POP3 and IMAP: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered how email messages are sent from one device to another? If so, then you have come to the right place. In this entry, we will be discussing two of the most commonly used processes: POP3 and IMAP. You probably have seen one or both acronyms during the email account setup process on a new device, and if you want to know how they work, then read on.


POP3 was developed and launched before IMAP. It works by downloading information from a server onto a destination (for instance, your personal computer, laptop, or email-compatible mobile device). Once this step is completed, The email, together with all the data it is associated with, gets deleted from the server.

Although this can be pretty space-saving, POP3 does make it harder to access data via several devices.


IMAP, on the other hand, is more flexible, as it spreads data across multiple devices. However, it follows that it uses more space than POP3. It leaves email data on the server after it has downloaded email messages on the synchronized devices. Once you read an email message, the rest of your synced devices will show the email as “read.”

The Workflow

To help you further understand POP3 and IMAP, here’s the workflow they follow.

For POP3:

  1. Get connected to the server;
  2. Retrieve the email information;
  3. Store the email data locally, and as a new one;
  4. Delete the email and all associated data from the server;
  5. Disconnect from the server.

It is worthy to note, though, that POP3 follows the steps above as a default. However, there are some POP clients that allow you to leave a copy of the email data on your server.


  1. Get connected to the server;
  2. Obtain the content requested by the user and then locally cache it (new email list, summaries of messages, or selected emails);
  3. Process the changes done by the user (marking them read or deleting them);
  4. Disconnect from the server.

The IMAP workflow, compared to that of POP3, is a bit more complex. And although it needs more space on the server, it does give you the convenience of being able to synchronize your mails with more than just a single device.

The POP3 Advantage

Since POP is the original email protocol, it is simpler and faster. Additionally, it also has certain advantages over IMAP, including the following:

  • All mails are locally stored, which provides you with access anytime, even if you are not currently connected to the Internet.
  • You only require an internet connection if you need to send or receive email.
  • It helps you save server space.
  • You do have the option to not have a copy of emails deleted automatically.
  • You can consolidate several email accounts into a single inbox.

The IMAP Advantage

As for IMAP, which is the “newer” email protocol, here are some of its advantages:

  • A remote server is used to store mail, so you can access your email from any source.
  • Automatic backup of mails is achievable through proper server management.
  • Helps you save storage space.
  • Gives you the option to locally store your emails.

While IMAP is now used by more clients and individuals, POP3 still has certain benefits that you should take into consideration.

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