TheComputerBoy.comWe hate deleting mail from our phone only to have it come back again when we login from home. This was one of the first reasons we started using webmail instead of programs like Outlook, Thunderbird or Mail (Apple).

As we learned more about computers and specifically email, we discovered the different options involved in retrieving email. Terms like POP3 and IMAP, which we used to ignore, suddenly became important to pay attention to. After understanding the options we quickly started to learn how good that “free email” with our home cable provider really was. Let us give you a quick summary of how POP3 and IMAP work.

When you use IMAP you are accessing your inbox on the mail server. IMAP does not actually move messages onto your computer.  Instead, think of an e-mail program using IMAP as simply a viewer of your messages on the server.

POP3 does the opposite. Instead of just showing you what is in your inbox on the server, it downloads all the new messages in your inbox onto your computer. POP3 can be setup to save or delete the original email from the server after initially downloading it.

Benefits of IMAP become very clear when using multiple locations or devices to access your email. If you use a mail account setup with IMAP on your cell phone, read the inbox, delete 3 messages and send 2 more, all of these changes will be reflected when you login from your desk. Try the same scenario on a mail account set up with POP3 and you’ll only download a copy of the email to your phone.  Deleting the 3 selected messages at that point will only remove them from your phone. Log in from your desk and they will be back again.  POP3 accounts become very frustrating when trying to manage an email account from two different locations.

Most home cable providers (Cox, Qwest / Century Link, Comcast) and even some of the free webmail providers (Yahoo!, Hotmail and others) only offer POP3 access to their servers.  This means if you set up your phone to access these types of accounts, any changes you make to the messages on your phone will not necessarily be reflected when you log in again from a desktop.

Gmail to the rescue.  Google’s Gmail service offers POP3 and IMAP access to Gmail accounts. Using Google’s option to send mail with another email address, you can even start using Gmail as your main mail provider without having to change email addresses! Our tutorial tomorrow will cover how to set up a Gmail account in this manner.

Have questions about POP3 or IMAP accounts? Let us know in the comments. Here is the article we previously published about webmail versus using a desktop mail program.