What is the difference between IMAP and POP?

Email is now one of the most prevalent forms of communication available, both for personal and business use. And although email is relatively simple to figure out, there can be a couple of terms you may not understand.

You’ve probably come across IMAP and POP for email accounts, but what do these terms mean and what’s the right option for you?

POP and IMAP are different protocols (methods) for accessing email. Important differences between the two exist, so if you want to optimise your email experience, read on to find out more.

What is POP email?

POP email is the first major type of email protocol to be universally adopted in the early years of the internet. POP stands for Post Office Protocol. Sometimes you’ll see POP3, which is the same thing but in its third adaptation.

POP works by downloading your emails from the server to your device and then deleting it from the server. You need to use an email client (such as Outlook or Apple Mail) to connect to the server and to download the emails. If you check your email from another device, it might look like you have missing mail. This will happen if you have your email server set to delete messages after they’re downloaded.

With POP, you can read messages on your phone without it impacting what’s happening on the server. For example, when a downloaded email on your phone is marked read, you can still download the email from another device and have it showing as unread. This may happen if you have your email server set to keep messages on your server until you delete them manually, even if you’ve downloaded them.

What are the pros/cons of POP email?


Advantages of POP email include reducing storage space on servers. If you have limited server space or a strict account quota, you can avoid hitting your limit more easily. Given the large attachments we send these days, your inbox can be full before you know it. However, it’s important to note that if you have large amounts of spam emails left on your server, this could lead to storage issues on your server.

Privacy might be another benefit of POP email. If you don’t have a self-hosted server email server, you might feel uncomfortable leaving your emails on a public server. POP lets you download it and delete it right away.


Depending on your settings, POP mail can pose inconveniences.

  • Storage – A major shortcoming of POP is the storage location. Your emails are stored on the device you used to download or send the email. You might not be able to download the email and read it on another device unless you change the setting.
  • Less protection against loss – Once you download your email, the copy on your device is the only one you have.
  • Manual setup – Email clients usually require manual setup if you choose the POP option.
  • Support – Some email providers no longer support POP.

What is IMAP email?

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP differs from POP as your email messages “live” on the server and you can access the same inbox from multiple devices. Rather than the download-and-store-local mechanism of POP, IMAP gives you live access to the same inbox regardless of what device you’re using.

What are the pros/cons of IMAP email?


The biggest advantage of IMAP is you can access your entire inbox from any device. Your email access is synchronised on a central server, no matter how many different devices you use. As long as you have a secure internet connection, you can have all your email folders at your fingertips in real-time.


IMAP protocol works best with a fast internet connection and for people who aren’t doing detailed searches through email.

  • Internet connection – You need to have a fast, reliable internet connection to use IMAP effectively.
  • Search – Since your emails aren’t really stored locally, you might find it challenging to do an email search involving older emails. For example, if you’re doing a search, you could find the headers for your email leaves out weeks of older emails unless you’re connection to the internet. Offline use can be a challenge in this situation.

What’s the difference between IMAP and POP?

The key difference is where your emails are stored. With POP your emails are downloaded to your device and deleted from the server (unless you change the default settings). With IMAP, emails “reside” on the server and you can easily read and interact with emails from multiple devices.

Which should you choose?

Whether you use IMAP or POP – or both – depends on how you interact with email. While POP is an older protocol, it might still have its advantages for you, especially if you don’t always have access to a stable internet connection. For example, if you’re always using email and adding attachments so you’re using email as a file storage system, POP might be the better option for you. If you’re always on a reliable, fast network and you switch between notebook, phone, and tablet throughout the day, IMAP is probably better for you.

IMAP tends to be the preferred choice when it comes to email protocols, but POP might still offer some benefits depending on how you use email and whether or not you have constant access to fast broadband. Choose the best option or combination that suits your requirements, but remember that email settings should ideally require little maintenance or configuration after you’ve set it up.