What is a IMAP?

If you’ve ever set up an email account before, you’ve probably been asked which email protocol you would like to use: POP or IMAP. To the uninitiated, this question can be positively mind-boggling. However, the selection that you make will have a major impact on your experience of sending, receiving and otherwise using email messages. While POP, or Post Office Protocol, used to be the most popular type of email protocol, IMAP – or Internet Message Access Protocol – is the go-to choice of most people these days. Learn more about what IMAP is, how it works, how it compares to POP and its main advantages below.

IMAP: The Basics

As its name implies, IMAP allows you to access your email messages wherever you are; much of the time, it is accessed via the Internet. Basically, email messages are stored on servers. Whenever you check your inbox, your email client contacts the server to connect you with your messages. When you read an email message using IMAP, you aren’t actually downloading or storing it on your computer; instead, you are reading it off of the server. As a result, it’s possible to check your email from several different devices without missing a thing.

Mail Servers, Email Clients and IMAP

The easiest way to understand how IMAP works is by thinking of it as an intermediary between your email client and your email server. Email servers are always used when sending and receiving email messages. With IMAP, though, they remain on the server unless you explicitly delete them from it. When you sign into an email client like Microsoft Outlook, it contacts the email server using IMAP. The headers of all of your email messages are then displayed. If you choose to read a message, it is quickly downloaded so that you can see it – emails are not downloaded unless you need to open them.

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