POP v/s IMAP and PUSH Mail for newbies

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If you are one of those who heard a lot about POP, IMAP etc while using email but never figured out what it means and how to best utilize them, this post will be helpful to you.

Lets make this simple and interesting…

POP and IMAP are the email server protocols to access the emails available on the server on your device, be it your PC or a mobile device. POP is a very old protocol where as IMAP is a newer one.

1. POP

POP means Post Office Protocol. The Post Office Protocol (POP) allows you to use your Inbox, like a post box. The email available on the server or received on the serves is downloaded on to your device and gets deleted from the server. Something like this, in this image.

Image showing a simple POP server

Now a days almost every email client (like Office Outlook, Thunderbird etc) and also email service (Gmail, Yahoo etc) has the setting to keep a copy of email on the server.

pop in gmail

POP supports unencrypted connection, SSL and TLS encryptions.


1. POP is available free in most of the email services.
2. The email is downloaded on the device and can be accessed offline.


1. The folder structure, is not maintained on the device.
2. The emails in only Inbox are downloaded. There is no option to see the sent mails or drafts available on the server.
3. The changes you make on the device are usually not reflected on the webmail.
4. Most of the email services do not support saving of sent mails on the email server, means the emails you sent from your email clients will not available on the webmail.

Free emails which support POP

1. Gmail
2. Yahoo Mail
3. Hotmail
4. AOL
5. GMX
6. And pretty much all email services

2. IMAP.

IMAP means Internet Message Access Protocol, is an Application Layer Internet protocol that allows an e-mail client to access e-mail on a remote mail server. The current version, IMAP version 4 revision 1 (IMAP4rev1). An IMAP server typically listens on well-known port 143. IMAP over SSL (IMAPS) is assigned well-known port number 993.

IMAP supports both on-line and off-line modes of operation. E-mail clients using IMAP generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them. This and other characteristics of IMAP operation allow multiple clients to manage the same mailbox.

In simple words the emails are synchronized between the server and email client. Like this image..

simple IMAP server

In IMAP only a part of the email is downloaded and stored on the device like mobile and PC and when the email is opened, the whole email is downloaded from the server. It needs a active internet connection to read the email.


1. The emails are not deleted from the server.
2. The folder structure is maintained on the device also. (labels in Gmail are not supported in many email clients, its only supported by official Gmail app)
3. The changes made on the device are reflected on the server for e.g. if you move a mail to personal folder, it will also be done on server.
4. The send mail folder and drafts are also synced.
5. The emails can be accessed an multiple devices.
6. It support Push Emails.


1. Active internet connection is required to read the emails.
2. Not available with many email services.

Webmail which support IMAP

1. Gmail
2. Yahoo (Some older accounts do not support IMAP)
3. GMX
4. AOL
5. Hotmail (Only paid account support IMAP)

3. PUSH Mail

With the exponential increase in smartphones and increasing use of internet and emails on mobile devices, PUSH came into existence. PUSH is supported by IMAP emails. PUSH is a service which provides instant notification for the new emails in real time same as the SMS facility on mobile. Means if your mobile is connected to internet and you receive a email on a PUSH-IMAP supported email, you will get notified by the ringtone on your mobile.

The protocol was designed to provide for a secure way to automatically keep communicating new messages between a server and a mobile device like a PDA or Smartphone. It should reduce the time and effort needed to synchronize messages between the two by using an open connection that is kept alive by some kind of heartbeat. To reduce necessary bandwidth, it uses compression and command macros.

Its not necessary that all IMAP supported services support PUSH also.

The services which support PUSH-IMAP

1. Gmail
2. GMX
3. Yahoo (not universally, only via Yahoo app on iPhone and Android)

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