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POP3 or IMAP for my email?

Setting up your email is often something we rush to get working. However, it’s not the actual work we need to do, but it is imperative to us being able to do our work the way we should.

Taking a moment to decide which protocol you want between POP3 or IMAP can save you a lot of headaches down the line.

So, what do the available mail protocols mean? What is the implication of each and why choose a specific one?

What is POP3?

POP3 or Post Office Protocol version 3 is a legacy mail protocol which was encouraged in early internet days by most Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The reason for this was that ISP infrastructure was often limited and POP3 helped alleviate some issues. Lets take a look at why.

POP3 History

POP3 was meant for single user-single device scenarios where server space was at a premium. What POP3 does is it downloads the email from the server so that it is removed from the server.

The sent email is also stored on your device, not on the server. This saves the ISP space, but that is not an issue with modern storage space no longer being an issue.

The downside of POP3

The downside is that if your device is stolen or broken, you lose all your mail, which would be terrible in today’s environment given how dependant we are on storing communication records.

You may have a backup, but it is usually a mission to restore. POP3 also does not play well with multiple devices. Even if you tell your mail client (Outlook, Thunderbird) to leave a copy on the server, the results can be erratic.

For business use, POP3 makes no sense. It breaks all risk management principles and does not even come close to due diligence as it puts all the risk on one device and removes part of the audit trail by deleting the mail from the server.

Disaster recovery becomes hard to impossible with POP3 as email is not backed up with server backups either.

Essentially, if you were looking for something that would leave zero trace, with little to no accountability, this might be the protocol for you. However, for almost every other form of online communication, it is than ideal.

IMAP – Internet Messaging Access Protocol

IMAP is the current best selection. As the email stays on the server, you can access it from multiple devices.

Sent emails also reside on the server so you can venture a look on your mobile device to confirm what you sent from your laptop. This is basically the protocol that lends itself to us syncing all of our devices, making communication much easier.

Your email is backed up when the server is. The chain of evidence/audit trail is preserved as the mail on the server does not change and can easily be linked into an audit trail.

For business, due diligence is observed.

For home users, losing your device does not mean you have lost all your precious emails. Once you have replaced your device, simply sign in to your email provider and all your mail will magically appear again.

It may take a while, depending on the speed of your internet, but all those memories and conversations will be there if you ever feel the need to be nostalgic on memory lane.

If you have a very large mailbox, this can take long and use a lot of data.

IMAP is the way to go. For business use, it’s practically the only way to go. IMAP is the protocol that Microsoft based it’s “Exchange” protocol on, exactly because it ensures the safety of mail.

Imagine having to deal with finding a lost mail that was suppose to be on one or another colleague’s device with POP3. The hassle is just not worth it, nor is it secure.

Changing from POP3 to IMAP

If you change from POP3 to IMAP, you have to back up the emails on your device first to be safe.

IMAP usually requires you to set up your mail account from scratch.

Setting up your IMAP as a 2nd or new account will be the easiest. Make sure to disable the mail fetch on your POP3 account so you don’t get mail via that protocol after you set up your IMAP account.

You can then copy the mail from your old account to the new one and it should synchronise to the server.

We needn’t mention how important mail is to our everyday functioning, both at work and at home. So, having a mailing system that ensures the availability of your emails will make life a lot easier.

Happy Hosting!

The Author

Michael O.

Michael is the founder, managing director, and CEO of HOSTAFRICA. He studied at Friedrich Schiller University Jena and was inspired by Cape Town's beauty to bring his German expertise to Africa. Before HOSTAFRICA, Michael was the Managing Director of Deutsche Börse Cloud Exchange AG, one of Germany's largest virtual server providers.

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