Many times when I’ve been out consulting or at the service desks in our retail stores our clients ask a popular question; what is POP and IMAP? This question usually stems from the clients want to have their email inboxes look the same on any computer they use.
Most of these people are using the email their ISP (Internet Service Provider) gives them. This means they have email addresses like @comcast.com or @verizon.com. Every single ISP I’ve come in contact with uses POP mail. If you’re unsure, it’s safe to assume you’re using POP mail too. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it just means you’ll probably be sticking to using one computer to read and send emails. POP email will download each email message to your computer. Usually once you download the messages to your computer their on your computer for good, and no longer on the server.
If you’re a POP mail user (which I would assume 95% of you reading this are) the best way to move your email from an old computer to a new computer is to use the Migration Assistant that comes built-into OS X. Either that or get a friend who has an IMAP email account.
IMAP email works a bit differently. The email messages are left on the server. If you create any special folders (example a folder for all email from your family members) that folder is also created on the server. If you were to setup that same email account on another computer, it would look the same (same emails, same folders) as the previous computer. This is very useful when you’re moving to a new computer. You just need to input you account information into your email application and all your old emails will show up in your new computer. IMAP is obviously the way to go if you want to see the same emails and folders on multiple computers. If you’ve replied to a message on one computer and then view your Inbox on another computer, you’ll will see that, that same email has been replied too. It synchronizes all of that which is great!
Last but not least is webmail. Again most if not all ISPs provide their users with access to webmail. It’s great for people who are on the road or don’t want to take 5 minutes to configure an email client on their computer. You access webmail through your web browser (Safari, FireFox, etc…). It’s very simple! I personally stay away from webmail because I like to use Apple’s Address Book and I love how Apple Mail works. Of course I do have webmail running on my server for times when I am not sitting in front of my own computer. I can just quickly open up Safari, login and see if I have any new messages.
Webmail is nice in that no matter what computer you’re at you’ve got access to your email (of course you need an internet connection too)!
Hopefully this has cleared up some questions about the differences in email types. Please leave any questions you have though!