Demystifying Acronyms: Episode 3 – POP and IMAP

So there you are setting up your email. Maybe you just got a new smartphone or upgraded your operating system. Whatever it is you are doing you want to get using your email again ASAP. What stands in your way are all those pesky boxes to fill out. Passwords, Ports, and more, including the choice between POP and IMAP. What do these stand for anyway, what do they mean, and which do I choose?

POP stands for Post Office Protocol and IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. Email clients like Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail, Eudora, and even smartphone apps use these protocols to access your emails. The 2 protocols work slightly differently, so let’s explore each.

Post Office Protocol- POP

Imagine that POP is like visiting a PO box at a post office. You go to the Post office, which in this case is your mail server. You grab your mail out of your box and bring it home (your home computer) and read it, toss it, or file it away. The Post Office/Mail Server no longer has a copy of any of the mail, it all resides at home/your computer (though there is sometimes an option to leave a duplicate on the server … if you have no other way to access your email and clean it out, your box would eventually fill up, just like a literal PO Box would). POP works well if you have one computer or device that you use for email. One benefit of POP is you can access all of your email data on your computer without access to the internet and you only need access to send and receive. But if you have multiple computers or devices and you want your inbox to look the same between all of them, then I’d advise you to check out IMAP.

Internet Message Access Protocol – IMAP

When using IMAP a temporary copy of your emails is downloaded as needed to your computer or device. If you make changes like deleting an email, sending a new email, or creating a draft, those changes are reflected on the mail server and are visible from other computers or devices. IMAP was one of the earliest examples of cloud type storage and access. Another benefit of IMAP is emails are all safely stored on the email server and are unaffected if your computer data is compromised.

So remember when you are setting up that pesky email that POP is like a Post Ofice box, and IMAP gives you Internet Message Access and you’ll be sending emails in no time.

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