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POP or IMAP – What’s the difference?

Overview:

  • Do you only download email to one device e.g. your computer? Then POP is likely your best option.
  • Do you use more than one device for email (e.g. desktop & mobile)? Then IMAP is your best choice – but watch out for disk over–usage on your Hetzner hosting account.

 

It is very important to choose the right incoming email protocol for your needs when first setting up an email account. Most email software programs and applications will not allow you to make changes to this protocol setting once the account has been created. You will need to remove the account and recreate it again should you wish to change the protocol at a later stage.

POP (Post Office Protocol)

POP simply downloads email to your device and then deletes the email from the server. If you have more than one device where you read your mail (desktop, laptop, tablet or phone), you will have to delete the same email individually on every device.

POP– Leave a copy of messages on the server

When it comes to storing copies of incoming emails as copies on the server, there are a few ways of going about it. It is extremely important to consider and configure this setting when configuring a POP email account.

Microsoft Outlook makes use of the ‘leave a copy of messages on the server’ option to ensure that new emails that are downloaded from the server remain as a copy indefinitely or for a specified amount of time. This allows other POP or IMAP devices to successfully download or synchronise these emails without them being removed from the server or “going missing”.

The following article will demonstrate how to check/uncheck the ‘Leave a copy of messages on the server’ option within most versions of Microsoft’s Office account settings:  How do I check/uncheck ‘Leave a copy of messages on the server’?

Best uses for POP Accounts:

  • When disk usage on the server needs to be used sparingly.
  • When emails can be backed up locally on the device(s) and server backups are not as important.
  • When synchronization of folders from the device to the server and with other devices is not a requirement.

Pros:

  1. If you want to send and receive your emails through one device, a POP account is the most simple and user friendly protocol.
  2. Emails are downloaded from the server to the device and can therefore be accessed offline.
  3. As attachments are downloaded with the email by default, gaining access to the attachment can also be done offline.
  4. As emails are downloaded and usually removed from the server, you will be limited to your hard drive size instead of your hosted server disk usage allocation which allows you to potentially store more emails.

Cons:

  1. If your local device holds the only copies of your emails and these emails have been removed from the server, data loss is possible when the correct local backup measures have not been put in place. The konsoleH Restore Backup system makes daily backups which can be used to recover emails, however, only emails available on the server at the time the backup was made can be restored.
  2. Synchronisation of sent emails is not possible. All emails in the sent folder need to be backed up locally.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

IMAP is a protocol which can download AND upload (synchronise) data with the server whereas the POP protocol is a download–only protocol and thus will not be able to upload data to a server. IMAP can synchronise advanced permissions and other folders and is also able to distinguish between already read/opened mail from device to device.

IMAP–Root Folder Path / Root Document Path

The IMAP Path Prefix is a setting entered into your email software settings that tells the software that it should synchronise ALL of the folders currently active on the server with the device. It is a commonly used setting that when specified, ensures that all folders are effectively synchronised.

The IMAP path prefix is INBOX. Please be sure to enter this in all caps.

This setting can be entered by clicking on “File > Account Settings > More Settings > Advanced” within most versions of Microsoft Outlook. Android devices can specify the IMAP path prefix within the “Incoming Server” settings menu.

The IMAP path prefix is generally pre–configured in most email software packages and on most devices but can be useful when troubleshooting folder synchronisation difficulties.

Best uses for IMAP Accounts:

  • When you want to synchronise / mirror image your account emails and folders with the server and with other devices.
  • When the increased disk usage that this configuration will consume on the server is not as much of a concern.
  • When you get into a regular habit of removing unwanted emails to preserve disk usage on the server.
  • When reliance on the Hetzner Backup system is more convenient than backing up the email account locally. (Kindly remember that the Hetzner Backup System is not guaranteed.

Pros:

  1. All email and folders are synchronised and stored on the server.
  2. Folder and file directories will appear the same way each time you setup the same accounton a different device.
  3. You can switch between your email software and the Hetzner Webmail interface at any time and the same emails should still reflect.
  4. If the data stored on your computer is corrupted, formatted of if your computer is stolen your emails will still be available on the Hetzner server.

Cons:

  1. Folders may appear slightly different in your email client using IMAP instead of POP3. This is because the folders are stored on the server instead of locally on your computer.
  2. Your disk usage on the server builds up quickly depending on the volume of emails received/sent.
  3. You will need to continuously remove unwanted emails to control server disk usage.

Email Backups

The Hetzner Backup system makes daily email backups on the server going back fourteen (14) days. All emails on the server at the time a backup will be available for restore for fourteen (14) days. Should you wish to request an email backup restore, please send an email request to support@hetzner.co.za for assistance. Please include the following information in your backup restore request:

  1. The domain name
  2. The email accounts / folders you would like restored
  3. The backup date (within the past 14 days) that you would like the above account (s) / folder (s) to be restored from
  4. If you would like the backup restored and replaced (most popular request) or copied into a separate folder on the server

Missing Emails

If you have a POP device configured with the ‘Leave a copy of messages on the server’ option unchecked, emails will automatically be removed from the server after downloading them to your device or software. As such, if you have additional POP or IMAP devices that are configured to send and receive emails to/from the same email account, when these devices connect to the server, the emails downloaded by the POP device will no longer be available to download from the server.

The same can be said for POP accounts that are configured to remove copies from the server after (X / 10 / 14) amount of days. If there is another device that synchronises with the server via the IMAP protocol, when the emails are removed from the server after (X / 10 / 14) amount of days, the IMAP device will reflect this change which will result in the emails “going missing”. In this case, the emails will need to be sourced locally on the device connecting via the POP protocol.

Changing protocols

When changing between protocols you will need to keep the following steps in mind:

  1. Make a local backup of the emails currently on the device– ensuring that if the current protocol is IMAP that the emails being backed up include the full email body content as well as the attachment.
  2. Remove the current account.
  3. Recreate the new account selecting the new protocol.
  4. Import or “drag and drop” the locally backed up emails and folders into the newly created account.
  5. If the newly selected protocol is the IMAP protocol, you will need to allow some time for the newly imported emails to re–synchronised (upload) to the server.