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What is IMAP? And How Can it Help Me Manage My Email?

IMAP stands for “Internet Message Access Protocol”. It’s a fancy name for a protocol used by email programs like Outlook, Thunderbird, and others to access your email.

IMAP is an alternative to POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3), works in some fundamentally different ways, and makes a few fundamentally different assumptions.

I’ll examine IMAP, how it compares to POP3, and when you might want to consider using it.

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IMAP: Your messages stay on the server

The biggest single practical difference between IMAP and the older POP3 is that with IMAP, your email is always left on your email service provider’s server.

If your email provider has a limit to how much email can be kept, and you get a lot of email, then IMAP may not be for you.

To put it into perspective: as you might imagine, I get a fair amount of email. The last four years’ worth of email in my personal account uses a little over 40% of the 25 gigabytes of storage provided by Gmail.

Other providers – most notably ISPs – may not be so generous; but then, you may not get multiple gigabytes of email a year like I do. It’s just something to check on.

IMAP: a window into your mail

IMAP creates a master copy of your email stored on the email server. The software you use is just a window: a way of looking at that master repository.

So, when you set up an email program like Thunderbird (or Outlook, or your-favorite-email-program) to access your email via IMAP, or connect your phone or mobile device to your email (which typically also use IMAP) the best way to think of what’s really happening is that the program is simply showing you what’s on the server.

EmailAnd that’s it.

At least, conceptually.

IMAP: but it does download

If it’s only a view of your email that’s kept on the server, why use a desktop email program at all? You can get a view using a web-based interface just as easily.

I did say the windows analogy is conceptually the best way to think of it. As with many things on your computer, the reality is significantly more complex.

For example, your email program may very well actually download a copy of all newly arrived email to your PC. I think of that as an optimization. You’re still looking at your email as it lives on the mail server’s repository, but your email program has optimized the experience by downloading the email so it can be accessed and displayed more quickly.

In fact, email downloaded by IMAP can be examined off-line, if your email program is appropriately configured. And that’s more-or-less just the same as POP3.

But there is one important difference.

IMAP copies; POP3 moves

When IMAP downloads your email, it is copying the email onto your computer. The original email remains in the email server’s master repository of your email; there’s simply a copy of it on your PC for quick and easy access. (Or backup, as we’ll see in a moment.)

When POP3 downloads your email, on the other hand, it moves the email from the email server to your PC. By default, when a download is complete, the email resides only on the PC to which it was downloaded.

This “copy, not move” difference between IMAP and POP3 enable a couple of very interesting things.

IMAP: Use it on as many devices as you like

Since using IMAP is really only a “view” of the master copy of your email stored on a server … you can certainly have more than one computer open up a view.

In fact, if you’ve got a mobile device accessing your email, you might be using IMAP already, as it’s a very common default configuration for mobile email programs.

IMAP

Each program using IMAP to access your email is simply keeping itself in sync with the master copy. So if something happens to the master copy – say an email is deleted, or marked as “read” – then that change will be reflected in all the email programs.

Delete a message here, it’s deleted there. Mark it read there, it’ll show up as read here: cross-device synchronization.

IMAP: did I mention folders?

Unlike POP3, IMAP supports folders.

What that means is that if you create a folder on one machine connected to your email account using IMAP, then that folder becomes visible in all email programs connected to that email account via IMAP.

And, of course, if you move a message into a folder, that message is moved into the folder in all email programs connected to that account.

The only common point of confusion is Gmail. Gmail actually doesn’t support folders at all, but instead provides roughly equivalent functionality through the use of labels. Check out my article How do Gmail labels relate to folders? for more.

IMAP: you can upload

In my opinion, this is an under-appreciated feature of IMAP.

If you place a message in your inbox on a machine that is connected to your email account via IMAP, that message is uploaded and placed in the master copy on the server.

In fact, that’s true for any folder, but the inbox has special significance, I think.

Why?

It’s what most people want to move when they’re changing email providers.

Moving from Yahoo! to Gmail? Set up a PC-based email program with an IMAP connection to each, and simply drag and drop the contents of the old inbox to the new.

