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IMAP Email Keeps You in Sync

IMAP is an Internet protocol designed to enable synchronized access to email from multiple devices and email programs.

IMAP is quite different from the older POP3 (Post Office Protocol v3) mainly because an IMAP compatible email program works directly with email stored on the mail server.

Typically a POP3 compatible email program would download all your mail from the mail server to your computer, and then delete it from the server. This works well enough if you only access your mail from a single device, but if you wanted to access your email from another device, you'd be out of luck as the email would already have been deleted from the server.

In contrast, IMAP compatible email programs work with messages directly on the server. This enables you to access your email from multiple devices, and ensures that you always see a consistent view of your mailbox from all the devices you use to access your email.

How IMAP works

For example, if you use three devices on a regular basis: a smart phone with a 4G Internet connection, a laptop, and a fast desktop computer at home, you can set up the same IMAP account on all these devices. You will be able to access all your email and send mail from any device.

When you delete a message or file it into a different folder using the laptop, the message will be deleted or moved to the new folder on the server, which means that the change will be instantly visible in your mail program on the desktop computer as well as on the phone.

So you always see the same messages in your mail folders, no matter which device you're using.

Useful IMAP tricks

Because IMAP handles messages directly on the server, it can provide a lot of flexibility in managing email. Some handy IMAP tricks include:

  • When you save a draft from the email program on any of your devices, you can call it up on any of the others and continue editing it or send it.

  • When you're away from your computer you can download just the headers of new messages to your mobile phone. Based on the Subject and From lines you can decide to download some complete messages for viewing, and mark others for deletion.

  • You could have your main computer set to automatically check and file email into different folders using rules you've set up before. Email programs for mobile devices don't offer the sophisticated filtering rules available on desktop email programs, so it would make sense to have your computer apply the rules. Thanks to IMAP synchronization, messages filed by your computer will also appear properly sorted into the right folders on your mobile device.

Stay secure

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