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POP, IMAP, SMTP – What’s The Difference

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 by | Filed Under: E-Mail Help
 
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Liam from Boulder writes:

When you set up e-mail you’ll see POP, SMTP and IMAP and you have to pick what kind of account you want. What’s the difference? What do the letters mean. I asked the tech support guy form my cable company and he didn’t do much but repeat what the names were and tell me their e-mail was SMTP and that if I had a question about Outlook, I needed to ask Microsoft. Is there a simple explanation, a non-techie person could understand.

Sure Liam, let’s go over what it all means.

POP3 – Post Office Protocol 3. This kind of server stores your incoming messages on the server until you use an e-mail client like Windows Mail, Outlook or Thunderbird to download them to your computer.  Generally those messages are then deleted from the server. You can then only access those message on the computer where you’ve downloaded them.

IMAP – Internet Message Access Protocol. This type of server lets you access your e-mail without downloading it to a computer. You can read, edit or delete the messages right on the server. The messages will remain on the server until you choose to delete them. You can access your e-mail from other computers or mobile devices. More and more people are moving to IMAP for the convenience of being able to access their e-mail at any time from any device.

SMTP – Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. This server is only for outgoing e-mail. You can use it with a POP3 or IMAP sever. So if you see an error referring to SMTP – it’s talking about outgoing e-mail.

~ Cynthia

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2 Responses to “POP, IMAP, SMTP – What’s The Difference”

  1. Les says:

    The comment re POP3 accounts is a bit misleading. I have used that with e-mail clients (first Outlook, then Thunderbird) and both provided for leaving messages on server for specified periods after the initial download, allowing me to access them from other devices for up to the specified period (in my case, I chose 60 days). That takes away the stated advantage of IMAP. In fact, I have always preferred to keep certain e-mail messages on my computer. That way, I am not dependent on the particular provider keeping my messages safe, especially since I may want to change providers someday.
    The part of your answer devoted to SMTP had typos – twice you referred to it as STMP.

  2. Peter Hutchin says:

    I think that Les is nit picking. Cynthia’s post clearly explains the difference between IMAP and POP3 for incoming mail and tells the reader what SMPT stands for. We all make typos, it is easy to overlook them especially with a name like STMP, excuse me, I meant SMTP. Great piece of work, Cynthia!

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