Conceptually, it really is nearly that simple.

Using IMAP for backup

Let’s say you access Gmail via the web and only via the web. You have everything you need on any computer you happen to use, simply by logging into your Gmail account.

What about backup?

A machine running a desktop email program connected to your email account via IMAP makes for a great solution.

In fact, that’s exactly what I recommend these days. Most of your email access may be via your email provider’s web interface, but a machine running an email client like Thunderbird, connected to your accounts via IMAP, will download email as it appears.

As a backup.

IMAP: best when fast and connected; POP3: best for slow or intermittent

The POP3 email protocol was developed in the days of dial-up modems and periodic connections.

Connecting to the internet, downloading all your email, and disconnecting was a common way of life, particularly when no one could use the phone while you were connected.

IMAP leverages a faster and more continuous connection to the internet. It’s more or less constantly checking for updates and synchronization needs between your PC and the master email repository.

Both will work in either scenario. POP3 works just fine if you’re always connected on a fast connection, and IMAP works if connectivity is not always be present and synchronization actions need to be deferred until it is.

But if you are always connected and you are on something faster than a dial-up modem, IMAP might well make for a convenient approach to managing your desktop email.

Assuming that your email provider supports it, of course, and gives you enough space.

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80 comments on “What is IMAP? And How Can it Help Me Manage My Email?”

  1. Before using IMAP, I used to have my email programs configured to leave a copy of the email on the server after downloading. This allowed me to have a copy of my emails on all my computers. This wasn’t as flexible as IMAP, as I had to log on to the web interface every so often to clean up unwanted emails, but it did the trick when all I had was dial-up.

  2. Your comment that “When POP3 downloads your email . . ., it moves the email from the . . . server on which it had been stored to your PC. By default, when a download is complete, the email resides only on the PC to which it was downloaded.” may be correct if you change your e-mail client’s default settings, but is incorrect for most e-mail clients. For example, I still use OE on my XP desktop, and by default, the account option “Leave a copy of messages on server” is checked. On my Win 7 laptop, I use Windows Live Mail. Same option is by default checked.

    On all the email clients I’ve ever used – including Outlook Express – the default has always been not to leave the message on the server, and that’s been the default and expected behaviour for POP3 for … well, for decades.

    Leo
    30-Oct-2012

    • This default has changed on newer email clients. Outlook 2010 POP3 default is “Leave mail on server ….. Remove from server after 7 days”. Intended I suppose to let multiple devices have access to the mail before finally deleting. The option can be changed to simply “Leave mail on server” permanently.

  3. I use Thunderbird, but I don’t see how it works as a backup on my desktop computer if it syncs with Gmail. If all my emails on Gmail disappeared, then wouldn’t they disappear in Thunderbird too?

    Yes, if you delete all your email in Gmail, for example, eventually IMAP will sync and delete them locally. What you have, however, is the opportunity to back up the files on your computer (as you should be anyway), so that if you needed to you could restore your Thunderbird mail store as it was prior to the massive delete. That’s not something you can do while the mail resides solely on Google’s servers.

    Leo
    30-Oct-2012
    • You can use Mozbackup to backup your Thunderbird email. That way, if something drastic happens, you can do a restore. You will only lose what has been sent since the last backup. I backup nightly before shutting down my laptop

  4. How can you tell if your email provider is using is using IMAP or POP3 and do you have a choice, or is that up to the provider?

    It’s not what they use, it’s what they provide – it’s up to you to choose which you want to use … if they provide it. You’d check with your mail provider to see what the options are.

    Leo
    30-Oct-2012

  5. you have failed to mention windows live mail. it also downloads the e-mail to your computers you can save it like i do. or delete it. and you can bring other e-mail accounts to..

  6. In my opinion IMAP is over lauded. How many users actually need access from many devices? I will bet you that it is not the majority, MS and many others have somewhat tried to make IMAP the NORM the STANDARD. So everybody is STORING, LEAVING ON THEIR SERVERS, ALL their PRIVATE conversations and EMAILS.
    1. This is big business for MS and other SERVER service providers
    2. It is highly insecure for anybody to leave their private thoughts in any SERVERS. Read well any warnings from MS and any other: THEY DO NOT GUARANTEE YOU ANY SECURITY FOR ANYTHING LEFT ON THEIR SERVERS.
    3. The SPEED FACTOR and THE DOWNLOAD frequency story can be easily offset for instance in MS OUTLOOK by setting up the MAIL VERIFICATION parameter to every 5 mins if you need or even 1 minute if you need.

