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Difference Between IMAP and POP3

The Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) are both Message Accessing Agents (MAA). One can use both of these protocols for retrieving messages to a receiver’s system from the mail server. Both of these protocols have the virus and spam filters. As compared to the POP3, IMAP is way more flexible. We will discuss a list of more difference between POP3 and IMAP in this article. Read ahead to know more.

What is a POP3?

POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is the older of the two protocols and the simpler one. POP3 is the third revision to the Post Office Protocol. This protocol has been around since 1985, and it has had various updates ever since. People still use it, but POP4 has also arrived with only a small extension to POP. You can use the names POP3 and POP interchangeably.

The following happens when you implement POP3 for retrieving emails from any server:

  • The client and concerned mail server establish a connection.
  • An email client then downloads the available emails from the server and the present attachments.
  • They save it on the device that first initiated the connection.
  • The mail server deletes the emails (by default).
  • It can configure most of the clients to keep a copy of their downloaded emails permanently or for a specific time (on a server).
  • The process of transmission ends.

POP3 does not allow any user to preview the emails on any server, delete them, search or organize them into any folders. It can only fetch the emails from the available server and then delete them later. It can also initiate a secure TLS/SSL transmission. It is called the POP3DS.

Features of POP3:

  • It stores emails on a single device.
  • Only one device can access the emails.
  • All the sent messages also stay saved on the same device.
  • If a user wants to keep their messages on their device, they need to enable the settings to “Keep email on server”, or else POP3 will delete it once an app or software downloads them.

What is an IMAP?

The IMAP (Internet Messaging Access Protocol) is the second major protocol used for retrieving emails. This protocol is younger but not a very recent innovation. Originally developed in 1986, the fourth revision occurred in the early 1990s. You can interchangeably use IMAP with IMAP4- though the latter one is not very common.

Here is how an IMAP works:

  • It establishes a connection between a client and the concerned mail server.
  • It fetches the requested content and caches them on a device. It can be a list of all the emails along with the headers or pre-headers, etc.
  • It performs the user-initiated actions- archiving the messages, deleting them, marking them as read, and many more.
  • The process of transmission ends.

Remember that one cannot use IMAP to fetch emails from the server. It only retrieves an email when a user chooses to open it on any device. Even then, it only renders a copy of the original message- the original piece stays safely and securely stored on the server itself. The IMAP also supports the TLS/SSL transmission- called the IMPA3.

Features of IMAP:

  • It stores all the emails on the server.
  • It also saves all the sent/transmitted messages on the server.
  • A user can easily sync and access all of their emails across multiple devices from multiple locations.

Difference Between POP3 and IMAP

Parameter POP3 IMAP
Full Form POP3 is an abbreviation for Post Office Protocol 3. IMAP is an abbreviation for Internet Message Access Protocol.
Introduction The POP is an Internet standard protocol on the application layer that the local email clients use for retrieving emails from any remote server over the TCP/IP connection. The IMAP is a protocol that allows distant users to access their emails directly from the server and read them on any device at any location feasible for them.
Complexity POP3 is a very simplified protocol. It can only download the emails on the local computer from the inbox. The IMAP protocol is very complex. It allows all the users to view their email folders easily and read them on the mail server itself (from any device they want).
Email Organization A user cannot organize the emails on the server using POP3. IMAP allows its users to organize their available emails on the server.
Need to Download POP3 downloads the mail first and then allows its users to read them. You can partially read your emails before downloading them in the case of IMAP.
Multiaccess POP3 only allows a single device at a time to access the emails. IMAP allows multiple devices at a time to access and read the available mails.
Updating of Emails A user cannot update or create emails on the mail server by using the POP3 protocol. You can use the IMAP protocol for updating or creating emails. It is easy to do so with a web interface or email software.
Search Emails You cannot search for mail content on any mail server using the POP3 protocol. The user needs to download the mail first and then search for the required content. You can easily search for mail content on any mail server using IMAP without downloading them.
Change and Delete POP3 does not allow its users to alter or delete any email available on the mail server. IMAP allows its users to use an email software or a web interface to alter or delete the available emails.
Speed POP3 is very fast. IMAP is slow as compared to POP3.
Syncing of Mails It does not allow syncing of a user’s emails. Users can sync their emails using this protocol.
Storage of Content It downloads the content on the local device unless someone selects a “Keep a copy on the server” via settings. It always stores content on the mail server.
Direction Unidirectional – The changes that you make on a device have zero effect on the content available on the server. Bi-directional – Whenever you make changes on the device or server, it shows on the other side as well.
Offline Usage You can read the emails offline because POP3 downloads them on the device. The device only goes online to download new emails. The downloaded mails are available for the user to read, edit, and delete offline. Any changes that one makes on the device get synced with the server.
Current Versions POP3 IMAP4rev1

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