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What is a IMAP?

If you've ever set up an email account before, you've probably been asked which email protocol you would like to use: POP or IMAP. To the uninitiated, this question can be positively mind-boggling. However, the selection that you make will have a major impact on your experience of sending, receiving and otherwise using email messages. While POP, or Post Office Protocol, used to be the most popular type of email protocol, IMAP - or Internet Message Access Protocol - is the go-to choice of most people these days. Learn more about what IMAP is, how it works, how it compares to POP and its main advantages below.

IMAP: The Basics

As its name implies, IMAP allows you to access your email messages wherever you are; much of the time, it is accessed via the Internet. Basically, email messages are stored on servers. Whenever you check your inbox, your email client contacts the server to connect you with your messages. When you read an email message using IMAP, you aren't actually downloading or storing it on your computer; instead, you are reading it off of the server. As a result, it's possible to check your email from several different devices without missing a thing.

Mail Servers, Email Clients and IMAP

The easiest way to understand how IMAP works is by thinking of it as an intermediary between your email client and your email server. Email servers are always used when sending and receiving email messages. With IMAP, though, they remain on the server unless you explicitly delete them from it. When you sign into an email client like Microsoft Outlook, it contacts the email server using IMAP. The headers of all of your email messages are then displayed. If you choose to read a message, it is quickly downloaded so that you can see it - emails are not downloaded unless you need to open them.

IMAP versus POP

If you think that IMAP and POP are interchangeable, think again. POP works by contacting your email server and downloading all of your new messages from it. Once they are downloaded, they disappear from the server. If you decide to check your email from a different device, the messages that have been downloaded previously will not be available to you. POP works fine for those who generally only check their email messages from a single device; those who travel or need to access their email from various devices are much better off with IMAP-based email service.

Using IMAP

Unlike POP, IMAP allows you to access, organize, read and sort your email messages without having to download them first. As a result, IMAP is very fast and efficient. The server also keeps a record of all of the messages that you send, allowing you to access your sent messages from anywhere. IMAP does not move messages from the server to your computer; instead, it synchronizes the email that's on your computer with the email that's on the server.

Main Advantages of IMAP

There are several advantages to using IMAP. First, it allows you to access your email messages from anywhere, via as many different devices as you want. Second, it only downloads a message when you click on it. As a result, you do not have to wait for all of your new messages to download from the server before you can read them. Third, attachments are not automatically downloaded with IMAP. As a result, you're able to check your messages a lot more quickly and have greater control over which attachments are opened. Finally, IMAP can be used offline just like POP - you can basically enjoy the benefits of both protocols in one.

As the world becomes more mobile than ever, IMAP is becoming more and more popular. The proliferation of smartphones, laptops, tablets and other devices is making the demand for IMAP stronger than ever. While POP will remain popular with people who only access their email via one or two devices - and those who have slow connections to the Internet - IMAP is sure to remain the protocol of choice for most of today's busy people.

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