A Little More About IMAP

As you may recall, last week, Erin told you about the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA), so I thought I would take that one step further today and talk about IMAP. Here we go!

First of all, IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It’s basically a method of accessing electronic mail or bulletin board messages that are kept on a mail server. In other words, it permits a “client” e-mail program to access remote message stores as if they were local. For example, e-mail stored on an IMAP server can be manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a work station at the office and a notebook computer while traveling, without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between the computers.

IMAP’s ability to access messages (both new and saved) from more than one computer has become extremely important as reliance on electronic messaging and use of multiple computers increases. But the functionality cannot be taken for granted.

The widely used Post Office Protocol (POP) works best when one has only a single computer. That’s because it was designed to support “offline” message access, wherein messages are downloaded and then deleted from the mail server. That mode of access is not compatible with access from multiple computers, because it tends to sprinkle messages across all of the computers used for mail access. Thus, unless all of those machines share a common file system, the offline mode of access that POP was designed to support effectively ties the user to one computer for message storage and manipulation.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in, but hopefully you now understand IMAP just a little bit better!

~ Ramachandran Kumaraswami