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POP, IMAP, SMTP – What’s The Difference

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