    I fail to see ANY BENEFIT for IMAP except if you are using many devices: PC in the Office, PC at Home and any other gadget. For all the rest of us who uses one PC or one Device POP3 is a much safer, private protocol.

    I make 100 % sure I do not have any private stuff sitting in any SERVER. My mail, my stuff in my PC that is the only secure way to prevent all kinds of problems with PRIVATE CONTENT, PRIVATE INFORMATION, and PRIVATE CONTACTS.

    Why give a Business Opportunity to MS or any other by loading servers of all kinds of info when it can easily and securely sit on my PC at home?

    Regards,

    Roger

    • Roger, how do I get rid of [IMAP} I don’t know how I even picked it up on my gmail. but I no longer have spam on my GMail and some of my folders have information in them some of it moved to IMAP and I have no need for IMAP as I only have a laptop don’t need all this. Am I able to get rid of IMAP

      • It’s not clear what you mean by “get rid of IMAP”. The comment you are replying to is pretty much an exaggerated conspiracy theory. IMAP is a protocol for synchronizing email in an email program. If you use an email program you use either the IMAP or POP3 protocol. This article goes into more detail about how they work. If you want to “get rid of” IMAP, you can delete the IMAP account and open that email account using the POP3 protocol instead. Otherwise, you can stop using an email program all together and access your email via the web.

      • If you’re seeing folders with the “[IMAP]” in their names, then you’ll may want to CAREFULLY remove those folders, possibly from your Gmail account’s labels as well. BACK UP BACK UP BACK UP so as not to lose email in the process. They exist because somewhere you enabled the IMAP protocol for downloading email and your email program (or Gmail, I’ve seen it too) added [IMAP] to the names. They are benign, so you can also leave them alone.

  7. In my work place, I like to use IMAP because I can keep important business email in server and I don’t have to worry if my laptop totally down. For user side, if using IMAP the user still can access to his/her email if their PC broken. I just give them another PC and they can start to work and access to their email.

  8. I use Gmail which is IMAP because we have very limited bandwidth usage per month. Living in a rural setting, we have only dial up (yuch), satellite, tried that for 10 yrs also yuch, and now wireless via cell tower. Limited to 5GB /month, so downloading all mail is not an option. I say that thinking that looking at Gmail uses less bandwidth than actually downloading it. Please correct me on this point if I am wrong.

  9. Great article! Without realizing it, I have been able to create my own IMAP-like configuration for just the reasons you cite. I did it by setting up my email account at the provider’s website to forward all of my emails to a Gmail account, in addition to having the POP3 account in OE. I have mobile access (Gmail acct on my phone), but I still have access to all my downloaded emails on my PC for those times when I don’t have service. The only problem is that when I reply using Gmail, the reply only exists in Gmail and my PC doesn’t get the copy unless I add myself to the recipients (or reply-all).

  10. Now, I understand differences between these 2 protocols and in the future it will certainly help me in taking the right decision and in giving the good advice to my customers. I appreciate also this advice regarding the copy from Yahoo to Gmail account.

  11. Leo, you imply that your basement Thunderbird a/c downloads, and presumably saves, all your email, but in the rest of your discussion you say that all the email lives on the server. Could you amplify please? I use Gmail exclusively, but via POP and Outlook.

  12. @Austin
    When you use IMAP, the emails remain on the mail server, in this case GMail. Then Thunderbird or whichever email program you use makes a copy on the home computer. So it is available in both locations. You can do the same with Outlook if you use IMAP. You can do something similar in POP3, by changing the Server setting in Outlook to leave mail on server. The difference with IMAP and POP3 is that with IMAP if you delete or move an email on your home computer, it will also delete or move it on the mail server. In other words IMAP syncs your files. POP3 simply downloads the files.

