IMAP Email Services
Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is something that you're probably very familiar with but that you have no idea about. IMAP is an Internet service for email. If you use one of the large email services on the Internet, you probably have used an IMAP service at some point. The other dominant email service is POP3, which has some significant differences with IMAP. As Internet connections have become faster and more common, IMAP email access has become more popular. The decreasing cost of storage space for servers has also played into this popularity.
The Basics of IMAP Email
IMAP allows you to access your emails directly on the email server. You write, delete, manipulate, and do everything else to these emails live. If you're using a POP3 server, you actually download the emails to your local machine before you do anything to them. In the case of a POP3 server, you only send and receive your emails through the server. Because of this arrangement, both of these protocols have some advantages and disadvantages.
The primary advantage of the IMAP email system is that you can access your email from anywhere in the world. You don't have to worry about being away from your machine if you need a copy of an email for some reason. Of course, this was always one of the biggest ironies about the computer world. People could get information superfast and anywhere they needed it but, in some cases, that information ended up being bound to one computer and impossible to access from other places. IMAP makes it possible to avoid having this problem.
IMAP email service also has the advantage of not using up the hard disk space on your personal computer to store emails. For some users, this is a huge problem. Particularly if you have an email server that is plagued by spam and an email account that gets a huge amount of volume every day, storing email on your own system may become a problem. To avoid this, the IMAP system allows you to have your email stored on the server.
POP3 wouldn't still be around if it didn't have some advantages over the IMAP system. The primary disadvantage of the IMAP system is the fact that you cannot access your email if the server goes down or if Internet connectivity is not available. This means that you could end up in a situation where you have absolutely no access to needed information rather than being inconvenienced by not having access to an email that is stored on your local hard drive.
The other big disadvantage of IMAP is that server space has to be allocated for email accounts. If you have a POP3 email account, you download the emails and, once they are off the server, your storage box takes up no more space. With an IMAP server, all of your email remains on the server, so you have to have some control over how much users are able to store on it.
Doing an email search on an IMAP server is sometimes a bit slower, since you have to wait for the transaction to be completed online. Doing an email search on your local hard drive is usually quite a bit quicker and, because all of your email is archived on your hard drive, you have access to whatever you need. Whether or not an IMAP server is the right solution for you depends upon how you use the system. You can do everything on either system, from an email search to filtering spam to looking at attachments, but some users find either POP3 or IMAP to be the perfect solution for their needs.