IMAP or POP, which email type best suits your needs?

 | June 2, 2014

Email accounts come in all different types and sizes, but two common types are POP and IMAP. Technically speaking, these account types require you to specify an incoming and outgoing mail server but require different port settings.

For most, the technical side is not of importance, as this information is only required once for set-up on each computer or mobile device you’re sending and receiving mail on. The important part, and what I will discuss in this article, is the difference between the two email types.

POP (Post Office Protocol) allows you to download messages directly from the email server and store the downloaded email on your local computer or mobile device. Unless specified, once email is received it will permanently be removed from the server.

Alternatively, you can specify an amount of days to keep messages on the email server.

The downside of keeping messages on the server, and not specifying a timeframe for them to be removed, is that these messages will continue to stay on the server, taking up space and potentially reaching your allotted email account limit.


POP was the most common method of retrieving email. However, with the introduction of smartphones there’s been a shift from POP to IMAP. Many of the new operating systems such as Windows 8 no longer support POP accounts.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) works in much the same way as a POP account, however messages are always stored on the server. The accounts are synchronized on each device, so when a message is deleted from your Outlook (PC) or Mail (Mac) account it’s also removed from the server. This can be considered an advantage or disadvantage. The advantage is that you don’t need to download emails you’ve already seen and deleted on one device (such as spam messages). The disadvantage is that once you remove the email it’s now gone forever — there’s no retrieving it.

One of the key features of an IMAP account is the ability to create folders and store emails in those folders. The folders and contents contained within them are then able to be viewed on each computer or mobile device that receives the IMAP account mail. The downside to this is that the mail is stored and will take up valuable email server space.

I use a variety of POP and IMAP accounts for several of my email accounts. In my experience POP is more reliable in terms of communicating with the server. When travelling and using a different computer an IMAP account is particularly useful as you will still have access to mail you have filed in your folder.

What’s your preferred method of email servers?