  13. Just one more reason that EUDORA is STILL one of the best email clients around…….I can, by selection which option I choose, allow mail to be saved or deleted from server…..check mail via laptop or cellphone and still have the option of downloading it to your desktop where you can save it all on your own system…..or not…..YOU decide, NOT the software….

    • Lyle
      I was beginning to think I was the only Eudora user on the planet. I have used Eudora for many years and it is easier to configure than most I have ever tried. It has always had IMAP or POP3 to choose from. I have never tried IMAP and after reading this article, never would. I like the option to turn off all of the fancy writing,pictures and such. POP3 I think is the best option for privacy.
      Jack

  14. Leo, thanks for this contribution .. helpful to many im sure..

    but there really aRe ‘privacy/security’ issues in this matter and i wished you had addressed them. Ie, just who ‘owns’ the email when it’s on the server? ..and for how long? .. and when the provider is ‘sold’ on Wall Street, what happens to your stored mail?? If it’d deleted, is it REALLY deleted?? in what timeframe? All of these and more might be of concern to manu users ..

    Perhaps in your next addressing of the IMAP topic you can address these matters?

    thanks
    tkj

    There are no blanket answers to any of those questions. They apply to any data you store on line, not just email, and not just email you access via IMAP. The answers, I’m certain, vary from provider to provider. I would start with the terms of service that you agree to when setting up an account with the provider you’re concerned about.

    Leo
    05-Nov-2012
  15. Leo,
    Thank you for your celar explanation of the function(s) of POP3 and IMAP email applications.

    I want to use Thunderbird (I have used it in the past) for exactly the backup reason you emphasized. However, there is a problem.
    I am running Win 7 Pro on a 128 GB SSD C: drive, where Thunderbird is installed in the Program Files(86) folder.

    Now, under NO circumstances do I want the ‘copies’ of my Gmail messages #I have thousands#, which would be downloaded by Thunderbird, to reside on my C: drive!

    I have 99% of my Windows ‘user’ account folders relocated to my physically seperate D: drive. It makes sense to have the Thunderbird ‘copies’ in a folder on my D: drive.
    How do I accomplish this please?
    Bill

    You can move the thunderbird profile to a folder on D: if you like. This article discusses moving Thunderbird data from one machine to another, but you can use it to move from one location to another on the same machine before you download anything, choosing the “Optional: Choose Your Own Location” item mentioned. How do I move my Thunderbird-based email from one machine to another?

    Leo
    12-Nov-2012
  16. @Bill
    I don’t know of a way to move the Thunderbird files to another drive other than changing the registry settings.
    I can think of a workaround that I use to download my personal email at work. I installed (not really an install as the files are simply copied to the drive) the portable version of Thunderbird on a USB stick and everything downloads to that stick. You can do something similar, putting Thunderbird Portable on your D: drive and running it from there. You can even create a shortcut to it on your desktop or elsewhere. Thunderbird Portable

    Actually no registry involved. Check out my answer to Bill, above. (Portable’s a solution as well.)

    Leo
    12-Nov-2012
  17. I’ve previously used POP3 on multiple devices by setting each one to “Leave a copy of messages on the server”. That worked well until I changed employers and found myself on a provider with limits. Every few days I’d get a Mailer Daemon message such as “Your account is using 27M of mail storage, and an attempt to store a message 31M in size would bring it too close to its 50M storage quota. Delete unnecessary messages, otherwise new messages may be delayed or rejected!” Then I had to log in to webmail and delete the oldest or largest as long as I was sure they were already downloaded both at work and at home.

    We now have a new provider and are set up using IMAP instead but I’m just a wee bit scared of something going wrong on the server and replicating itself on all my devices.

    The other annoyance with POP3 is that the “Sent” mail on one device doesn’t show on the web nor on the other devices. IMAP solves that, so I no longer need to Cc or Bcc myself on sent messages to maintain the trail.

    By the way Leo, Outlook 2010 POP3 default is “Leave mail on server ….. Remove from server after 7 days”.

