Understanding the Difference POP3 and IMAP [2023]

calendar iconJuly 7, 2021

If you have ever set up a business email or an email client, chances are that you have come across the terms POP3 and IMAP. 
Have you ever set up a POP3 or IMAP mailbox but then asked yourself: " What is the difference between POP3 and IMAP? " Both POP3 and IMAP are protocols which help you retrieve the email from your mailbox. The major difference between them is in their communication structure.

POP is short for Post Office Protocol, while IMAP translates to Internet Message Access Protocol.

While POP3 and IMAP are not the only incoming email server settings, they are the most common.

Let’s learn more about these two email protocols…

What is POP3? (Post Office Protocol 3) 

This is an email protocol for receiving emails. 

The number 3 stands for the version number ‘version 3’ – the latest and most widely used version. (Explore other post office protocol versions)

POP works by downloading all your new email messages from the server. However, once they are downloaded onto your device, they are marked for deletion on the email server.

In other words, the messages you retrieve using POP can only be viewed using the same specific computer that you downloaded them to. And so, once these messages are downloaded, they can’t be accessed using webmail or a different email client – on another computer.

Quick Pointers

  • Most Internet service providers offer email accounts that use POP.
  • POP3 works better if you use only one device and have a large number of emails.
  • POP3 also allows you to access your emails offline – always accessible even without an internet connection.

What is IMAP? 

IMAP (Internet Access Message Protocol) is an email protocol that is responsible for managing and retrieving email messages from the recipient’s server.

In contrast to POP, IMAP allows its users to log into any (internet-connected) email client or a webmail site to view all of the same emails at any time. 

Additionally, email messages are not downloaded or stored on your device when you use IMAP. Instead, you read the messages directly from the server.

Messages are only downloaded when you click on them. This way, you can access and check your email messages from several different devices, anywhere in the world.

Quick Pointers

  • Allowing users to send and receive messages from both email clients and webmail has made IMAP very popular. 
  • If you are looking for convenient email access for your business email, IMAP keeps your email data saved on your provider’s server until you delete it. However, some email hosting providers limit the amount of email that you can store on their servers. They might suspend the email service they provide if you exceed a specific amount of storage.  

While both methods are used to access emails from an email client, there are many differences between POP3 and IMAP implementations.


POP3 downloads emails from a server to only one computer and then deletes the email from the server.

Conversely, IMAP stores the message on the server and allows for message synchronization across multiple devices.   

Emails can be accessed from only one device at a time Any number of devices can access emails simultaneously
Internet connection is not necessary to read emails that are downloaded beforehand Internet connection is necessary to view an email’s entire content
Changes made to emails on one device are not reflected on other devices Changes are synchronized across devices
Emails are downloaded on local devices Emails are not downloaded, they are kept on the server
The user can’t organize emails in the mailbox of the server Users are allowed to organize emails in the mailbox

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