POP3 versus IMAP

At CitEscape, you have the ability to choose between two different protocols to view your email. Both protocols will allow you to access your E-mail offline from your preferred client (e.g., thunderbird, outlook). There are, however, important differences between the two protocols and one may be better suited for your needs. For most people, we recommend using POP3 but ultimately the choice is yours.


Before we figure out which one is best for you, lets look at what each one is and what its meant to do.

POP3 stands for "Post Office Protocol", and is essentially version 3. The previous 2 versions were from the 1980s so don't worry too much about them. POP3 works very simply and its meant to do that. It was designed with the requirement to "Download and Delete" email from the server. When the e-mail server receives a new message, it stores it on the server until you to request it. By simply opening your email program (e.g., Outlook or Thunderbird) you request the e-mail from the server by pressing the “Send” or “Receive” button. Your e-mail application asks the server if there is any mail waiting. If there is, it downloads the entire message from the server and places it in the inbox on your local client. Once you receive the email, the message is no longer stored on the server unless you specifically tell the server to keep a copy of it. 

IMAP stands for "Internet Message Access Protocol". It allows you to download e-mails from the server to your e-mail program the same as POP3 does. The main difference is that when you request your e-mail from the server it sends a copy rather than sending the entire e-mail. The server keeps a copy of the e-mail while also keeping a copy of it on your computer. The email program and the imap server try to keep the folders in sync but this can get complicated pretty quickly. What happens if you have certain messages on your local computer and IMAP has different messages on the IMAP mail server? IMAP was built specifically to handle this task. When you connect to the IMAP server from your local computer, it detects that there are differences between the local computer and the mail server. It then synchronizes both so that they have the same information.  For example, if you delete messages, compose more and have sent others, this information will be synced up with the IMAP server so that the IMAP server will delete the copies of the messages that were deleted. By the time you log off the IMAP server you have two complete copies of all of the e-mail tasks performed: one on the IMAP server and one on your local computer.


Lets say you are using the POP3 protocol on your E-mail client on your only computer at home and your client does not leave the mail on the server after it is checked. If you are somewhere other than that home computer, perhaps using your smart phone or our webmail interface, and wish to check your email, it may appear as if all your email has disappeared. Why? Because all of the previous E-mail you have sent and received are stored on your home computer. This can be confusing and counter productive depending on what you are trying to do so first, lets look at what each protocol does and doesn't do.


These are the main differences of each of the protocols:


Always downloads all new E-mail locally to your computer. Downloads message summaries and doesn't download the entire message until you explicitly select it. 
Downloads all E-mail into one mail folder called "Inbox" and does not support folders on the server. IMAP preserves your folder structure in a main folder on the IMAP server itself. The folders will be kept in syncronization.
Useful if you only access your email from one computer, since the email is typically downloaded locally (this is the default and can be changed). IMAP allows email to be manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a workstation at the office, and a notebook computer while traveling, or your smart phone (iPhone or Android device) without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between these devices.
Your emails can be automatically erased from the server after they are downloaded, freeing up space in your account and making access to your email quicker and more responsive. IMAP keeps all emails on the server until you erase them. Be cautious with this. If you don't delete junk or unwanted email, you can easily fill up your inbox


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