So what do you use? POP or IMAP?

IMAP and POP are the protocols or technologies used for emails – they are settings to determine how you can download messages from mail servers (your email hosts) on your computer and access them with the help of mail software such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird etc.


IMAP and POP are two different protocols. There are many differences between these two. The main difference is that IMAP (Internet Messaged Access Protocol) always syncs with mail server so that any changes you make in your mail client (Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird) will instantly appear on your webmail inbox.

On the other hand, in POP (Post Office Protocol), your mail client account and mail server are not synced. It means whatever changes you make to your email account in the mail client will not be transferred to the webmail inbox – in essence meaning your email host does not and cannot retrieve a copy at any given time.

In simple terms, if you are using IMAP and mark a mail as read, it gets marked as read in your inbox too (because the changes are happening on the server). However, this won’t be the case if you are using POP, because the mails are downloaded to your PC and the changes won’t reflect on the server.


The biggest advantage of using IMAP is you can access your mail from multiple mail clients and each client detects the change in real-time. In IMAP all messages from mail clients and servers are synced with each other. Also using IMAP it allows you to setup mail folders in your mail client (Outlook, Thunderbird e.t.c) and these will be synced with the server and will sync to any other device that is also connected to the mail server via IMAP.  The main advantage with this is that all devices will be organized all the same, without multiple devices having emails in different locations.

IMAP also has a “Simple” backup solution to itself (use the term backup loosely, as you should always have a backup plan of your own), let’s say your hard-drive failed on your computer/laptop or you got a new phone, you would be able to reconnect via IMAP to your mail server and your device would then re-download all the emails and setup all your folders again as they was before the disaster, however we do advise to take a backup anyway to make sure you have your own copy as well.


You can download emails from mail server to your PC using POP. After downloading, the original mail is removed from the server and hence you can’t access it from another computer (Note: In Gmail there is an option to keep the copy of mail in inbox. Thunderbird also provides an option to leave messages on server until you delete them). But there are lots of other options missing (for ex. if you send a message from mail client then you won’t find that message under sent items in your mailbox).
If the device using pop stops working you can potentially lose all trace of your emails.

The first reason you might want to use POP3 is if your main email account isn’t connected to a major webmail service like Gmail or Outlook. Alternatives such as email accounts from Internet Service Providers or website hosting services often set limits on how much mail can be stored on their servers.

In those cases, it’s best to turn to POP3, so you can download your mail and wipe it off the server to stay under the storage quota.

The negatives

The downside of POP3 in a multi-device world is that you’ll have to take some precautions and think hard about how to access email on a mobile device.

Since the sole copy of your email is now on your PC, you’ll have to have a solid back-up plan to make sure you don’t lose your messages to a failed hard drive – this also includes your mailbox folders, as POP3 accounts create “Local Folders” and are only available on the device that created the folders, meaning if you don’t have a good back-up plan, you risk losing everything.

As for smartphones and tablets, you should still use IMAP there if possible, even if you’re using POP3 on your PC. The last thing you want to do is download email to both your phone and your PC via POP3, since you’ll end up with two separate repositories of email: stuff downloaded to your phone and stuff downloaded to your PC. It’s a nightmare.

If you’re using a major webmail service like Gmail, the easiest thing to do is just use Google’s Gmail app for Android or iOS. Ditto for and Yahoo Mail.

One last note about IMAP on your phone and POP3 on your PC: if you reply to email on your phone, your PC won’t download new messages in your sent folder, since POP3 only grabs messages from the server. So for POP3 users, mobile devices are better for viewing or deleting email, but not necessarily for sending messages you may need a paper trail for later.

Also, remember that if you leave your mail client running on your PC while you’re out, all mail messages could disappear from your phone as your desktop grabs new batches of email—unless you (usually manually) configure your email to continue to store messages on the server for a predetermined length of time after you download them.

It’s not a perfect solution, especially if you need mobile access, but if storage quotas or privacy concerns are issues for you, then POP3 is probably a better choice than IMAP.


Given a choice, I’d go with IMAP. That’s because IMAP offers two way connection. Changes are synchronized to the server and you don’t have to worry about taking your mail client with you everywhere and anywhere around the world. However, if you are someone who hardly checks mail on any other computer then you could make use of POP too but there is still that risk of the computer ceasing to work? Personally I wouldn’t want to risk that. I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to emails, as you never know what you might lose, when it all goes “Pear shaped”.