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Do you use IMAP? Do you know what it is? Can you find any mention of it on your ISPs website?

I bet that for most people the answer to those questions is no.

IMAP was supposed to be the replacement for POP3, well, that’s what I was told by a techie years ago when I was introduced to it, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. I haven’t seen one ISP promote IMAP and they all tell you how to set up POP3, and there’s a good reason for this.

IMAP is much better for you, but it uses up more of your ISPs resources. So they either don’t support it, or don’t tell you about it.

So what’s the difference between IMAP and POP3?

I won’t get all techy here, because I can’t, so here it is in layman’s terms. When you set up your mail client to retrieve your email, the default is usually POP3, and you have to select IMAP as an alternative if you want to use it.

The default setting in your email software for POP3 is to retrieve your email from the mail server and store it locally in the database of the email software you’re using. i.e. the email is stored on your PC and is removed from the mail server.

With for example Outlook Express (OE), you can tick a box to leave the email on the server if you don’t want it deleting, but if you forget to do this, all the email will be pulled from the server one at a time and then deleted on the server leaving you with a copy only on your PC.

But what if you have two PCs? One at work and one at home, or one in the study and one in the family room, or a laptop and a desktop, and you want the same email messages on both machines? Or what if you’re like us and have several PCs and you need all of them synchronised with the same emails that you’ve both received AND sent?

In that case you need IMAP.

How IMAP differs from POP3 is that the email messages are all left on the server. And when you send an email, that gets stored on the server too. If you flag an email, then the flag gets set on the server against that email.

The beauty of this is that if you sit down on your laptop and send an email, then later sit at another PC that’s been set up with the same email account, the second PC will connect to the email server and download your SENT message as well as any new received ones. So both machines are synchronised with the same emails.

All the email messages remain on the server so that if you sit down at a third PC that’s also been set up with the same email account, it will again download all the messages and so you then have all three PCs synchronised.

This is very cool in my opinion.

Even if you only have one PC, IMAP is a much better way of handling your email. If your only PC ever fails and you end up with a corrupted hard drive, you don’t lose your emails. They’re all on the server.

So then all you have to do is fit a new hard drive or buy a new PC. When you set the email account up again on your new system, it gets all the messages, and you haven’t lost a thing. You may have to re-create your address book again if you don’t have a backup, but at least you have all the email addresses, because you have all the emails!

The downside for ISPs is that they have to store all of your emails all of the time on the hard drives of their servers. And they don’t want to do it. So they don’t advertise IMAP at all. They want your emails off their server and on your PC ASAP.

Like I said at the beginning, some ISPs don’t even support IMAP. But if you have your own seperately paid for web server with cPanel, it usually comes with IMAP pre-set up, and all you have to do is connect to it.

There are other benfits to IMAP too, such as the ability to drag and drop emails between accounts, just like you do with folders on your desktop.

Why don’t you go and take a look now to see if you can use IMAP? You never know it might be your lucky day.