POP vs. IMAP: Full Comparison

POP and IMAP may bring to mind two completely different concepts: one relating to music and the other to maps. But, the reality is that they’re both protocols that allow you to check your emails. 

While some may be unfamiliar with these terms—normally, people will talk about email clients rather than protocols—there is the occasional situation in which you need to deal with more advanced issues with your email.

If you’re in a situation where you need to choose between POP and IMAP, and you are looking to determine the key differences between the two, then keep reading.

POP vs. IMAP: A Side-by-Side Comparison

POPIMAP
What is It? Internet Standard ProtocolInternet Standard Protocol
Primary UsePOP3 is the most common version used for email retrievalAllows emails to be accessed from multiple different devices
Name Post Office Protocol Internet Message Access Protocol
Initial Release POP1 was released in 1984Released in 1986
What Connections is It Mainly Used For?Mostly used with dial-up connectionsCan be used with most email clients
What Does it Work Best For?  Works best for single, dedicated devices and locations with worse internet service Best for emails stored in a service that needs to be accessed by multiple different devices through synchronization
Where are the Emails Stored?On the computerOn a server 
How Many Devices Can You Access Your Mailbox From?Only oneMultiple devices
Can You Make Changes to Your Mailbox?NoYes, you are able to delete, rename and create new emails

POP vs. IMAP: What’s the Difference?

POP and IMAP are not the same protocols—they allow you to access your email storage in completely different ways.

POP, or rather POP3, which is now the commonly used, most recent version of the software, stores all emails on one computer. This version was mainly created for dial-up connections rather than the modern constantly ‘on’ modems. For this reason, all of the emails that would come through a POP email would be stored in the local computer for the user to access at their earliest convenience.

In contrast, IMAP connections allow emails to be stored on an online server. This allows users to access their emails from any device so long as they can sign into their email. For emails to be read and accessed in this system, there needs to be an active internet connection and the emails need to be synchronized. Another important benefit of IMAP is that you are able to make changes to your mailbox—this can include deleting, creating, and renaming emails. This extra freedom allows one to better handle their email communications. 

Cyber security data privacy email server
Keeping your emails on a good server is important to keep your communications secure.

POP vs. IMAP: 12 Must-Know Facts

  • IMAP was designed to work for remote access to an online mailbox.
  • POP was designed to retrieve all the content from a mailbox.
  • POP only works on a single device as the content of your mailbox is downloaded and stored there.
  • With IMAP, content is stored on an online server and can be retrieved and accessed from multiple devices.
  • IMAP is a more advanced protocol, as it doesn’t only deal with one local device.
  • With IMAP, emails can be accessed without their content being downloaded. 
  • POP requires emails first to be downloaded onto a device. 
  • POP does not allow the user to create or delete emails on the server; Changes on the computer cannot affect the server.
  • POP is faster than IMAP. 
  • IMAP keeps more copies of the emails, which allows for retrievals in cases of data loss.
  • POP is older than IMAP, as it was created in 1984.
  • IMAP was designed in 1986. 
  • Synchronization is an important process with IMAP that allows all of the emails to be accessed by different devices.

POP Summary

POP, which was released in the mid-80s, was designed to accommodate the specs of dial-up connections. This meant email downloads that would take up storage on the PC but would still allow users access to their telephone line. This system was a better solution for many households and businesses. One argument that can be made in favor of POP3, the latest version of this system, is that it is potentially safer.

With IMAP mail communication is kept on a server that is not owned by the individual. As such the content of the emails may be breached, intercepted, be used for data gathering, or other data-related services. Some believe that POP3 is safer for that reason, as your email will be downloaded into your local computer. This is not a flawless argument, but there are points to be made about how POP3 with encryption could lead to safer email communications and storage.

