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What Is The Difference Between POP and IMAP Email?


POP email is a first-come-first-served email protocol that delivers email over to the first device that logs in, removing the email from the server.  IMAP keeps a record of all email activity on the server and then synchronizes it between multiple devices. IMAP is better because it keeps a complete record of sent, received and deleted email on all devices.

The original email was POP email.  In a POP email setup, a user composes and email on their device and clicks send.  The email service provider (typically the same as your internet or hosting provider) receives your message and forwards it to the servers hosting the recipient’s email account.

When the recipient checks their email, the message is downloaded from the server to a device where it remains until it is deleted.  No copies remain on your server or the recipient’s server.

In situations where a user has multiple devices that all check the POP email account, the first device to check for email gets any available email and the other devices have no idea messages were delivered previously to a different device.  In a business setting, this leads to incomplete email records and missed messages until the device that happened to check first is picked up by the user.

As server equipment has become more available and less expensive, a new type of email caught on with consumers and small business users called IMAP.

With an IMAP email account you compose a message on your device and send it.  Your email service provider maintains a record of the message you sent, and as your other devices (like a tablet or phone) check email throughout the day, a record of the message you sent is added to your sent items folder on each device.

The same applies when you receive and email or delete an email.  An action on one device propagates through all of your devices, with your email service provider acting as a central clearing house for what should be on each device.

IMAP email allows a user to purchase a new device, set up their email account, and then check their email for the first time.  The server then downloads all available records for messages that are sent, received, archived in folders, or deleted to the new device.

IMAP is considered to be a superior protocol when compared to POP and is a definite must-have for business users.


POP Email:

  • The device that checks first gets the message – others do not
  • Typically offered by smaller ISPs or home-brew hosting companies
  • Not ideal for business use because it is easy to miss messages


IMAP Email:

  • All email activity from all devices is archived on the server
  • Each device has a complete record of all email messages and folder structure
  • Offered by all business-grade hosting providers
  • Ideal for business use because it allows rapid response from any device