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POP v IMAP - Which to use?

Basically there are two types of email; POP and IMAP, and the method you choose to access your email can make a big difference to the way you work, and to the ease with which you can manage your email.

What are POP and IMAP?

POP stands for "Post Office Protocol" - POP simply downloads email directly to your computer, and then deletes the email from the remote server (although you can set it to leave a copy of the server for "x" days). This then allows you to read your emails at any time, even when offline.

If you only ever use one computer/device to access your email, and you backup your computer hard drive regularly, you can manage just fine using POP.

If you do use multiple devices to access your email, POP has a major disadvantage - once your computer has already downloaded and emptied your email contents to its hard drive, you cannot then access those downloaded emails from your other devices.

The big downside to POP is that all your email is stored locally on your computer, so if something happens to your computer you’ve lost all your email messages permanently!

IMAP stands for "Internet Message access protocol" - IMAP stores your email on a remote server permanently, which allows you to synchronize your email across multiple devices, which is vital in this day and age as many of us now use several devices, such as PC's, Laptops, Tablets and Smart Phones.

If you need to use multiple devices to manage your email IMAP is the way to go - when you use IMAP, and read, delete or move email into folders, the action is synchronised across all your devices simultaneously. Also, any changes made to your email or folders when you are offline are transmitted to the remote server next time an Internet connection is established.

A big upside to IMAP is that if anything happens to your computer, all your email is still perfectly safe on the mail server, so even if you have to replace your computer with a new one, as soon as you set up your email account on the new machine, all your email is available to you once more.

The only real downside with IMAP is the fact that because your email is now stored on the server permanently, this takes up some of your allocated hosting account space (whereas POP mail is downloaded to, and stored on, your own computer) - so if using IMAP you need to make sure your hosting account gives you the space you need for email storage and your website, and any website backups.

CMS Wales provides a range of hosting accounts, with the smallest offering 3Gb of storage and all accounts are easily upgradeable any time you need more space, so space is never an issue if you are hosted with CMS Wales.

See: Hosting Packages

Many people still use POP simply because they don't know how to switch over to IMAP. But it's actually very easy and usually only takes a few minutes to do, but you do have to know how to do it. We can help you switch from POP to IMAP, but you must make sure to back up your hard drive before switching to IMAP, just in case something goes wrong.

So which should you choose - POP or IMAP?

Choose POP If…

  • You want to access your mail from only one single computer or device
  • You need constant access to your email, regardless of internet availability
  • Your server storage space is limited

Choose IMAP If…

  • You want to access your email from multiple different devices
  • You have a reliable and constant internet connection
  • You want to receive a quick overview of new emails or emails on the server
  • Your local storage space is limited
  • You don't back up your computer regularly

If in doubt, choose IMAP. It’s a more modern option and allows you to be flexible, your email is automatically backed up on the server, available server space isn’t really an issue as you an always upgrade to more space if/when required, and you can still store copies of vital emails locally.