  18. I know this post is a month old, but I hope Leo responds to this. Because a comment that Darlene made (on 10/30/2012, 8:37 AM) is exactly the reason I never moved to IMAP. But Leo’s reply still leaves me confused. (I use Thunderbird as well, like Darlene.)

    If a massive delete happens on the IMAP server, which is then synced to my local copy, so I restore my backed up profile, won’t THAT restored profile also have the massive deletes synced.

    So, in other words, if I DO have a backed up profile, how do I make it send its contents to the server rather than have the server sync its deletions with the profile?

    So to be clear, I have a machine using IMAP to download all mail as a “backup”. THAT machine then is, in turn, backed up using a backup program such as Macrium Reflect. The net effect is that all my mail from Monday is backed up to my external hard drive Monday night. Now, if on Tuesday the mail service goes wonky and deletes all my mail, and my machine running IMAP to sync up to that then also deletes all my mail on my PC.

    That’s what scares people, I get that.

    But I still have all my mail in the backup of my PC. That is the “real” backup, and not something I would have if I didn’t set up my PC to do this.

    The purpose of that backup is not necessarily to be able to restore the mail to the server (though it can be used for that, although I believe it would be fairly cumbersome), but rather simply to guarantee that I don’t lose any email. Period.

    After that wonky delete I can recover my email from the PC backup. Personally I’d probably not restore it to the original location (although that would be an interesting experiment to see if that would then trigger a massive upload to restore the server). At that point I’d be more interested in simply recovering email contents which I’d likely do any of several different ways (just getting the data from the files, setting up the files as a different set of folders in the email program, setting up another instance of the email program not tied to the wonky server, or others depending on exactly what happened and how much email I was trying to recover.)

    Yes, POP3 can be used for this purpose by setting “leave on server”. The problem with POP3 is that you get exactly and only an inbox. The folder or label structure as used on your web access or other IMAP-using applications is not transfered as part of POP3.

    Leo
    01-Dec-2012

  19. @Mike
    I’m personally not worried by this as I have multiple backups in place, but this is a valid concern. Just last week all of my GMail inbox got moved to the Spam folder, as I made a mistake while setting a spam filter which accidentally included all of my emails. All of the emails were gone from my inbox in Outlook. In my case, I was simply able to move the emails back from Spam into the Inbox.

    Something which might be safer is to use POP3 and set it to keep mail on server after downloading. You have to be extremely careful when you first set it up as most email programs default to deleting the email from the server on downloading, and you can end up clearing your server’s inbox.

    A downside to this POP3 method, is that you’d have to manually delete any unwanted emails from all of your computers and the server.

    • In Thunderbird you can set up a filter to put all your gmail emails into one folder. For some, that may be helpful.
      I am considering doing that myself. I do want some emails left in gmail so I can access them away from my PC.

  20. I have a half dozen email accounts due to websites I manage along with my own personal accounts. I use IMAP when it is available. My client is Thunderbird and it is able to manage all accounts. Several accounts, in particular my Verizon account (personal) which is provided through Yahoo, does not provide IMAP and does not provide forwarding of messages automatically. With thunderbird, I use a filter to remove spam then move the remaining email to my Yahoo account – IMAP.
    Works well for me.

  21. You made the statement of “IMAP copies; POP3 moves” back when this article first appeared in 2012, and at least one comment pointed out that that’s not true. It’s the mail reading program that determines whether or not the email remains on the server. That’s just a part of setting up a program like Outlook. Just as you need to tell Outlook what your login and password is, and whether or not the connection uses SSL, you determine whether or not you want to leave the email on the server. And whether you want it deleted from the server if you delete it from your computer. As I’m in the IT field, I have a lot of devices that get a lot of email. I’ve got my computer in my office, a laptop at home, a tablet, and an iPhone and an Android phone. In my mind, the ONLY benefit of IMAP is that it shows if I’ve read an email across all my devices. On the other hand, although I want a full copy of all my email on my office machine, I don’t need that on every device I have. Nor would I have room to store all that email on my phones or tablet. So when I set up my email programs on everything other than my PC, I tell it to leave everything on the server forever. And not delete it from the server if I delete it from the device. That way, I can keep only the email on my devices that I am working on, and responding to. Junk mail gets deleted on the server when I delete on my PC. In my way of seeing things, this is the perfect email solution. I always have ALL my email available to me, even if the internet is down. I let Outlook on my PC create folders and use rules to put everything in the right folder. I have no need for those folders on any of the devices because the messages only remain there while I’m still actively working with that email. I would love to have POP email show as read everywhere any message that I’ve read on one of my devices, but that’s a tiny disadvantage compared to all the other benefits of using POP.

