Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is one of the core methods of retrieving and storing email. Unlike POP, IMAP stores your email on the server, allowing access from multiple devices.
Post Office Protocol (POP) stores messages on the server until deleted, usually 30 days, the messages are then saved to your comptuter.
We are moving our clients to IMAP, it is a better technology. Its advantages over POP include:
Multiple clients simultaneously connected to the same mailbox
The POP protocol requires the currently connected client to be the only client connected to the mailbox. In contrast, the IMAP protocol specifically allows simultaneous access by multiple clients and provides mechanisms for clients to detect changes made to the mailbox by other, concurrently connected, clients.
Access to MIME message parts and partial fetch
Usually all Internet e-mail is transmitted in MIME format, allowing messages to have a tree structure where the leaf nodes are any of a variety of single part content types and the non-leaf nodes are any of a variety of multipart types. The IMAP4 protocol allows clients to retrieve any of the individual MIME parts separately and also to retrieve portions of either individual parts or the entire message. These mechanisms allow clients to retrieve the text portion of a message without retrieving attached files or to stream content as it is being fetched.
Message state information
Through the use of flags defined in the IMAP4 protocol, clients can keep track of message state: for example, whether or not the message has been read, replied to, or deleted. These flags are stored on the server, so different clients accessing the same mailbox at different times can detect state changes made by other clients. POP provides no mechanism for clients to store such state information on the server so if a single user accesses a mailbox with two different POP clients (at different times), state information—such as whether a message has been accessed—cannot be synchronized between the clients. The IMAP4 protocol supports both predefined system flags and client-defined keywords. System flags indicate state information such as whether a message has been read. Keywords, which are not supported by all IMAP servers, allow messages to be given one or more tags whose meaning is up to the client.
Multiple mailboxes on the server
IMAP4 clients can create, rename, and/or delete mailboxes (usually presented to the user as folders) on the server, and copy messages between mailboxes. Multiple mailbox support also allows servers to provide access to shared and public folders. The IMAP4 Access Control List (ACL) Extension (RFC 4314) may be used to regulate access rights.
IMAP4 provides a mechanism for a client to ask the server to search for messages meeting a variety of criteria. This mechanism avoids requiring clients to download every message in the mailbox in order to perform these searches.