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What is IMAP?

David White
David White

More people today are traveling more than ever before. This is certainly true of businesspeople, who, with the help of laptops and PDAs and mobile phones, can take their work with them easily. Even email is easy to transport, thanks to modern technology that creates email access even on mobile phones.

This kind of email access would not be possible without Internet Message Access Protocol, or IMAP. This kind of technology enables people to send and receive email via a central server, without having to maintain email on a certain device. IMAP is especially valuable for travelers who might have an email "home base" of a desktop computer at their home or office but wish to access email while on the road.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

The principle behind IMAP is that a client's email is stored on a central server. The client can then access a copy of the email on his or her personal device. Even emails sent from that personal device are routed through the central server, which keeps a record of them. Some email programs might require changing settings to make this possible, but IMAP certainly gives people an option. Many popular websites offer IMAP-based email as part of a Web "membership." Some of the most well-known of these are Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. Each of these providers offers Web-based email that can be accessed via any Internet connection and facilitates Web-based functionality using IMAP.

IMAP certainly saves people the hassle of having to keep track of all emails on one computer. People who travel a lot especially enjoy the accessibility and functionality of IMAP. Personal devices like mobile phones might not be able to display certain attachments to various email messages, but many people will accept that trade-off for the ease of email access while on the road.

Another benefit of IMAP for clients is that they don't have to worry about storage space for all those email messages. Especially for people who send and respond to hundreds of email messages a day, this is a handy feature, since the central server stores the email messages within its memory system. An even more significant benefit is that a Web-based IMAP provider will also be responsible for the bandwidth and other costs related to providing that email functionality. Individual clients might have to pay a certain fee as a result, but this is not always the case.

Discussion Comments


If I see an imap, with an ip address, is that when my email has been accessed by my mobile device?


Why do I keep getting the message imap has stopped working, or imap has severed the connection?


"Another benefit of IMAP for clients is that they don't have to worry about storage space for all those email messages."

This has nothing to do with IMAP, and everything to do with the particular policies of a few of the big players who happen to offer IMAP. A mail host who limits the size of your POP mailbox will typically also limit the size of your IMAP mailbox. This is actually more limiting, since IMAP mailboxes are presumably designed to offer longer-term storage, while POP mailboxes are designed to be emptied regularly.


@BelugaWhale - Some IMAP servers have convenient features that allow you to flip through mail quickly. The GMail IMAP server in specific will allow you to search through all your previous (and sometimes current) e-mails in order to find a specific note or letter for quick reference. This is a great feature to have with an IMAP Server because it can really save you if you have to find information in a pinch.


GMail IMAP settings allow you to access your e-mail as long as it's in there. In some cases, some IMAP servers won't allow you to keep over a certain amount in your box on a "free" account (like Yahoo!). This can be a good and bad thing as it will never allow you to have so much mail or information in your In-box that you don't know where to begin searching.


IMAP is an especially convenient feature of mail servers because it allows you to access past e-mails and such. For instance, if you need a reference for a business meeting, you can just go to your GMail IMAP server and find that e-mail for quick reference rather than having to call someone up on the other side of the country - or worse, the world.

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