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January 16, 2012

The Mail Twins: IMAP and POP

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

I don’t watch enough silly cartoon shows, but I’m certain that nothing on the air today features characters named IMAP or POP. When it comes to email, however, those characters actually exist.

Basically, there are two ways to get email from the out-there into your computer.

Yeah: There are probably more ways, I’m sure. Don’t bombard me with the details. For the purposes of this discussion, most typical computer users access their email from either IMAP or POP.

Both IMAP and POP are clever acronyms. They’re clever because you can pronounce them: Eye-map and Pop.

An un-clever acronym is SDLIFHL, which doesn’t stand for anything. I just typed some random letters to demonstrate what an un-clever acronym would look like.

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It’s the method that web-based email systems use, such as Yahoo Mail, GMail, Hotmail and others. Even so, there may be non-web-based email servers using IMAP as well.

POP stands for Post Office Protocol. It’s the more traditional way that email is delivered, such as from your ISP or other large, intimidating organization that offers email.

Most email programs handle both IMAP and POP, so what’s to care about? Specifically, that IMAP allows for mailboxes to be created and saved on the server, which allows on-server storage of your email. The POP setup has your email saved and organized locally on your computer. In fact, most email programs are configured to remove mail picked up from the POP server after the mail is read. With IMAP, the mail stays on the server for the most part.

The problem comes when you need to update your mail account: It’s not really that easy to transfer your IMAP mailboxes from one server to another. You’ve probably experienced this problem if you’ve ever tried to move your Hotmail account over to Gmail or Yahoo Mail. Most folks just abandon all their old messages. I don’t blame them.

On my computer, I access about four IMAP email accounts and one POP. I have the program download all my messages, copying them from the IMAP server just like the POP server. That way everything is on my computer; it doesn’t matter if I change IMAP accounts because I still have copies of the mail.

Not everyone copies all their messages from IMAP servers. If you don’t, consider updating your computer’s email program to do so. The email isn’t going to consume much space on your hard drive, so consuming storage space shouldn’t be an issue.

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