IMAP and most e-mail clients like Microsoft Outlook are set up for POP e-mail retrieval. There are good reasons for this. Most small businesses and home users don’t their own e-mail server. They are using the e-mail service provided by their ISP (Internet service provider) or web hosting provider. Some ISP only support POP and their mailbox allowance is very small (sometimes as little as 20 MB per mailbox).

As soon you log into your e-mail client, like Microsoft Outlook, all your new e-mail messages are being downloaded and stored on your computer and at the same time deleted from the servers mailbox. This is OK as long you check your e-mail messages always from the same computer.

In the connected world we live today, this method has several shortcomings. If you are on the road and check your e-mail messages from a notebook computer, your messages will download onto the second computer. After you go home you check again from your home computer you won’t have the e-mail messages you checked whilst on the road. You have some e-mail messages on you home computer and some on your notebook computer. You may have a smart-phone or tablet computer as well. You end up having e-mails all over the place.

That’s where IMAP comes into it. If your e-mail client is configured for IMAP, your e-mail messages can be accessed from the mail sever. Your messages are staying on the mail server and you get a local copy on your local computer. You access your messages from another computer that is configured for IMAP the same thing happens. The messages keep synchronised between your computers and the mail server. There is one downside of IMAP. Since the messages are left on the server, they start to take up a lot of space. 2 to 3 GB is quite common after a while. You may have to check with your service provider what kind of mailbox allocation you can get. Once your mailbox is full you may not receive any more e-mail messages. Personally I would go for a free e-mail service like Gmail or Yahoo mail. They offer large mailbox storage ( 10 GB to unlimited) and also an attractive web-mail interface. You may have to put up with some ads. Some providers have ad-free versions for a fee. Once you are signed up you can keep your existing e-mail address even in case you change your Internet service provider.

My Recommendation:

If you have a single computer and your mailbox with a ISP you should use POP. If you have multiple devices where you access your e-mail messages, I would recommend to use IMAP.