IMAP and POP3 are the most widely used email retrieval standard protocols. Almost all current email clients and servers support both protocols. This post from MiniTool provides information about IMAP vs POP3.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) are both MAA (Message Access Agent), both of which are used to retrieve messages from mail servers to recipient systems. Both protocols include spam and virus filters.

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Overview of IMAP and POP3

IMAP (Internet Access Message Protocol) is an email protocol that handles managing and retrieving email messages from receiving servers. Since IMAP handles message retrieval, you will not be able to send emails using the IMAP protocol. Instead, IMAP will be used to receive messages.

POP3 is another protocol for receiving email on a single device. Using POP3 means your email can be accessed offline and deleted from the server.

IMAP vs POP3

The main difference between IMAP and POP3 is that POP downloads emails from the server for permanent local storage, while IMAP leaves them on the server while caching (temporarily storing) emails locally. In this way, IMAP is actually a form of cloud storage.

IMAP vs POP3: Work Principle

The first aspect of IMAP and POP3 is the work principle:

Once IMAP connects to an email server, it grabs whatever you request, like all new emails or the content of a specific message. This is cached locally so you can work on your device. Once you make changes to your email, such as deleting a message or sending a new email, the server processes and saves those changes, and then disconnects.

When using POP3, the email client first connects to the email server. After a successful connection, it grabs all the mail on the server. It will then store this message locally on your device so you can access it in your email client. Finally, it deletes the offending message from the email server before disconnecting. This means that these messages only exist on the device you downloaded them to.

IMAP vs POP3: Pros and Cons

The second aspect of IMAP and POP3 is the pros and cons.

POP3

Pros:

  • It can be accessed from multiple devices.
  • All changes are tracked on the server.
  • Save local storage space by not requiring your computer to download all messages.
  • Mail is automatically backed up as long as the server is properly managed.

Cons:

The only major downside of IMAP is the limited space that most email providers offer. So, if you have a lot of mail in your account, you may need to clean up your emails frequently.

IMAP

Pros:

  • Access anytime without an internet connection.
  • Saves server storage space.
  • Optionally keep copies of messages on the server.
  • Internet connection is only required to send and receive mail.
  • Allow combining multiple email accounts and servers into one inbox.

Cons:

It's not designed to check emails from multiple devices, so even if you leave copies of emails on the server you might run into problems.

Which One to Choose

After getting information about POP3 vs IMAP, you may want to know which one to choose:

Choose IMAP in the following situations:

  • Your local storage space is limited.
  • You want to access your email from multiple devices.
  • You have a reliable and constant internet connection.
  • You want to quickly learn about new emails or emails on your server.
  • You worry about backing up your email.

Choose POP3 in the following situations:

  • You can only access your mail from one device and never intend to access it from another device.
  • You need constant access to all your emails.
  • Your connection to the internet is inconsistent.
  • Your server has limited storage space.
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