Email Protocols: IMAP, POP3, SMTP and HTTP
Basicaly, a protocol is about a standard method used at each end of a communication channel, in order to properly transmit information. In order to deal with your email you must use a mail client to access a mail server. The mail client and mail server can exchange information with each other using a variety of protocols.
IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) – Is a standard protocol for accessing e-mail from your local server. IMAP is a client/server protocol in which e-mail is received and held for you by your Internet server. As this requires only a small data transfer this works well even over a slow connection such as a modem. Only if you request to read a specific email message will it be downloaded from the server. You can also create and manipulate folders or mailboxes on the server, delete messages etc.
see also IMAP.org
The POP (Post Office Protocol 3) protocol provides a simple, standardized way for users to access mailboxes and download messages to their computers.see also POP3 Description (RFC)
When using the POP protocol all your eMail messages will be downloaded from the mail server to your local computer. You can choose to leave copies of your eMails on the server as well. The advantage is that once your messages are downloaded you can cut the internet connection and read your eMail at your leisure without incuring further communication costs. On the other hand you might have transferred a lot of message (including spam or viruses) in which you are not at all interested at this point.
The SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) protocol is used by the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) to deliver your eMail to the recipient's mail server. The SMTP protocol can only be used to send emails, not to receive them. Depending on your network / ISP settings, you may only be able to use the SMTP protocol under certain conditions (see incoming and outgoing mail servers
see also SMTP RFC
The HTTP protocol is not a protocol dedicated for email communications, but it can be used for accessing your mailbox. Also called web based email, this protocol can be used to compose or retrieve emails from an your account. Hotmail is a good example of using HTTP as an email protocol.
Back to the Email Tips Index.