mail server, IMAP vs POP3: How POP3 / IMAP protocols work with the mail server, Hostripples Web Hosting

IMAP vs POP3: How POP3 / IMAP protocols work with the mail server

IMAP and POP3 are the 2 important protocols in the email server. IMAP stands for “Internet Message Access Protocol”. POP3 stands for “Post Office Protocol”. These protocols are required for retrieving emails from the mail server.

If you are using an email client like Apple mail or Outlook then you can configure it with either POP3 or IMAP protocol. These protocols can also be used on tablets and smartphones for retrieving emails.

Thus, it is your choice to decide which protocol do you want to use, A lot of people ask a common question in 2021 is which protocol is better POP3 or IMAP?

Let’s see how POP3 or IMAP protocols work with the mail server.

IMAP: It stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It is also used for retrieving emails as POP3 but there is one difference. IMAP allows you to view your email that’s on the mail server using various devices like tablets, smartphones, computers, etc. In this protocol, the email is kept on the mail server and it creates local copies of the email onto multiple devices as well as synchronizes all your folders with all the contents in them. I.e. it syncs all the contents in Inbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items, etc. along with that it also synchronizes custom folders created by you.

Thus using IMAP to retrieve your email on any of your devices then the contents of your email remain the same due to synchronization. Thus if we consider the above example, the folder structure on both the computers will be the same. If you delete an email from the first computer then it will also get deleted from the mail server and also from the second computer.

Also when any new email comes then it will first go to the mail server and then in both the computers as these two computers are in sync with the mail server.

IMAP vs POP3: How POP3 / IMAP protocols work with the mail server, Hostripples Web Hosting

POP3: As mentioned earlier it is a Post Office Protocol with version 3 and is the simplest protocol between these two protocols. It downloads the emails to your device from the mail server. It downloads the emails only from the Inbox folder where your emails are present. It doesn’t download the content of any other folder. Thus it will not download your sent items, drafts, deleted emails, etc. It doesn’t help in any kind of synchronization.

Let’s clear what is synchronization with the help of an example:

Consider there are 2 computers that are already configured to retrieve the same email accounts and their folder structure is also different. Now here the folder structure is not the same due to  POP3. Because of POP3 once an email gets downloaded onto your device, then that email will get deleted from the mail server, thus no copy of an email is kept on the email server. Now let’s see what happens when an email comes into the mail hosting server? When the mail comes into the mail server and if the 1st computer checks the email host server then that email will be received by the first computer and not by the second computer because the email has already been downloaded by the first computer. So no copy of the email is kept on the server. It happens because both the computers are not in sync with the mail server.

To overcome this issue, most of the email clients provide an option in the setting through which you can check an option i.e. ” Leave a copy on the server” so that all of your devices can retrieve the email.

Let’s see some more points of differences between the IMAP and POP3:

POP3 :

  • In this protocol, the folder structure is not in sync with other devices.
  • It downloads emails only from the Inbox folder.
  • It is good only if you want to retrieve an email from only one device.
  • One of the advantages of POP3 protocol is that you can view your email even when there is no internet connection.
  • It helps in saving the storage space on the mail server.

The disadvantage of using POP3:

  • A backup plan is needed for your emails in case your device crashes or if it’s lost.
  • Your device is unsafe to viruses as the emails are fully downloaded.


  • It is good for retrieving your email from multiple devices.
  • All the emails are stored on the mail server so that you can retrieve them from any of your devices.
  • Also as the devices are synchronized you can view the emails in sent items, drafts, deleted items, and also emails in any custom folder.

The disadvantage of using IMAP :

  • You cannot view an email without an internet connection.
  • It creates local copies of the email on your device instead of downloading the item.

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IMAP vs POP3: How POP3 / IMAP protocols work with the mail server, Hostripples Web Hosting
Cyril Chakranarayan
Cyril Chakranarayan - I love Travelling, Riding Bikes, and Reading. I am a passionate technology seeker and love to explore continuously evolving technology especially in the Cyber World, Working in the Web Hosting Industry for 10 years.