IMAP, POP, Webmail? What does it all mean?

You may have many options when it comes to how you want to setup your email accounts. Below is a description of your options and why you might want to choose one option over another.

To begin with, there are two “protocols” to choose from. It is important to understand them in order to understand your options:


Post Office Protocol (POP) means that all of your email is downloaded from your Internet Service Provider to your own personal computer and (usually) deleted from the server. If you created folders in your email program, those folders are only accessible on your own personal computer.


Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) means that all of your email is saved on your Internet Service Provider’s servers. If you are using IMAP, you can run an email program at home and an email program at work and both programs will access the same set up messages and folders. If you only use webmail to check your mail, your are using IMAP.

In addition to protocol, there are two main categories of programs you can use to read your email:

Desktop clients

Common “desktop” email clients include Mozilla Thunderbird, Mac Mail, Kmail and Outlook. These are all programs that are installed on your personal computer. With these programs, you can either use the IMAP or POP protocol.

Webmail clients

In addition, people often use “webmail” clients, such as SquirrelMail or Horde/IMP. These are all programs that you access by opening a web browser and going to a particular web page to read your email.

So how do I choose?

Below are three scenarios common to activists. Most likely, one scenario will make sense to you. If not, feel free to contact support with more questions.

  • The simple life. Using webmail is the simplest way to deal with your email. You can check your email from any computer on the Internet. No worries about installing the right software or having the right settings or having your computer crash and lose all your email. If you use webmail, then life is easy.
  • Sometimes the simple life is not enough. Some people use their email very intensely. For example, they might want to keep gigabytes and gigabytes of email messages in their own archive (this is very slow and draining on our servers if you do this with webmail). Or they may regularly search their email boxes for messages, or require special filtering abilities, or want to have their email in the same program as their calendar or contact lists. Other people might be accustomed to a particular email program and want to continue using it. If you are one of these people, you will not be well served by webmail and may prefer instead to use a desktop email program like Thunderbird that is configured to use “POP” to download all your messages to your own personal computer.
  • Having your cake and eating it too. Some people want it all. That’s why IMAP was invented. If you usually use the same computer and you prefer your desktop email program, but sometimes you want to access all of your email using webmail, then you should consider using your desktop email program configured for IMAP. This was you can continue using your email program and access all your email via webmail. The only downside is that you will need to periodically clean out your email messages so that they do not overwhelm our servers.
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