Difference Between IMAP and POP Email

Zillions of emails are sent globally each year. The email has become a very important means of communication since the 1970s when it was first introduced. It is increasingly becoming more popular than the traditional mail which involves post offices, postmen and mailboxes.

Email stands for electronic mail. It is a very fast and convenient means of sending and receiving messages. The recipient usually receives the email immediately the sender sends it. A byline for email would probably be ‘mail at the speed of light.’

The Workings of Email

In many ways, the email is just like the traditional mail except for its speed and transport means. Using the traditional mail, a sender writes the recipient’s address on the outside of the message and posts the message by sliding through a postal slot located anywhere nearby, or a postal drop box along the road. A postman collects the message from the drop box and takes it to the post office. At the post office, the message along with other messages, is sorted and arranged per destination and then taken to the nearest post office to the recipient’s address. There, at the second post office, the postman takes the message and slots it into the recipient’s post office box which is sometimes located at the post office or at the individual’s home or office. The recipient obtains the message by accessing the mailbox.

Email Protocols

In the email system, the server operates like the post office while the post office box may be likened to the user’s device such as computer or smart phone. Two major email methods of delivery (protocols) exist. They are POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol).


POP3 is very similar to the traditional mail system in that once the original mail leaves the post office (read server) and enters the recipient’s mailbox (read inbox), there is no copy of the mail at the post office (server).


IMAP however, presents a very interesting phenomenon. Unlike the serial delivery method of the traditional mail and POP3, IMAP somehow copies all the clients/devices attached to an email address. Using the traditional mail, the representation of this method would be if the postman decides to make a copy of the mail that would be retained at the post office and also makes a copy of the mail for wherever the recipient goes such that a copy of the message would be sent to the individual’s office mailbox, home mailbox and any other forwarding address the individual leaves at the post office.

And just like in the traditional mail that the recipient accesses the mail by using a key to open the mailbox, the recipient also uses a key (password) to access his/her inbox in the email.

While IMAP may be desirable because of accessibility of messages whenever and wherever, security may be an important limitation. However, POP3 presents a likely one time read of messages. This reduces the security risk but at the same time, restricts accessibility. Either way, use of one over the other may be a matter of preference rather than benefits or limitations.

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