This article explains the differences between POP and IMAP, as well as the advantages/disadvantages of these two protocols.
What is POP or IMAP for?
The two protocols, POP and IMAP, allow an email client (such as Outlook or the client on your mobile phone) to retrieve messages stored on the email server.
All your emails are stored on your hosting space, as a text file in sub-folders for each of your email addresses. POP and IMAP allow you to retrieve these emails so that your email client can display them correctly.
POP and IMAP were invented to provide a universal way of retrieving messages from an email server. So, regardless of the technology used on the mail server or on the mail client, if both implement IMAP or POP, they speak “the same language” and will understand each other.
This is why the configurations of an email client on a phone or a computer via Outlook remain identical: POP and IMAP add a level of abstraction, impose a way of “communicating” so that each device or
Differences between the two protocols
Both protocols allow you to retrieve your messages, but not necessarily in the same way.
With the POP protocol, your email client will download the messages at regular intervals (every 5 minutes for example) and save the messages on the device used (computer or phone). By default, messages are downloaded, saved to the device in use, and deleted from the server.
If several email clients are configured with the default POP settings, the first one to connect will retrieve all of the messages and delete them from the server. Therefore, when the second email client (that of your phone for example) will connect, it will not get anything, because the server will reply that there is no new message.
However, on most email clients, you have an option “keep a copy of the messages on the server” avoiding this phenomenon.
POP is therefore recommended if you only use one computer to connect to your email address and if you want to retrieve all of the messages on your computer.
Example with two devices synchronized in POP, one device recovers all messages and the second does not recover messages, because deleted on the server-side
Benefits of POP:
- Keep a copy on the device where the email client is configured
- So allows access to your messages, even when you do not have internet (messages being stored on your machine)
- Uses slightly less bandwidth
Disadvantages of POP:
- By default, no copy on the server
- Cannot synchronize multiple devices
- Does not allow synchronization of folders such as ‘sent messages, spam, drafts’
- You must make backups of your computer or device, the latter having all of your messages
Unlike POP, IMAP does not have all of these drawbacks. IMAP does not download all of our messages in the same way as POP, it synchronizes the messages on the server with your email clients.
Thus, several devices can be configured in IMAP, each device will have the same vision of the messages. A message “read” on one device will appear in “read” on a second, because each modification is posted on the messaging server. Unlike POP, IMAP is bidirectional, the server sends messages to email clients and the email client informs the server of messages read, moved to folders, etc.
Example of two mail clients configured in IMAP, both display the same thing because they are synchronized with the mail server
Benefits of IMAP:
- Synchronize your messages on several messaging clients
- Allows you to manage folders such as “sent messages, drafts, spam”
Disadvantages of IMAP:
- Uses a little more bandwidth (more “two-way” exchanges)
- Messages stored on the mail server (is also an advantage, it depends on the point of view)
Which protocol to choose?
IMAP is newer than POP and has the enormous advantage of being able to synchronize several email clients, which becomes essential if you have a computer and a mobile phone, for example. If you do not know what to choose, prefer an IMAP configuration.
POP is useful for fairly specific needs, for example, if you want to keep all of your messages on the email client. Usually, it’s a matter of habit (a computer to check all your messages). If you take this solution, consider making regular backups of the computer containing the set of messages you have, in the event of a crash, you will lose all of your messages because the server will not have a copy of your emails (if you have specified to keep your messages for X days in the configuration of your email client).
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