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Should I choose POP3 email or IMAP email?

As a web designer, I offer support to all of my customers' websites that I host on their behalf. About 1% of this support goes to helping with issues to do with the site itself and the other 99% goes to helping them with their email accounts.

This is because there are so many options for email and setting it up can be quite complicated. Couple this with the fact that emails are now so important to business life, email support is something I take very seriously.

Therefore I intend to cover many subjects about email in the coming months and today I will start with POP3 versus IMAP. The first thing to get out of the way is to explain what each of these email accounts is:

POP3 email (or POP email)

POP3 and POP email both refer to the same thing and with the exception of webmail, is probably the most common and most popular type of email account that people set up in their email client (such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Thunderbird etc). The abbreviation stands for Post Office Protocol but this is not important. It is actually the simplest kind of email account.

The POP3 email accounts sits on a web server. When someone sends an email to you, it is passed to this web server and sits there waiting for you to collect it. When you open your email client it contacts the web server and downloads any new emails. Most of the time, it will delete those emails from the web server once they are downloaded to your PC or mobile phone.

That is it. It is no more complicated than that. It is often referred to as an email box which is an excellent description as email is sent to your box waiting for you to collect it. You do so by opening up an email client or perhaps your mobile phone checks for new emails every 30 minutes or so.

IMAP email

This is a more modern but nevertheless well established email service. It stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It works in a similar way to POP3 but has more flexibility and is therefore slightly more complex. It is a box that sits on a web server collecting all your emails waiting for you to download them. The main difference is that it is very easy to synchronise your email using this service.

For example, you could set up an IMAP email account on your PC and set up the same IMAP email account on your mobile phone. If you read a message on your phone for example, that same email will show up as "read" on your PC. If you delete an email from your inbox on your PC, it will be automatically deleted from your inbox on your mobile phone as well.

This facility is very useful if you want to access your email with multiple devices as it keeps everything synchronised in a very efficient way.

So which should I choose?

If you only want a very simple email system then choose the older but simpler POP3. If your requirements are more sophisticated and you like the idea of synchronising your emails between different devices, then I would choose IMAP.

But wait! There is a third option. That is to integrate your business email with Gmail. More on this to follow.

Wed 13 July 2011 13:36:16

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