The IMAP Server
Many users want to do far more than that with their e-mail, and they want their e-mail to remain on the server. The main reason for keeping your e-mail on the server is to allow users to connect from a variety of machines. With POP3, once you download your e-mail it is stuck on the machine to which you downloaded it. If you want to read your e-mail both on your desktop machine and your laptop (depending on whether you are working in the office or on the road), POP3 makes life difficult.
IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol) is a more advanced protocol that solves these problems. With IMAP, your mail stays on the e-mail server. You can organize your mail into folders, and all the folders live on the server as well. When you search your e-mail, the search occurs on the server machine, rather than on your machine. This approach makes it extremely easy for you to access your e-mail from any machine, and regardless of which machine you use, you have access to all of your mail in all of your folders.
Your e-mail client connects to the IMAP server using port 143. The e-mail client then issues a set of text commands that allow it to do things like list all the folders on the server, list all the message headers in a folder, get a specific e-mail message from the server, delete messages on the server or search through all of the e-mails on the server.
One problem that can arise with IMAP involves this simple question: “If all of my e-mail is stored on the server, then how can I read my mail if I am not connected to the Internet?” To solve this problem, most e-mail clients have some way to cache e-mail on the local machine. For example, the client will download all the messages and store their complete contents on the local machine (just like it would if it were talking to a POP3 server).
The messages still exist on the IMAP server, but you now have copies on your machine. This allows you to read and reply to e-mail even if you have no connection to the Internet. The next time you establish a connection, you download all the new messages you received while disconnected and send all the mail that you wrote while disconnected.