Difference between POP, IMAP and SMTP

Difference between POP, IMAP and SMTP


3 min read

Ever wondered how your email magically appears on your phone, computer, or tablet? The answer lies in a trio of hardworking protocols: POP (Post Office Protocol), IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). Each plays a unique role in email delivery and management.


  • POP (Post Office Protocol): Designed for downloading emails from a server to your device.

  • IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol): Enables accessing and managing emails stored on the server itself.

  • SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol): Handles outgoing emails, transmitting them from your email client to the mail server for onward delivery.


  • POP: Downloads emails, with the option to delete them from the server after download. Offers limited functionalities like managing individual messages.

  • IMAP: Keeps emails stored on the server, allowing access from any device. Supports features like folder management, flagging, and draft access.

  • SMTP: Focused solely on sending emails. Doesn't involve email retrieval or management.


  • POP: Like a digital postman delivering your mail to your house. Once delivered, the mail might be removed from the mailbox (server).

  • IMAP: Think of it as a secure cloud storage for your emails. You can access and manage them from anywhere, and they remain stored centrally.

  • SMTP: Acts as the mail truck, transporting your outgoing mail (emails) to the post office (mail server) for further distribution.

Choosing the Right Protocol

  • POP: Suitable for situations where you need to access emails on a single device and prefer to manage storage locally.

  • IMAP: Ideal for users who require multi-device access, prioritize organization, and value features like folder management and draft access.

  • SMTP: Universally used for sending emails.


  • POP and IMAP deal with receiving emails, while SMTP focuses solely on sending.

  • IMAP offers a more comprehensive and secure email experience compared to POP.

  • SMTP typically operates behind the scenes and doesn't require user intervention.

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