POP vs. IMAP: Which Should You Choose

What are POP and IMAP?

POP and IMAP are two different protocols, or methods, of connecting with a mail server and retrieving your mail.  Most mail servers allow you to choose which one you want to use. If you have an email account and check your mail from one computer, POP can work perfectly well, but if you want to check and synchronize mail on multiple devices, IMAP is likely a better way to go.

The explanation below is somewhat oversimplified, but should help you understand the differences.

How does POP work?

POP (sometimes referred to as POP3) is designed to allow you to connect to a server, download your messages, and remove them from the server. The mail gets stored locally on your computer. 

POP does have the capability to leave mail on the server for a certain period, however, the functionality that goes along with leaving the mail on the server is someone minimal and does not include true syncing of your email on multiple clients and server.

How does IMAP work?

IMAP is designed to allow you to connect to a server, get a copy of your message, and leave the original messages on the server. IMAP includes important synchronizing capabilities for your account, so you can connect with multiple devices, create folders, and flag messages. The actions you take will be synchronized with all connected devices.

Should I use IMAP if I have many devices?

Typically, IMAP is the way to go if you want to sync your mail among several devices.  One consideration with IMAP is that you are storing mail on the server and the amount of diskspace needed will grow over time. With our email system, there are some nominal costs associated with using additional diskspace. One big advantage to the IMAP model is that you have a copy of your mail locally and a backup at another location.

Why should I use POP?

While IMAP is a more powerful protocol, there are a few reasons you might go with POP:

  1. You have one machine for checking email and just want to keep it simple.
  2. You don't want to build up the the storage space for your account on the server and potentially have associated expenses. Although the expenses are nominal, if you trust your local backup system and have very simple needs, then POP could suit your needs quite well.