Instant messaging has done nothing to stall the importance of email for both personal and business use today. We use email often enough, if not everyday. Do we really understand how it works and which email setup will work best for our business? Let’s investigate that and in particular I’d like to address the difference between POP3 and IMAP.
First, the basics. While I won’t bore you with the history of email, there are a few important terms that you need to know to get the most value from email for your business.
Email terminology you should know:
- Email server-An email server is a machine that hosts your email. It’s usually provided when you purchase a hosting package
- Email account– An email account is something I’m sure you are aware of. However, for clarity in this blog, an email account is the data storage area for your emails and where they come in and go out.
- Email client-An email client is a computer program that is used to read, compose and send emails and is the interface between the mail server and the user. Email clients use an email protocol (either POP or IMAP- we’ll explain that later) to download and read emails. Some examples of email clients include:
-MS Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Thunderbird (which are Windows-based)
-Pine, Elm and Mutt (which are Linux-based)
Configuring an email client typically requires account credentials, server host names and port nos. (if hosting provider uses other than default ports)
- Webmail– Unlike email clients, ‘Webmail’ refers to webmail applications or web-based mail access. These applications are hosted on the email server and can be accessed via their URL, for example – gmail.com,etc
- Email protocol-There are different stages to delivering an email and to ensure successful delivery these are defined by protocols namely POP and IMAP.
- Email hosting– Email hosting is a web service which operates email hosting servers. Unlike webmail services such as Gmail and Outlook Mail, email hosting services are usually paid for and are suited to businesses that-
- Require more space for their emails.
- Want to brand their email address with their own domain name -for example, email@example.com.
We offer 3 different types of email solutions for businesses- Business Email, Enterprise Email and G Suite by Google Cloud. While Business and Enterprise Email are largely differentiated by storage space for businesses at different stages of growth, G Suite offers various other collaboration and productivity tools for a modern office in addition to email.
Now to address our topic – What is the difference between POP3 and IMAP and why should you care?
When you first configure an email client such as Outlook or Mail, you will usually need to specify the protocol you want to use. While some mail clients will have a default setting, it helps to understand what the two options really mean and how they can help you.
POP or the Post Office Protocol is a set of rules for email retrieval. Like a post office, you log in, collect or read your email and leave. Also known as the ‘download-and-delete’ email protocol, mail on a POP server is deleted as soon as you have downloaded it. The protocol is currently in its 3rd version. Some examples of POP3 Servers include- Dovecot, qmail, sendmail, Exim, Microsoft Exchange
- Some examples of POP3 Clients- MS Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Eudora
- A simple procedure to access email
- POP lets you download emails to your machine and read them even while offline
- This helps reduce the amount of space your email account uses on your web server
- It is unidirectional- a one-way communication from the mail server to a single computer, post which it is deleted from the server. If you try to access your mail account from another device, you will not be able to see those emails.
- Sent mail is stored locally on your device and not on the mail server
- Though there exists an option to keep a copy of your email on server (through which email clients can tell the server not to delete the emails), this leads to multiple copies of your mailbox on clients as well as on server and so it makes the management of emails difficult.
In contrast to POP3, email accounts configured with the Internet Messaging Access Protocol are retained on the server even after the user has downloaded it. It was in fact introduced as an alternative to POP3.
- IMAP allows a two-way communication between the mail server and the client. Emails are stored on the server even after they are downloaded/accessed from multiple devices through multiple clients. If you read a message from an IMAP server, it is marked as ‘read’ across all the clients that you connect with. In other words, all your activities through IMAP are synced
- Once messages are downloaded, the copies still remain on the server for you to access at any time
- Unlike POP, an email in a IMAP setup is only downloaded when you click on it. Also, attachments are not automatically downloaded either. Thus, checking your email with IMAP is much faster and more efficient
- Sent mails are stored on the server so you can access them at any time
- The emails will eventually take up a lot of the space on the server unless you purchase more space
- IMAP is not available offline
Of the two, IMAP is a clearly a better option for the modern business world. I hope I’ve given you a fair understanding of email terminology and in particularly the difference between POP3 and IMAP.