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This comparison between IMAP and POP3, reveals the differences between the functionality of these two Internet protocols, used for e-mail retrieval from servers.
Omkar Phatak
If you are reading this comparison, then you are a discerning user, who likes to know about what actually happens under the hood of software programs like email clients. Retrieving emails from our inboxes is a daily ritual that we all go through, once every day. Email clients like Mozilla Thunderbird are designed to retrieve messages from email accounts. To do so, such clients use one of the two established Internet protocols, which are IMAP and POP3. These protocols are also used by mail servers for transferring email messages.

Difference Between the Two Protocols

Why do you need to know the difference? It's because you must know how your data is handled under these two protocols. Let us see how both technologies differ in their working.

The advantages of email communication need not be expounded here, as you are already aware of most of them. It is the most rapid form of communication and it's made possible by many Internet protocols like IMAP and POP3.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) was developed by Mark Crispin as a remote access mailbox protocol, in the year 1986. POP (Post Office Protocol) is the predecessor of IMAP and it had been in use for a long time, before IMAP was designed and implemented. Both are application layer protocols, developed with the sole purpose of retrieving email from remote servers.

Functionality Differences
When a POP3 based client accesses your mail box on a remote server, it downloads all messages to your computer and deletes them from the server. So, once you check your mail, it is cleared from the server. That is why, you need to be careful and preserve messages on your machine, if you are using a POP3 based mail client. If you delete them from your computer, there is no way of retrieving them back again.

IMAP operates a bit differently from POP3. When an email client based on it, opens your inbox, the messages remain on the mail server, while you are accessing them. They may be temporarily downloaded on your machine, in the cache, but they are not deleted from the mail server, after you access them. Also, IMAP grants access of your email inbox, from multiple remote locations.

You may access the inbox from home or office or even your mobile. If you want, you can configure the protocol settings to download copies of email messages on your computer, while the original copies still remain on the web server.

Which is Better?
As you can see, advantages of using IMAP over POP3 are many and anybody who wants mobility for email access, will opt for email clients based on it. With the risk of viruses attacking your computer, there is a possibility that downloaded messages may get deleted. That is why, it is better to have an IMAP based client, that can store email messages on the server, while giving you the freedom to access it from multiple remote devices.

Most of us directly prefer accessing email messages from service providers like Gmail and Yahoo. POP3 is a better option, if you want to forward messages from one email account to the other. Otherwise, IMAP is the better choice, in every other aspect, as it gives you freedom to access data from anywhere.