What are the differences between POP3 and IMAP?

When you check for new email messages, your email app talks to the email server using one of two special protocols: POP3 or IMAP. What’s the difference between the two, and which should you use?

What is POP3?

The original incoming email protocol, POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is a simple way to check email. It’s supported by all email clients.

When you configure your email client to check email using POP3, it downloads all email messages from your email server and marks them to be deleted from the server.

When to use POP3

  • You access email from only one computer only
  • You want to be able to read email when you’re not connected to the internet
  • You save a lot of emails and want to keep them from taking up space on your email server


IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) gives you live access to all your email messages. Designed as an improvement over POP3, IMAP is the way to go if you access email from more than one device. With IMAP, your messages stay on the server until you delete them in your email client. 

Everything you do with email messages syncs with your email server. When you read a message (or mark it as read), it’s automatically marked as read on the email server. When you delete an email, it’s deleted from your email server, too.

When to use IMAP

  • You access email from multiple devices
  • You want to save emails and keep them from taking up space on your computer

Which is right for me?

If you’re a road warrior or plan to access email from different devices, choose IMAP. If you work on email offline a lot and use only one computer, choose POP3.

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