IMAP Summary

IMAP was originally designed by Mark Crispin in 1986 as a way of accessing a mailbox remotely. This protocol allowed users to directly change things about their mailbox instead of forcing them to download its content in their local computer storage. This was a big innovation at the time. However, due to the nature of dial-up connections, which did not allow for both the phone and internet to be used simultaneously, this did not become as popular as a POP at first.

Modern modems no longer have this limitation, and the ability to access one’s mailbox from any device has largely made IMAP much more popular than POP3, which was designed to accommodate a different era. Outside of accessibility, IMAP also allows users to delete and modify emails in their mailbox, which can be instrumental as the number of emails received daily has increased exponentially. Finally, by way of email security, you can still access your emails even if your local device is broken or lost with IMAP. This means you can change passwords, lock people out, and have greater control at all times.

POP vs. IMAP: Which One is Better?

While IMAP and POP both deal with emails, the two protocols were created to fulfill completely different purposes. As such, the capabilities and features offered by each of these are different.

While POP might be faster, IMAP is more diverse and allows for connections through multiple devices. As most people will want to access their email from their phone, laptop, PC, and tablet, the IMAP protocol has quickly become the more commonly used of the two protocols.

More importantly, while POP emails can be deleted, created, or renamed in their local computer file, the file in the mailbox associated with them will remain unaffected. This could be a problem, as email communications are a lot more frequent and can often require more storage space.

Still, the safety that POP3 can bring through encryption and locally-stored data is often considered unparalleled.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing the right protocol to use for your email communications, there are a lot of similarities and differences between POP and IMAP.

To make the right choice for yourself, you will need to decide how important speed is to you and whether your local server’s specs can support the large number of email downloads that would be required by POP3.

If you are interested in having access to your mailbox from anywhere and on any device, then the choice is simple: IMAP is the uncontested winner.

POP vs. IMAP: What Are the Differences? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between IMAP and POP?

While both IMAP and POP are Internet Standard Protocols, that is about where their similarities end. These two protocols were both created in the 80s with POP being designed as a way of retrieving content from a mailbox. As such, its capabilities were quite limited, only allowing for emails to be downloaded from a mailbox onto a local computer. While this protocol allowed for quick email downloads, it did not provide the possibility of making any changes to the actual mailbox. Especially in the time of dial-up connections, email downloads into local storage allowed for more freedom.

 

Modern-day modem specs allow for unlimited use of the internet, and IMAP takes full advantage of that. While IMAP was designed only two years after POP, there were some differences in its specs that allowed users to fully access their online mailbox. With IMAP, everything from deleting, creating, and altering the files in a mailbox is available with a few clicks. Users can also access their mailboxes from all over the world.

Should my email be POP or IMAP?

In most cases, the answer to this is simple: IMAP. While both of these protocols have benefits, POP was created for handling emails in the 80s and not in modern times. The fact that using POP limits you to one single device and only allows you to retrieve your emails after download, can be a big limitation. What’s more, with POP you are not able to delete or create emails in your mailbox, with the current rate at which emails are received, having to have a local file on your computer for emails would be a big waste of storage. 

IMAP manages to handle all of these problems in a relatively easy solution, by allowing you to directly access your mailbox online from everywhere. The features available with IMAP make it the preferred Internet protocol.

How do I know if my email is POP3 or IMAP?

The process for determining whether your account is POP3 or IMAP will differ based on the email manager or program you are using. In most cases, under your account settings, you will be able to see a section called Mail Server Type, under this section, you will be able to see whether your email is POP3 or IMAP.

Which is safer, POP3 or IMAP?

There are safety concerns in regards to both POP3 and IMAP.

With POP3, adding further encryption is necessary to ensure safety. However, if all of your emails are stored on one device, if something happens to that device, you lose all of your emails.

With IMAP, the security concern surrounds password security. As your email can be accessed from anywhere, setting a very strong password that is regularly changed is the key to keeping your account safe.

Is IMAP secure?

IMAP can be secure depending on how you have set up your account, namely by adding a strong password as well as creating an authentication step to ensure your account’s security.

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