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Two good reasons to stick with POP3 email over IMAP

Ian Paul | Oct. 27, 2014
If storage quotas or privacy concerns are issues for you, then POP3 is probably a better choice than IMAP.

Lately, I've noticed quite a few stories and discussions online centering around the always popular debate about whether to use IMAP or POP3 for email. If you don't know what I'm talking about, IMAP and POP3 are the protocols you use to access email via clients like Outlook, Thunderbird, or Android's stock email app.

The general consensus is that the more modern IMAP is the way to go and the aging POP3 standard should be abandoned at all costs.

But that's just not the case. In fact, I am going to point out two very good reasons to go on using POP3, or perhaps even actively switch to it.

IMAP and POP3 basics
The key thing to know about the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is that it lets you view your email folders the same way on any device, as it's all synchronized from a central server. With IMAP your inbox, sent, and customized folders look alike, and have the same content, whether you're checking mail on your phone, tablet, or PC.

The Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3), on the other hand, is specifically designed for downloading email from your email provider's server to your local machine. Your actions aren't synchronized with the server like they are with IMAP; it's just a "dumb" download. Most (but not all) POP setups wipe email from their servers by default once you download it to your local device, although you can often configure your email client to leave your messages on the server as well.

As for set-up, it may be a little easier to use IMAP since many email clients create accounts with IMAP by default. 

POP3, meanwhile, often requires a manual set-up. Making matters worse, IMAP-friendly email providers may not even support POP3, or if they do they may not publish detailed instructions on how to access your account using the protocol.

And that's just on the server side. POP3 also requires your mail client to support it and not all do, such as Microsoft's default mail client on the modern UI side of Windows 8.1.

It's all about storage and privacy
The first reason you might want to use POP3 is if your main email account isn't connected to a major webmail service like Gmail or Outlook. Alternatives such as email accounts from Internet Service Providers or website hosting services often set limits on how much mail can be stored on their servers.

In those cases, it's best to turn to POP3, so you can download your mail and wipe it off the server to stay under the storage quota.

Privacy is another reason to rely on POP3. In this post-Snowden era, many are uncomfortable with keeping personal data like email on a third-party server. Email sitting on a server you don't control is wide open to access by law enforcement with the right set of warrants.


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