    • You are correct. I mentioned that to Leo, and he told me that a novice user can accidentally delete the mail from the server using POP3 if they are not careful, as many email programs default to deleting after downloading. It happened to me a couple of times. Of course, I was able to put them back using IMAP 🙂
      Ask Leo! is geared to the novice user, and he sometimes prefers to err on the side of simplicity.

  22. I have been using folders and imap in gmail for a very long time. A disconcerting issue has appeared which has not been mentioned. Google apparently limits the number or age of messages in folders. They don’t delete them, they say they are still in the ALMAIL folder but the association with folder isn’t still kept. Obviously without the folder association, that older email is almost impossible to find.

  23. This article… is a *bit* misleading.

    Here’s the thing: Unless you set Imap to do otherwise? Any email you “delete” (even by mistake) on *any* of your computers… or your phones or other mobile devices… will disappear from *all* your devices! INCLUDING THE EMAIL SERVER!!! Forever!!!

    That’s right — delete a message by mistake on your smartphone, thinking you’ll deal with it when you get to your office computer? Not gonna’ happen — the message is gone like it never existed. Anywhere.

    But… with *Pop*, that will never happen… unless you’ve set your server (Gmail.com, for instance) to do those deletions.

    I ran into this problem when I set up my email on my new Maverick Mac. It hard-headedly defaulted everything to Imap. What was worse, the new Blackberry phone system REQUIRES imap.

    I have learned, therefore to NEVER deleter ANYTHING on the Maverick-system computer or the Blackberry until I am absolutely CERTAIN that I want it permanently erased.

    BIG pain!!!

    Thanks, technology. :/

    • I’ve accidentally deleted emails on my phone which I didn’t mean to delete. I found them again in my deleted folder. IMAP simply moves them to the deleted folder when you delete them. Just be careful when you empty your deleted folder.

      • Clarification: IMAP doesn’t dictate what “delete” means – it’s your email provider (or email program) that’s moving them to a deleted folder. It’s extremely common, but not part of the protocol as I understand it.

  24. I finally understand this! Thanks again, Leo.

    (But when I copy the article to a Word document — to have it as a permanent reference — I find the image doesn’t paste. Just a blank box. Guess that’s another Ask Leo article. ^__^)

    • I actually recommend you print to PDF to save articles like this (or from any web site). That way you get everything the way you saw it.

  25. I should clarify that I can SAVE the image, then INSERT it into the Word document.

    And that works. Takes a little more work time, but worth it.

    • That’s because Word has to take the webpage code and translate it into something it can understand. Sometimes it will look good, most the time it’s really a waste of time. Leo’s idea to print to pdf works the best. He actually has numerous articles on the subject already on the site. Just search for “copy website into Word” and you’ll find them.

  26. How do I create folders in my email. I like to keep my emails and just want to know how to create folders which appear on the left hand side of the screen along with inbox, sent items etc.

    • It all depends on how you access your email. With most email programs and some web interfaces, right click on the folder you want to add the sub-folder to and in the pop-up, there will be an option to add a new folder directly under that one. Then you can either move emails manually to that folder by dragging and dropping or ut pasting. Again, each email program and web interface is different as to the details.

  27. Can someone see where you logged into a webmail IMAP at? For instance, if I logged into my account from my smartphone? Or a computer from another state?

  28. I have 10 years of sent/received emails in my outlook 2003 that are in my Gmail account too, how do I update to my Outlook to 2015 emails without having to download all the previous years that I already have?

    • Updating the version of outlook without changing your configuration SHOULD just … update … as long as it’s an update installation of Outlook.

