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EMAIL: POP3, IMAP, and Exchange – What is the difference?

We’ve all by confronted by these different types of email accounts whether you were setting up emails on your mobile device or in Outlook. Let us have a look at the difference between POP3, IMAP, and Exchange email types.


The Post Office Protocol (POP) dates back a couple of years already and was originally designed in 1984. It was created in a time when computers did not have permanent internet connections and therefore were used to download your emails from the mail server or “POP” your mail from the server, as the IT guys will say when you have an internet connection.

It works very simple. Your service provides collects your email in a POP mailbox. When your computer connects to the internet, Outlook (or other email software like Mail for MAC or Thunderbird) will connect to your mailbox, authorize your email address and password and download your emails to your local computer. The server does not keep a copy of your email or a backup for later use.

Yes, you can set your devices to “leave a copy” on the server but this becomes really complicated when you have more than one device. The emails will then download individually to each device, and you will have to read the emails on each device separately. Also, when you send emails, these emails never end up on your mail server but stays only on the device the email was sent from.


The Internet Messaging Access Protocol (IMAP) came in 1986 but still works well in today’s modern world of devices that are permanently connected to the internet.

IMAP stores all email messages on the server and when Outlook connects to the server, it lets you read and even download the messages to your local computer. However, it should never be seen as a backup method to keep your emails safe. IMAP does not sync your folders and sent emails back to the server. This means that when you create a folder in Outlook and move your emails there, this is not replicated back to the server. The same goes for when you send an email.

If you have multiple devices, IMAP can work well for you, but only for your inbox as that is all that gets synchronized.


Microsoft developed the Messaging API (MAPI) not long after IMAP become available and then later changed to Exchange ActiveSync. The possibilities and changes to Microsoft Exchange and nowadays in Microsoft 365 placed Microsoft Exchange in a class of its own.

Microsoft Exchange was originally an email server, hosted on Windows Server at your premises. This way, each computer then connected to the server, where all the email addresses were hosted, and then synchronize the full mailbox to the local computer. This created many other functions like calendar sharing, contact sharing, and even email mailbox sharing as the mailbox will look the same on all devices that it is configured on. Even your folders and sent items got synchronized back to the server. The other advantage was that Administrators only had to back up the Microsoft Exchange server to ensure that the whole company’s email is stored and safe.

Then Microsoft created Microsoft 365 with Exchange Online included. Basically, what they did was to move the onsite Windows Server into the “Cloud” and provide the added function of backing up your emails for you.

If you are a business owner, with employees with more than one device, working remotely and you need more control and peace of mind over your company emails, Microsoft 365 is the route for you. Yes, it is more expensive than POP or IMAP, but the business features and advantages can not be compared with any other email system.

OUTLOOK.COM: is Microsoft’s free email service and is also widely used to create your Microsoft Account for your Family or Personal Microsoft Subscriptions. You cannot change your domain name so you will be with no other options.

It also provides an online mailbox with all the sync features to your local computer and multiple devices, but it is nothing more than just email storage.


Google has two options, the first is Gmail which we are all familiar with and probably have one. Gmail works the same as It provides storage, sync to multiple devices, and is free, but you cannot change the domain name.

The second option is G Suite. G Suite is Google’s version of Microsoft 365 but in my opinion is far from even worth mentioning it in the same sentence. Yes, it has its advantages, and it is a bit cheaper, but I’ve worked with both, and Microsoft 365 is still in a different league.

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