When we try to configure an email account in Outlook, and especially if we do not use the automatic settings, we have to choose whether we want a POP or IMAP account. While it may seem like an obvious choice for some, it is not. That said, if you have Outlook or another email client, we’ll explain the advantages and disadvantages of POP and IMAP and which option is best for you.
Outlook: the advantages and disadvantages of POP and IMAP
POP and IMAP are protocols used to retrieve emails from a server so that you can read the messages on your device. They are used in your email application whether it is Thunderbird, Outlook, Apple Mail, or the like.
POP stands for Post Office Protocol, and it is the oldest protocol. It was created in 1984 as a way to transfer emails from a remote server. Two revisions followed that added some improvements, called POP2 and POP3, in recent years. POP3 is the current version of the protocol, although it is referred to as POP. There has also been talk of POP4 but it ended up in the drawer.
IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, was developed in 1986. Instead of simply retrieving e-mails, it was created to allow remote access to e-mails stored on a remote server. The current version is IMAP4. However we just refer to it as IMAP.
The main difference is that POP offloads emails from the server to permanent local storage, while IMAP leaves them on the server and does a sort of local cache. In this way, IMAP is effectively a form of cloud storage.
Differences in operation
How does POP work?
When using POP, the email client first connects to the email server. Once successfully connected, it grabs all the mail that is on the server. It then stores this email locally on your device so you can access everything quickly.
Then some settings allow the messages to remain on the server despite being downloaded. In other cases, as soon as they go to the computer or smartphone, they are no longer there.
How does IMAP work?
IMAP works a little differently than POP. After connecting to the email server, it collects whatever content it has requested, such as all new email or the content of a specific message. This is cached locally, so it can work on your device.
IMAP is a little more complex than POP, but the biggest thing to remember is that all changes with IMAP happen on the server. You are not downloading local copies of all your messages. You are using the email client to manage messages stored on the server. The only information stored on your device (unless you explicitly download it) are cached copies for more speed.
Advantages and disadvantages of POP and IMAP
Advantages and disadvantages of POP
POP emerged in simpler times, when we only needed to access email from one device. At that time, constant internet access was also not common, so POP made sense for temporary connections. In other words, we connected to the Internet to download messages and then ended the connection so as not to spend a lot of data.
The main advantages are that the mail is stored locally, so it is always accessible even without an internet connection. If you want, you can consolidate multiple email accounts and servers into a single inbox.
The issue is that this can take up a lot of disk space. I have about 20GB worth of emails. Can you imagine what it would be like to download everything by POP?
Advantages and Disadvantages of IMAP
As mentioned earlier, IMAP has arrived to allow remote access to emails stored on a remote server. The idea is to allow multiple clients to use the same inbox. This makes sense because we see emails everywhere. Both on your computer and on your smartphone or tablet. Meanwhile all changes are immediately synced on the server, so you don’t have to worry about duplicate inboxes.
The downside is that we really need an internet connection for most things. We can still work offline and everything will be synced when we are active again.
Which should I use?
The question of which protocol to choose, POP or IMAP when setting up e-mail, is a relatively simple answer.
In general, we recommend IMAP. This is because nowadays we usually access email on more than one device.
Either way, you should choose POP if you access your email from a single device, don’t have a good Internet connection and have limited storage on your server.
Choose IMAP if you want to access your email from multiple devices, you have a reliable and constant Internet connection, and your local storage space is more limited.