Written by Daniel Fletcher Category: eMail
Published on 07 October 2011
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POP3

POP is an acronym for Post Office Protocol.  POP was one of the original methods of retrieving email from one’s mailbox and is perhaps the most widely used.  It provides a means of retrieving messages from the mailbox on the server and download them to the local computer as a batch, one by one.  The messages are then typically stored on the local computer and removed from the mailbox on the server.  This type of email is usually used with an email client program, such as Outlook, Thunderbird, or Eudora, among others.

Advantages:

- Provides quick access to one’s mailbox

- Email is downloaded to the local computer, allowing full control over storage and organization of the messages

- Increases privacy by not keeping all email at a server out in internet land, subject to hacking

- Promotes offline access to all previously retrieved messages, reducing the load on servers

Disadvantages:

- Generally, once email had been retrieved, the messages must be accessed on that machine only.  This limitation can be overcome by combining additional services.

IMAP

IMAP is an acronym for Internet Message Access Protocol.  The latest version is IMAP4. This protocol provides an interactive means of manipulating messages stored at the mail server using a client program.   The actual messages are stored in the inbox at the home server.  One can view and delete messages from the inbox, and leave the rest there.  Messages are typically not downloaded to the local computer, but rather are left there on the server.

Advantages:

- Provides a means of accessing a mailbox from more than one device while seeing the same contents from each device

Disadvantages

- All mail is left on the server, making it susceptible to being read by third parties

- The mailbox may become full, causing additional messages to be returned to the sender

- Less control over the organization of messages

Webmail

Webmail is essentially an interactive middleman that provides access to a mailbox on the server, but using a web browser.  All email is kept at the home server and not downloaded to the local computer.  Webmail is not a protocol in itself, but rather an interface that typically uses either the POP or IMAP protocols to access the mailbox in the background and present the mailbox contents to the user.  Popular webmail access services include Hotmail and Gmail, although a lot of service providers now also provide a webmail interface for their users, using such interfaces as Squirrelmail, Horde, etc.

Advantages:

- Provides access to one’s mailbox from any PC with internet access and a web browser

Disadvantages:

- Webmail from service providers is stored “out there” and subject to hacking and reading by third parties

- Most webmail service providers are US based and as such are subject by the Patriot Act to hand over all mailbox content to the “authorities”

- Most webmail service providers sustain their business operation by embedding/showing advertising along with the mailbox contents.  Gmail’s advertising is further targeted by an automated process that “reads” the message content.

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