      Switching to IMAP, however … I’m not aware of an easy way to switch to IMAP without Outlook syncing everything. You could configure Gmail not to make the “All mail” or other labels visible to IMAP, but that restricts the usefulness for email coming in in the future.

  29. I’m just becoming more confused. I like to manage my gmail from my desktop, therefore I use Pop mail. But why does my Gmail account online save a copy of every message sent from my desktop, and how is it doing that?

  30. Leo, thank you for your article,
    How to send messages to the IMAP folder? for example, I want to create a shared folder and everyone can post messages in that folder, and reply to that messages? now I see there is MS Outlook can accomplish this matter through the “Post in this folder”. which other software can perform like that?
    Thanks and best regards!

  31. Hi Leo, thanks for an interesting article. I have a question – I use a VPS and had started receiving disk warning errors as the server capacity was almost used up. On investigation I found that my colleague’s email account was causing this as every single email appeared to be stored on the server. I assumed (silly I know) that he just hadn’t edited settings to delete server copies after so many days. So I started deleting the emails. Then I remembered Imap and the brief knowledge I had re how it works. So I stopped. My question is – are the emails I deleted lost forever, or as they will have also downloaded to his PC, will he still have the local copies? Or to phrase differently, when he next connects up for emails, will it ‘Sync’ the two, hence erase all those emails from his Outlook?

    Many thanks

  32. I have acquired several desk top computers over the years. Had a few stolen also. It’s never occurred to me (don’t know why) to delete anything anywhere. I had set up through Google to forward my emails to another email for a while. Was hard keeping up. I then decided to CC myself any mail I may need for time/date stamp documentation. But now I have several email accounts with several different sources like a few with Yahoo, one with Cox.net, a few with Hotmail, another with outlook, and finally several dozen with Gmail. Never having ever deleted anything ever from any one of them. I’ve had these accounts for more than 10 years. Some I’ve had for 15 plus. I allowed syncing to a new HTC device recently and had a message over 18,000 messages were successfully transferred. All my recent learning of this topic creates new concerns for my lack of keeping emails clean. I’m just one person and one of my email accounts has over 18,000. I’m to scared to look at the rest. It’s important for me to keep some from years ago but not sure how I could do that without destroying any others in the process. What go I do to save them while deleting/cleaning the server of the rest not to mention the issues of possible identity Freud that may endue?

  33. I use IMAP on my main desktop, a secondary desktop, a laptop, and a tablet. The computers are running Windows 10 and Office 2016 (I use Outlook); the tablet runs Android. My question relates to your following statements under “IMAP: did I mention folders?” “What that means is that if you create a folder on one machine connected to your email account using IMAP, then that folder becomes visible in all email programs connected to that email account via IMAP.

    “And, of course, if you move a message into a folder, that message is moved into the folder in all email programs connected to that account.”

    In my experience, I have found neither of your statements to be the case (yes, all my devices meet your criterion, i.e., all are connected to my email account using IMAP). First, if I create a folder on one machine, it is often not “visible” on the other machines. Second, neither do moved messages move into the same folder on all devices. Of course, this can’t happen if all devices don’t have the same folder structure. But it also doesn’t happen if I manually duplicate the same folders on all devices (maybe that’s not allowed).

    I must be missing something, or I’ve messed up somewhere, but I sure would be grateful if someone could help me to get things going as you’ve described.

    • That sounds like some your email programs or apps aren’t behaving correctly. I use 3 computers 2 phones and 2 tablets and all of the accounts synchronize on all my machines. Uninstalling and reinstalling the apps or programs might solve the problem.

  34. My laptop was stolen. I had very important email on it. Can I download the past two years emails from Mozilla Thunderbird email server to my new laptop? How can I do this?

  35. I just got a new iPhone 7. When I delete an unread email from my phone before it’s been downloaded in Outlook on my laptop, it deletes the email from my server. As a result, it never arrives in my Outlook inbox on my laptop. I basically want all emails to arrive on Outlook on my laptop and manage them from there. About once a week, I go to my server and delete all my unwanted emails so I stay within my “quota”. Any advice would be great appreciated!

