Internet Message Access Protocol

Don’t ever worry about Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) again! Here’s all about IMAP.

What is IMAP?

IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, is one of the two most popular web-based email protocols (the other one is POP3). Basically, it is an email protocol which is used to retrieve emails which are sent by the client and then stored on the mail server. The bottom line is IMAP retrieves emails from the mail server. In fact, the end-user can view and manipulate messages as though they were stored locally on his or her computer(s). This lets users organize messages into folders, track read messages across multiple client applications available out there, save draft messages, and organize messages by department. The majority of IMAP software implementations support multiple logins; this allows end users to access the server simultaneously from multiple devices. It is possible, for example, for the end-user to connect to the mail server using both his iPhone outlook app and his pc’s Gmail app simultaneously. This is an advantage of IMAP that POP3 doesn’t have. A client uses Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) to access emails on a server. Therefore, IMAP allows access to the email regardless of the device or location.

IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol) is also sometimes referred to as Interim Mail Access Protocol or Interactive Mail Access Protocol.

Historical timeline and standards for IMAP:

IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol) was introduced by Mark Crispin at Stanford University in 1986 as a substitute for POP. In terms of functionality, IMAP is a two-way protocol that provides enhanced functionality to the user. In a few days, IMAP was updated to allow tagging commands and responses.

After several iterations prior to the current version, VERSION 4rev1 (IMAP4) is what we have today!

It was IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol) version 2, which was defined as an internet standard in RFC 1064, published in July 1988, that was the first version of IMAP to be published. It was updated in RFC 1176, August 1990, retaining the same version. Therefore, IMAP3 was created as a new document version 3. However, the market did not accept IMAP3, so people continued using IMAP2.

Later, an extension called IMAPbis was created to support Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME). Thanks to the MIME’s great usefulness, this was considered a very vital development. In spite of these facts, IMAPbis was not at all published as an RFC. Perhaps this is caused by IMAP3 problems. Version 4 of IMAP, or IMAP4, was issued in December 1994 as part of two RFC requests, namely RFC 1730, which describes the protocol and RFC 1731, which describes the authentication mechanism for IMAP 4. As we mentioned earlier, IMAP 4 is what we use today.

Since IMAP was designed to allow a user to manage a single email account from multiple email clients, users generally don’t delete messages until the user specifies that they should be deleted. IMAP is supported by almost all modern e-mail clients and servers. There are many webmail service providers that support both IMAP and POP3. For example, Gmail, outlook, AOL mail, Zoho mail, Fastmail and many more.

What are the features of IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol)?

  • IMAP’s first and foremost feature is its ability to access and retrieve mail from a remote server. The user is allowed to access the mail from the remote server while it is retained on the remote server.
  • The user can also create the hierarchy by creating different folders based on the importance of the messages.
  • Email management on the server: POP3 users are not allowed to manage their emails on the server. Alternatively, in IMAP the users can manage their email on the server based on their needs for example, they can delete, rename or create new mailboxes.
  • Before downloading the mail, it determines whether to retrieve the information from the mail server.
  • You can download a particular portion of your message, such as a body part using mime-multi. It can be useful when a message contains large multimedia files included in the short-text element.
  • By setting up message flags, users can keep track of which messages have already been seen.
  • Multi-mailbox management: The user might manage multiple mailboxes and can transfer messages between them. To make things easier for users who are working on a variety of projects, user can organize them into various categories.
  • Users can search for email contents through the search feature.
  • Examine Email headers: Users can also read the email headers before downloading.

Working of IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol):

The IMAP protocol is based on a client/server paradigm. There is an IMAP client on one side, which runs on the computer. On the other hand, we also have another computer running an IMAP server. There is a network connecting both computers.

IMAP uses the reliability of the TCP/IP transport layer because it resides at this layer. In order to establish a TCP connection between IMAP client and server, the server listens by default to port 143, but this can be changed if necessary.

In IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol), two ports are used by default:

143: This is an unencrypted, non-secure IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol) port.

993: IMAP clients connecting through this port will receive a secure connection.

A simple working example will definitely help you to understand how IMAP works. So let’s understand it with the help of an example as follows.

As we know syncing all devices with the server is achieved by using the IMAP protocol. Consider the scenario where there are three devices: a desktop computer, a mobile phone, and a laptop. All these devices will be synchronized with each other if they share the same mailbox. The synchronization of the email clients means when one device opens the mail, all other devices will recognize that the mail has been opened, and if the mail is deleted, then it will be deleted from all devices. Thus, all devices are in sync. When we use IMAP, we can see every necessary folder such as inbox, sent, span, etc. As well as creating our own custom folder, this will also be visible on all the other devices

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol)?

As said Well, everything comes with its own set of pros and cos. Thus, below are listed some of the upside and downside of IMAP.

Among the advantages are:

  • The user will be able to maintain synchronization across all his sessions.
  • IMAP is more secure than POP3 because the email exists exclusively on the IMAP server.
  • The contents of the system can be accessed remotely by users.
  • It has an easy migration feature since the server syncs the data on all the devices.
  • Contents need not be physically stored. Hence physical storage is not required

The following disadvantages exist:

  • IMAP requires a lot of complex maintenance.
  • Emails from a user are available only when they are connected to the internet.
  • The loading of messages is slower.
  • IMAP isn’t supported by some emails, so they are difficult to manage.

Which one should you choose IMAP4 OR POP3?

Well, IMAP4 and POP3 are the two most popular email protocols today. Essentially both protocols are used to receive mail message from the mail server. As both protocols perform same kind of function, to compare these protocols and decide which one is better to use in which scenarios is justified. The very first difference between IMAP4 and POP3 is that in IMAP user can move or delete the message even before downloading it on his/her computer. While in POP3, user can take actions only if the message is downloaded on local pc.

In IMAP, it is possible to download only the mail body without downloading all the attachment stuff while in POP3, downloading the entire message including the attachments is the only option left. In IMAP if any changes are made in mail box from one device, the changes are automatically reflected in your other devices containing the mail services. This is because IMAP syncs all your devices regardless of their geographical location. On the other hand, in POP3 changes can be made only after downloading the message due to which the changes remain solely on your single device. In POP3 we can access message only from single device which indeed is the biggest downside of it.

All the mails are retained on the mail server even after you download it on your local pc. This is a feature offered by Internet Message Access Protocol. But this is not the case with Post Office Protocol. In POP3, the mails are removed from the mail server as soon as they are downloaded on your computer. So, in case, your device crashes then the mail couldn’t be retrieved as they no longer exist on mail server. Hence IMAP is considered more useful when it comes to backups. Also, in POP3 you can view only inbox messages while in IMAP messages of all folder can be viewed.

The majority of users prefer IMAP(Internet Message Access Protocol) to POP. Reason being in POP3, there is only one folder you can download on your computer, the Inbox. Emails downloaded with POP are then deleted from mail server once they have been downloaded. In IMAP, Email messages can be quickly looked at by viewing the subject and body. You can sync your folder information between your computer, and your phone, so that you receive the same email service anywhere and whenever you need it.

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