Rackspace Business Productivity Rx: POP or IMAP


If you use an email app (such as Outlook), you’ve probably seen these acronyms before. And if you’re like most people, they can make your head spin.

But once you understand the difference between POP and IMAP, it can actually revolutionize the way you use email—and it can help turn your Inbox into an effective productivity tool.

Let’s break it down . . .

When someone sends you an email, it’s stored on a mail server. You can access this new email one of two ways:

POP – Using your email app (Outlook, etc.), you can download your email to your computer, and then delete it from the server.


+ You don’t need to worry about running out of online storage space. Since you’re downloading your emails to your computer, you can keep as many emails as your computer can store.

+ You will need an Internet connection to download email, but you can manage your downloaded email offline (i.e., without an Internet connection).


– Since your email is stored on your computer, you must be at that computer to manage your email. This prevents you from managing email on-the-road or from your mobile device.

– You will need to implement an effective backup system for your computer, in case you need to retrieve lost or deleted emails.

Is POP the best productivity choice for you?

If you always access your email from one computer, and you have limited online storage capacity or use a dial-up connection, POP is probably best for you. It will save you the hassle of worrying about online storage limits or poor connection speeds. Just be sure you back up your computer regularly.

* By default, POP will download and then delete all email in your mail server’s Inbox; however, most email apps will give you the option of keeping email on the mail server, if you prefer.

IMAP – Using your email app (Outlook, etc.), you can manage your email directly on the mail server, rather than downloading it to your computer.


+ Since the emails are stored on the mail server, you can access and manage your email and email folders from multiple computers or mobile devices.

+ Email is automatically backed up; so, if you accidentally delete an email, your email administrator can retrieve it.


– If you have limited online storage space, you may need to delete some emails periodically to avoid exceeding your storage capacity.

– If your Internet connection becomes unavailable, you cannot access your email offline.

Is IMAP the best productivity choice for you?

If you need to access your email and email folders from multiple computers and/or a mobile device, IMAP is best for you. Your email will be centrally located on the mail server, so you can access it directly from any Internet connection.

* By default, email apps store your sent, draft, and trash email on your computer, rather than storing it on the email server (as it should with an IMAP connection); however, most apps give you the option of using your online Sent, Drafts, and Trash folders instead.

Regardless of whether you choose POP or IMAP, you can continue to use your favorite email app—such as Outlook, Thunderbird, etc. And you can always access your email directly from the email server via your email provider’s webmail app. (I love our Rackspace Webmail app so much, I don’t even bother using Outlook anymore! I get all the benefits of IMAP, from any computer or device, without the hassle of software setup. It’s a win-win.)

Rackspace Email customers: Check out our Email & Outlook Setup site for step-by-step directions for setting up a POP or IMAP connection. Or go to http://apps.rackspace.com/ to log into the mail server directly via Webmail.

Rackspace Hosted Exchange customers: You don’t even need to bother with POP and IMAP. Check out our Email & Outlook Setup page to set up Outlook, Entourage, Mac Mail, or your mobile device to access the Exchange server directly. Or go to https://outlook.rackspace.com/ to log into the Exchange server directly via Outlook Web Access.


  1. Great article. One minor, but fairly important point: most email clients I’ve tried caches email messages locally when using IMAP. Hence, I’d say that the offline availability is non-issue.

    There’s an article over at the YippieMove blog that talks about POP3 and IMAP, but also includes other common acronyms you run into with email, such as SMTP and MAPI. The article is called “Email 101—An introduction to email under the hood” and is available here:


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