What is IMAP and How is It Used

Ever wondered how your emails magically stay in sync across all your devices? Well, you can thank IMAP for that! IMAP, which stands for Internet Message Access Protocol, is the unsung hero of modern email communication.

In this article, we’ll take a friendly and approachable dive into the world of IMAP to understand what it is and how it works its magic.

Imagine you receive an important email on your laptop but need to leave in a hurry. With IMAP, you can effortlessly pick up where you left off on your phone while on the go.

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No more searching for emails or struggling to keep them organized manually. It’s like having your very own email assistant!

Let’s unravel the mystery of IMAP and uncover its key role in simplifying our digital lives.

Understanding the Basics

What is IMAP?

Firstly, let’s address our primary question, “what is IMAP?” The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is a standard protocol email clients use to retrieve messages from a mail server.

A distinctive feature of IMAP is that it allows you to access your email messages from multiple devices such as your desktop, tablet, or mobile phone, because the messages are stored on a remote server – the email server – rather than downloaded to your local machine.

An IMAP server receives your requests and sends messages to your device. If you make changes in your email account, like moving or deleting an email, the IMAP protocol will ensure these changes are reflected on all your devices, since the actions are performed on the email server.

The Role of SMTP in Email Communication

The SMTP server has a distinct function from IMAP. The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is a standard protocol for email sending, which works hand in hand with IMAP.

When you send an email, your email client uses SMTP to forward the email to the recipient’s mail server. The SMTP workflow involves several SMTP commands, which ensure your email is delivered to mail servers at the recipient’s address correctly.

While the default SMTP port is port 25, for secure connections (SMTPS), the default port is 465. SMTP authentication methods, including LOGIN, PLAIN, and CRAM-MD5, ensure secure email sending. On the other hand, the default IMAP port is 143, and the secure IMAP port (IMAPS) is 993.

The Interplay of POP3, IMAP, and SMTP

Another protocol you need to be familiar with is the Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3). POP3 and IMAP are both protocols for retrieving email messages from an email server to an email client. However, there are significant differences when comparing IMAP vs POP3.

POP3 downloads email messages from the email servers from the server to the local client. Once the download is completed, the email messages are usually deleted from the email server, meaning you can only access your emails from a single device. On the contrary, IMAP syncs with the email server, enabling you to view your emails across multiple devices.

When considering POP3 vs IMAP, one’s choice largely depends on how they use their email. If you frequently switch between devices to check your emails, IMAP will be a more suitable choice. However, if you prefer to keep your email on your local computer and only use one device to access your mail, POP3 might work for you.

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For sending emails, regardless of whether you’re using IMAP or POP3, SMTP is employed how many messages. Therefore, POP3, IMAP, and SMTP work together in email communication.

Remember to sign up for Mailarrow, our cold email outreach software, to make the most of your email communications.

Diving Deeper into Email Protocols

Understanding How IMAP Works

Now that we’ve touched on what is IMAP and its counterparts, let’s look at how IMAP works. When an email client establishes a TCP connection with an IMAP server, the client connects to the server by sending outgoing server a username and password for authentication.

The IMAP server then checks the credentials and, if correct, establishes the IMAP connection with mail client. The client can then perform various operations such as fetching, deleting, or searching for email messages. If the client disconnects or the IMAP session is terminated, the server updates the email account to reflect all the changes made during the session.

IMAP and SMTP: Can They Work Together?

If you’re wondering, “Is IMAP and SMTP the same thing?” the answer is no. IMAP and SMTP are not the same; they are two different protocols used for distinct functions within the email process. However, they can and do work together seamlessly in email communications.

To explain, think of IMAP as a post office worker who sorts and organizes your mail into different folders, while your SMTP client is the mail carrier who delivers your outgoing emails to their respective recipients. Both protocols work in tandem to ensure smooth email communication.

Comparing IMAP vs POP3

The significant difference between IMAP and POP3 lies in how they handle email messages. With IMAP, the email messages stay on the server, and you can access them from multiple devices. Every action you take (like reading, deleting, or moving emails) gets synchronized across all devices. This feature is particularly beneficial if you use various devices to check your mail.

On the other hand, POP3 downloads your emails from the server to your local machine. Therefore, actions taken in one device will not reflect on others. In other words, if you delete an email on your computer, it will still appear as unread on your email offline your mobile phone.

Also, the IMAP protocol supports more advanced features than POP3, such as saving drafts on the server, flagging messages for follow-up, and creating server-side rules for organizing mail. These differences can be crucial when considering IMAP vs POP3 for your email account.

Remember, with Mailarrow, our cold email outreach software, you can efficiently manage your email outreach campaigns regardless of the email protocol you’re using.

Email Protocol’s Impact on Email Clients

How the Choice of Email Protocol Impacts Your Email Client

Most email clients, including Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Apple Mail, support both IMAP and POP3. Depending on your preference, you can set up your email account using either protocol.

The choice between IMAP vs POP3 will affect how you interact with your emails. If you want to access your emails from your multiple accounts and devices, and enjoy features like server-side search and synchronizing email folders across devices, you should choose IMAP.

However, if you prefer to store your emails on your local computer, and if having access to your emails offline is more important to you, then you should choose POP3.

The Role of Default Ports in Email Protocols

Port numbers are essential in computer networks as they allow for connections to be made between devices. The default port for SMTP is 25, and the default ports for IMAP and POP3 are 143 and 110, respectively.

However, these default ports are usually used for unencrypted internet connections only. Encrypted connections use different port numbers: SMTPS (secure SMTP) uses port 465 or 587, IMAPS (secure IMAP) uses port 993, and POP3S (secure POP3) uses port 995.

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These port numbers are not just random figures; they play a crucial role in network security. When you configure your email client or server, ensure that you use the correct port number for the protocol you’re setting up.

Final Thoughts

Email protocols like IMAP, SMTP, and POP3 are like unseen engines, powering our everyday digital communication. They each play unique roles, working together seamlessly to ensure our messages are delivered, received, and organized the way we want them. Whether you use Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, or another email client, understanding these protocols will help you make the most of your email experience.

Remember, our cold email outreach software, Mailarrow, is designed to simplify and enhance your email communication, especially for business purposes. Sign up today to get started!


What is IMAP on my email account?

IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, is a standard protocol used by email clients to retrieve messages from a mail server. When you set up your email account with IMAP, your email client syncs with the server, allowing you to view and manage your emails from multiple devices. The changes you make to send messages are updated in real-time on the server and are visible from any device.

How do I find out what my IMAP is?

You can find your IMAP settings in the account settings or preferences menu of your email client or service. For services like Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook.com, you can find these settings on their respective help or support pages online.

Do I have an IMAP account?

If you have an email account and use an email client to access it, chances are, you’re using either IMAP or POP3. To find out whether you have an IMAP account, check your account settings in your email client. The protocol used will typically be listed there.

What is IMAP and why it is used?

IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, is used to retrieve email messages from a mail server. It’s used because it allows you to access your email messages from multiple devices since the messages are stored on the server. Any changes you make are updated on the server and reflected on all your devices.

What is my SMTP for my email?

SMTP, or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, is the standard protocol your email client uses to send emails through the email server. The SMTP settings for your email can usually be found in your email client’s account settings. For popular email services like Gmail or Yahoo, you can also find these details on their help pages online.

Serge Shlykov is the founder of Mailarrow. Rotterdam Business School graduate and a long-time software engineer he has been running his own agency and SaaS business before realizing how many people are struggling with cold email outreach. This made him create Mailarrow, the cold email outreach software that helps you build great relationships at scale. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn

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