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The difference between POP3 and IMAP

Updated on December 15, 2011

There are various technical details in and around mail protocols. They can also be customized to act and respond differently. This explanation serves as a 'rule of thumb' to understand the concept of the difference in the 2 protocols.

Basic ingredients

POP3 and IMAP are both ways and methods (protocols) in which your computer fetches mail from a server. To do this transaction you need:

  • Internet connection
  • Server (e.g.
  • Client (e.g. Outlook / Thunderbird / Webmail)

So, the difference between POP3 and IMAP.


This protocol goes to the server (, collects all the mail and then brings it to your client then removes the emails it fetched from the server. Once the email is on your client, you can create folders and move the emails into your folders. POP3 is like a helper running to the post office, bringing all your mail for you, then you organize your mail like you want.


Here the emails stay on the server. You can create folders in your client, and then it will create the folders on the server as well. IMAP as a helper runs up and down the whole time and ensures whatever you have the post office has as well and visa versa.

Which one should I use ?

That is a question you need to answer yourself. Depending on your environment you might opt for IMAP, where you have a house PC, work PC and smartphone. Here all 3 devices will have the same email constantly. You might opt for POP3, where you have limited mailbox space.


Many people have questions about split emails (email download on one PC but not the other). I do hope the article helps you with understanding why is happens. At the same time gives you an insight and better understanding of the things you use daily.


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