BlueMail POP vs IMAP: Which is better for you?

POP vs IMAP: Which is better for you?

Nine times out of ten, if you have the choice, go for IMAP - here's why

Did you recently come across the terms POP and IMAP while setting up your email application? If you’re scratching your head over what these terms mean and which one to choose and why, look no more. Below, we’ve laid out a brief explanation of the two protocols, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, so you can decide which is best for you.

POP3 & IMAP: The Basics

POP3 (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) are protocols used for accessing email from an email server. POP was designed first in 1984 and is one of the older email protocols, while the modern IMAP came a bit later. The main difference between the two is how they retrieve, store, and sync emails from a server:

With POP, your emails are fetched and downloaded from your email provider’s server onto your device. This is done in a one directional manner (sometimes deleting all the retrieved emails from your server in the process) and once your emails are on your device, they don’t sync back up with your email server if they are deleted, flagged, read/unread, etc, on your device.

With IMAP, your emails can be either fetched or pushed to your device (see Instant Push), and after your emails are retrieved, they continue to stay “in sync” with your server (which maintains a copy of all your emails) and your Inbox will be displayed the same across multiple devices.

Advantages & Disadvantages: POP VS IMAP

Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about some pros and cons of using POP3 or IMAP.

Let’s consider POP3

POP was designed during a time when people only had a single computer in their use. In these early days of email, email servers were restricted in size, and people didn’t often change devices, so downloading all emails from the server to your local device and keeping the server “empty” was a good method that worked for most people.

 POP3 Advantages  POP3 Disadvantages
  • All messages can be read offline because your entire Inbox is downloaded on your device
  • Email server storage space can be kept at a minimum, since emails are stored on the device after being fetched
  • You can have a large sized Inbox stored locally on your computer
  • Your Inbox folder appears differently on each device, since your Inbox does not sync across devices (i.e. missing emails, unread emails, etc)
  • Emails can only be retrieved via Fetch periodically (since POP doesn’t support Instant Push)
  • Exporting emails and local mail folders to another device is difficult
  • If local email folders become corrupted, you might lose your entire mailbox
  • Attachments are downloaded automatically - so that can use up a lot of your data connection by downloading attachments you might not want, or make your device more susceptible to viruses


How about IMAP?

As devices connecting to the internet became more widespread, an efficient way to access email across multiple devices was needed, and IMAP was created to address this pressing problem with POP.

 IMAP Advantages  IMAP Disadvantages
  • Emails are located on a remote server at all times, so they can be accessed from multiple devices
  • All changes to your emails in your Inbox are synced with the server, so you will see your Inbox identically across every device (starred emails, unread/read, deleted, etc - no more “missing” emails)
  • Supports Instant Push rather than periodic Fetch from the server
  • Uses minimal local storage on your device, since not all messages are required to be downloaded
  • Emails won’t get lost if your computer drive crashes or you accidentally delete data on your computer, since all emails are automatically backed up on your provider’s server
  • An active internet connection is required to access and sync emails that were not yet fully downloaded to your device
  • Your Inbox is limited by your email provider's given server size, so you may need to purchase larger packages for storage
  • Attachments are not automatically downloaded


Do all providers support both?

Most providers will support both POP3 and IMAP out of the box. With some providers you might need to enable this in your email provider’s settings or it might incur an additional cost for them to support IMAP on your account.

So before choosing the protocol that suits you best, make sure to verify which protocols your email provider supports. An email provider will usually have this listed on their help page under something like "Account configurations" or you can just contact them to find out.

Bottom line: So which is best for you?

If your provider does support IMAP, we highly recommend setting up your account with it, since it’s a modern email protocol that keeps all of your devices in sync.

POP3 is outdated to meet the needs of the average email user today; if you want to access your email on at least two devices, you’ll need to deal with a number of issues like your Inbox not being “in sync”, missing emails, etc.

IMAP’s cross platform automatic synchronization was built for the needs of the modern world and is ideal for managing your everyday work and personal emails, so while BlueMail supports both protocols, IMAP is definitely the better choice all around to meet your needs and stay productive.

But wait, How about that Exchange protocol?

The Exchange protocol is an IMAP esque synchronization protocol and is available only for Microsoft accounts and Exchange compliant servers. We’ll be sure to do another blog on Exchange in the near future, so stay tuned!