What’s the difference between POP, IMAP, and SMTP? Should you even care? When you’re setting up your company’s e-mail, you should be familiar with these terms so your office inboxes are set for maximum messaging efficiency.
POP, known more specifically as POP3 or Post Office Protocol, is one of the two standard ways for you to retrieve e-mail. It works by downloading your e-mail messages to your inbox and it’s best suited for users who get their e-mail in one place, their Microsoft Outlook inbox on their work computer, for example.
While you can check POP3 mail from various devices, it’s not very efficient. If you pull your messages off the server, you won’t be able to retrieve them in your other inboxes, whether online, on your phone, or just on a different computer. If you’re leaving all your messages stored on the server, you’ll be able to access all of them, but you won’t be able to see which ones have been read, replied to, deleted, or sorted, which can be confusing and cause duplicate work.
IMAP, known more specifically as IMAP4 or Internet Message Access Protocol, is the other standard way to get mail and is more sophisticated than POP. It works by keeping all messages on the server and then syncing up your inboxes to what’s on it. It remembers when you’ve read, sorted, replied to, or deleted a message and is able to mirror your inbox across multiple devices.
IMAP is also slightly faster than POP because it’s always connected to the mail server and will update as quickly as the server allows, transmitting the header of the message and waiting for you to open it to download the body and attachments. POP waits for users or their e-mail programs to download their messages or refresh their Web mail page.
These benefits do come at some cost: IMAP tends to use more server resources than POP. And not all ISPs support IMAP, so if you plan to tap into its multidevice and speed benefits, make sure to sign up with an ISP that offers it. If you or your employees ever need to check e-mail online, on a mobile device, or at home, you’ll want IMAP to create a smooth user experience.
There’s one more acronym you should know when setting up your e-mail server: SMTP. The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is the standard way of sending outgoing messages, regardless of whether you use POP or IMAP. It doesn’t have anything to do with receiving messages; it’s the mechanism that pushes your outgoing e-mail to its recipients.
Now you’re ready to set up your office e-mail, or at least have an intelligent discussion with your technical person about it.