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What Is The Difference Between POP and IMAP?

If you don’t want the hassle of going into your web browser to check your email, you may have considered using a third party program like Windows Live Mail, Microsoft Outlook or Incredimail.

Collecting your email via these programs is not only more convenient due to fewer clicks, but if something goes wrong with your browser, you won’t be cut off from your mail.

However, setting up your email in one of these clients can be far from simple. In the past year or so the process has been made slightly easier by some programs automatically entering your settings. But what if it doesn’t, or you need to change some yourself?

The best place to get the settings for your email is the email provider itself.  This would be your internet provider or in the options section of your webmail provider.  One of the options you may be faced with is the choice to use either IMAP or POP as the type of server you want to use, but what does this mean exactly?


POP access is the oldest type of email server and it stands for Post Office Protocol.  When said like that, it may seem a little more obvious. With POP mail imagine your email provider as a post office.  Whenever you go and check your email it is like going to the post office, collecting all your mail and then taking it home with you.  This means that the mail no longer resides on the providers’ servers, which can be a problem if you have to wipe your PC.  You can setup your mail to leave a copy on their server however to avoid this problem.


IMAP is a more recent type of email that stands for Internet Message Access Protocol, (not that this gives you much of a clue as to what it is!) The way IMAP works is all the mail resides on the server and when you view it it’s just like webmail.  The messages stay on the providers’ server and whatever changes you make in the email program are also mirrored on the server.  This automatically avoids the dilemma of having to wipe your computer due to a fatal error.

Where possible I would recommend using an IMAP server due to the fact you don’t have to go into advanced settings to make sure a copy of your messages stay on the server.  Just make sure when you contact your provider that you are sure of which server you will be connecting to as the POP and IMAP servers will have different addresses.  They also require different choices in your email program when setting it up, so if you have the wrong server name in the wrong server type, you won’t have any success in collecting your mail.