    • IMAP, by design, synchronizes the email folders on all of your devices and the server. If you don’t want the emails to be deleted before you have a chance to download them in Outlook, don’t delete the email on your phone.

  36. Hi,

    In my company we use Yahoo Mail, but the company will start using a different email service and they ask us to backup all email we got in Yahoo until now… my question is, if I import the company emails (Yahoo) to my Outlook account via IMAP, when the company stops using the Yahoo mail, I’ll don’t have access to it anymore, but they will still remain in my Outlook account? Basically what I’m trying to know is if I can to use an IMAP import as an backup?
    I’m not sure because I realised that we I delete an email in Yahoo it also deletes in Outlook, and I’m affraid that will happen we my company stops using Yahoo…

    (Sorry for my english, is very bad, but I hope you understand my question)

    Best regards,
    André Luz

    • Downloading via IMAP to your Outlook should preserve the mails in your Outlook folders even after the account is closed, since you aren’t deleting the emails from the server. You’d simply not be logging in. There is another step you can take to further back them up. As this article mentions, you can copy the mails from the Yahoo IMAP folder into the Inbox of your new account and the emails will be uploaded to your new email service providers server.

  37. I use Thunderbird and the IMAP protocol on a desktop and a laptop. I, also, want to use an email client on my smart phone. But, I want to be able to read an email on my phone and delete it without deleting it from the server or the desktop and laptop. Are there any email apps that will allow me to do this?

    • I haven’t tried any, so I can’t recommend one, but if you Google “android pop3 app” you should be able to find an email client whic sopports pop3. Just make sure you set it up to leave mail on the server.

  38. A different twist on the server vs local folder question. I’m running Outlook 2010 on a number of machines, connected to an Imap server. Every year, I’ve created folders on the server (below the inbox on the folder tree) named “Inbox 2010,” “Inbox 2011” etc, and moved the email from the “Inbox” to the subfolder in which the email arrived. These folders appear on all of my local machines, right where I would expect them. Now, I’d like to delete those folders from the server, but keep them on one of my local machines, (as it is backed up regularly as well.) Before I press the delete key, are there any steps i need to take?

    • My approach for something like this is to create a new local data file – a true PST – then copy the folders you want to save TO that local file. It’s not part of any account or IMAP configuration, stored only locally. THen you can delete what you want to delete from IMAP after having copied what you want to that local storage.

  39. Dear Leo,
    My email has been working well for a couple of years now but for no explicit reason the “Downloading Hierachy / Synchronising” times on start up has gone from a few seconds to several minutes. I am using Windows XP, Outlook 2003 and Hotmail IMAP.
    Can you suggest why the abovementioned times have suddenly and inexplicably gone so high? ….. Could it be virus related or could you suggest some other cause???
    By the way, In-Box down load times are also become much slower.
    PS: I don’t think its a connection issue as Google enquiry down load times have not changed .

    Thx for any feed back,
    Graeme Rees

  40. All of the above questions and issues as well as the answers and solutions are great. However my issue is trying to get rid of the annoying message that pops up on the bottom left corner of my mac, while on my outlook emails. It has an exclamation point the name of the email and a message that says “IMAP4 Ready” Please how can i stop this.

    Thank you!

  41. I believe that I want to switch from pop3 to imap across my desktop, laptop, and tablet. I can clear the laptop and tablet and start fresh, but not the desktop. Can I convert to imap in midstream as it were? I will probably use Thunderbird across all three.

    • There is nothing to convert on your computer to access your emails via IMAP on Thunderbird or any other email program. All you have to do is set up Thunderbird or any email program to access your email account via IMAP.

  42. Microsoft outlook has sent me an e mail message that reads: one or more folders in your mailbox have name conflicts with others or system reserved names” The message continues: ” folders with these names cant be downloaded by your IMAP e mail program. ” then it names the problem folder “:Junk” What are they talking about? What do I do about it? thanks Dennis Fulton {phone number removed}

  43. I am getting numerous emails daily from Microsoft outlook team asking that I rename a folder because it includes a “/” in the name. I deleted the folder months ago. I can’t access it to change the name. Any suggestions?

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