Imap email is a protocol used for storing and retrieving email communications. Imap stands for iInternet message access protocol. Imap email has some advantages but also has disadvantages and in fact it is an old system.
Most email hosting providers offer both pop and imap access to their email systems, but the best email hosting providers normally offer more advanced methods of email storage and retrieval which we will discuss in this article.
The difference between imap email and pop email
Pop email and imap email and both similar email protocols in that they are both commonly used with retail email systems.
If you sign up to a free email account or with a specific paid email provider, you will almost always have the option of using pop email access or imap email access.
Pop is the most common type of email access and the most trusted for residential users. Pop access is very stable and works well with most common email clients.
The main difference with imap email compared to pop is that imap email allows your email client to interface with the entire email structure at the other end in real time.
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You can think of imap like having webmail access from within your email client. With pop email you just get a copy of each inbound message downloaded to your email client and everything else is stored locally. This means sent items, deleted items and organisational folders are all stored on your local PC.
With imap email when you create these organizational folders they are all stored at the email host – so they are syncronised with your PC, webmail and any other clients you have connected via imap email.
The two main advantages created by imap are backup (as email is stored on the imap server) and syncronisation – as all devices are similar if not the same in terms of emails being accessible.
Having said that, imap email is an old system and some people find that it doesnt always run smoothly.
The difference between imap email and exchange
Exchange email is a newer and more advanced email storage system. In fact in reality Exchange is actually an email application produced by Microsoft. It comes with many protocols (including pop and imap). In particular though, exchange offers protocols such as Exchange over HTTP (more recently becoming known as remote outlook) and activesync.
The reason we call it exchange email in this article is that when looking for an email provider, this type of service will most commonly be advertised using that name or something similar to it.
Exchange email can be thought of as the newer and better version of imap. The technologies employed by exchange email have the same syncronisation capabilities of imap but they work much more efficiently.
Email mailboxes can be stored entirely on the remote email server and on the local computer. Synchronization works very efficiently as well. Imap email although offered by Microsoft Exchange is no where near as efficient and in fact is normally disabled by default.
Although Exchange is tranditionally thought of as a business email application, with the emergance of cloud computing technologies delivering exchange email to end users and retail customers is becoming much easier and more cost effective.
For example, Microsoft offer an exchange based email service called office 365 which is available from as little as £2.50/month.
Hybrid systems like imap email but better
There are also hybrid systems that are similar to imap but offer more advanced capabilities such as Google Apps Sync for Outlook.
imap email summary
In summary imap can sometimes be beneficial when used as an alternative to pop email. However, if you have the choice of other email protocols or you are signing up for a new email system then its good to look at other options that may be available.