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What is an Incoming Mail Server?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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In order to handle email uniformly across networks like the Internet, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) was designed and is the standard protocol used for email exchange. At the server level, SMTP is responsible for both sending and receiving email between relay hosts that route the mail through the network to its destination. At the client (user) level, most people associate SMTP with sending mail only, and the address of the outgoing mail server is often smtp.[thedomain].com. The incoming mail server address, however, might be named after a retrieval protocol, such as Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3), pop3.[thedomain].com, or Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), imap.[thedomain].com.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) commonly provide its customers with a POP3 address. Authentication is required to collect mail from an incoming mail server and takes the form of the email address and associated password. This might be a proprietary password used just for mail, or the password assigned to the account. Only one client can access a POP3 mailbox at a time, and once mail is collected, it is automatically deleted off the server.

While POP3 is efficient, it isn’t always handy. The IMAP protocol allows mail retrieval from the server while leaving copies behind. This is convenient for people who collect mail from multiple clients or locations. For example, using IMAP, the user can collect personal email while at work to keep up to date on things, then can delete it off the work machine and collect it again from home to reply. The home email client can then be configured to delete the mail off the server.

Those who use personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, and other personal electronics with email access and IMAP support will also appreciate being able to check mail without having the process delete the mail from the server. Though some mail can be quickly answered using a thumb keypad, longer replies are more conveniently typed from a standard computer at a later time. Using the IMAP protocol, mail on the incoming mail server can also be tagged or flagged to indicate various states or conditions. For example, collected mail can be tagged as having been read.

POP3 is most often associated with ISP mail service, while IMAP is typically used by Web-based email services. IMAP flexibility can be used with most POP3 accounts, however by utilizing an IMAP-supported email client. Most popular email clients today support both POP3 and IMAP protocols.

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Discussion Comments
By anon957087 — On Jun 18, 2014

I still don't understand what a incoming mail server is.

By anon269891 — On May 20, 2012

With all due respect this explains to people who already know and won't be looking. What we need is an explanation written by a teacher. I do not doubt that the author understands it. That is not why they are here. They wish to understand it and this requires a much more unambiguous explanation.

I have read the above, I know for a fact I am well above average intelligence, but I still cannot figure one account when I successfully did four others fifteen years ago! I have no problem understanding the explanation once it's given.There is an honest attempt to communicate here and I recognize this, but an abysmal failure. Use language people understand!

By bagwanday — On Feb 02, 2011

I still do not know what an incoming server is.

By anon135815 — On Dec 20, 2010

Yeah, how do I know which server my pc uses?

By anon111354 — On Sep 16, 2010

How do i know which server my pc uses?

By Burlap — On Jul 14, 2010

There are settings in most email client applications that will allow you to choose whether or not your messages are kept on the remote mail server. If you select the proper options then you can actually fetch your messages on multiple computers and different locations without having them deleted.

These settings can usually be accessed through the applications preferences or account options.

By alms — On Aug 20, 2009

Incoming and outgoing mail servers are used by providers such as yahoo or hotmail to provide you with emails you receive or send out. The emails you see are actually on a server, and not on your hard drive. That is why you can see your emails from any PC you log into. When you create an account with one of these providers, space is created for you to receive emails.

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