Email is a wonderful tool: with it, we can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world in seconds. As easy and simple as it is to send an email, setting email up can cause great confusion. There are two basic options – IMAP and POP3.

When clients set up an email program, such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, one of the most common questions they ask is whether they should use IMAP or POP3. Knowing which one to use can be complicated without knowledge of them both.

Both of them can be set up on a desktop program and on a smartphone or tablet, and even all three device types for the same email address. Both POP3 and IMAP have a time and a place -or rather a client and business need – to be used. The big difference between the two is in how they store the emails.

With POP3, once an email is downloaded to a device and read (be it on a desktop, a smartphone, or a tablet), the email is deleted from the server. If, on the other hand, you’re using IMAP, the email is left on the server until it is deleted by the user. With POP3, if you read an email on your smartphone, that email is at that point deleted from the server. It will remain available on the phone, but you won’t be able to get that particular email on your desktop or tablet.

Alternatively, with IMAP, the email can be downloaded and viewed on any device and it will remain on the server. With IMAP, you can check an email on your phone, and then still have it automatically download to your desktop as soon as you open up that program (be it Outlook, Thunderbird, or even Webmail).

If you only check email on one device, POP3 will work fine. If you are like me though and check your email regularly on difference devices, you’ll want to use IMAP. For that reason, I normally recommend for my clients to connect via IMAP.

Either option will get you your email; the question just comes down to the number of devices you want to use to view that email.