What is The Difference Between POP3 and IMAP?

Most web hosting services come with at least one email account included. When setting up your email address on your mail client, you will often be given the option of setting up the account as email IMAP or POP3. However, what is the difference between POP3 and IMAP and which one is best for you and your needs?

POP3 and IMAP are two different protocols for handling your emails. All major email clients allow mailboxes to be accessed via either POP3 or IMAP. However, for its often confusing about the difference between POP3 and IMAP email protocol. 

First off let us start by introducing you to both protocols and what they stand for.

What does POP3 stand for?

POP stands for Post Office Protocol. The 3 is the reference to the version of the protocol.

What does IMAP stand for?

IMAP stands for Instant messaging application protocol.

So How Do POP3 and IMAP Work? 

How Does POP3 Work?

With POP3, your emails are downloaded directly from the mail server onto your computer or device. Your computer will store a ‘local copy’ of the mail, and then usually delete the message from the mail server. 

POP3 was the perfect solution before the days of broadband and accessing emails on the go. You could download and reply to emails, and then once you had a connection again, those emails would send. With the advent of smartphones and accessing emails from multiple devices, POP3 became the less popular option.

Pros of POP3

The benefits of POP3 is that mail will only contribute towards the mailbox limits while it is left on the server. So is ideal if you have limited email storage, or receive a large number of emails.

Users with limited internet access can access their emails without the need to be connected.

Cons of POP3

The most noticeable downside to POP3 is that you are not able to access mail across multiple devices.

Additionally, if you create local folders on your computer to organise the mail, you won’t see these or your mail if you log in using webmail. Likewise, if you create folders to organise your mail in webmail, you won’t be able to access these on your desktop client. 

What situation should I use POP3?

POP is still a valuable option for many users. Deciding whether to use will depend greatly on your circumstances.

  • If you are accessing emails from just one device, POP is still an excellent option, mainly if you only have limited mailbox storage.
  • If you have a limited internet connection, POP3 provides an excellent way to allow you to deal with your emails. As attachments are downloaded from the mail server, it makes them quick and easy to open.

POP3 is more stable and reliable than IMAP as messages are deleted from the mail server and stored on your device.

NOTE: If you are going to need to access your emails from more than one device, then you will always want to use IMAP.

How Does IMAP Work?

IMAP is the newer of the two protocols, while there are similarities to POP3. The way the retrieve messages are different. IMAP works are by viewing and retrieving the messages stored on your mail server. In contrast to POP3, with IMAP the mail is left on the server (where it will continue contributing towards your mailbox limit). 

Pros of IMAP

The main advantage of IMAP is that you can access, compose and reply to emails from multiple devices. With IMAP if you create folders/organise your mail in your desktop client, you will see this update when you log in with the webmail client or smartphone app. Similarly, when you mark a message as “read” in one device, it will appear “read” in your other clients too.

By allowing multiple devices to access emails, means email boxes can be shared between teams. For example, you may have a sales email address. You want to allow multiple users to access and respond to these emails. IMAP enables other users to see which emails have been dealt with and which ones need responding to.

As IMAP only downloads the message headers rather than the entire email (as with POP3). This makes it faster to retrieve messages from the mail server.

Messages are always backed up (if the mail server is managed correctly) as you are only storing a cached (temporarily stores) version of your emails on your device.

Cons of IMAP

You do need a reliable internet connection to allow you to access and respond to emails.

Messages take up mail server storage space. So if you had limited email storage, this could become an issue.

IMAP does have a higher security risk, as email is stored remotely. Ensuring good password policies should usually be adequate for most though.

What Situation Should I use IMAP?

For most users, IMAP is going to be the option best suited for them as you can access emails from multiple devices. But you should consider using IMAP if you have the following requirements:

  • Need to access emails from multiple devices.
  • You like the idea of having remote backups of your emails.
  • You have a constant and reliable internet connection.


You should now have a better understanding of the differences between POP3 and IMAP and what protocol best suits your need. Don’t forget that you can always ask any questions or leave comments.

Tip: If you are looking for an email address for your business or personal use, you can compare the best UK email hosting providers on the email providers section of our website.

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