There are two primary protocols for retrieving e-mails from a server – IMAP and POP3. But what is the difference, and which protocol should you use when setting up your e-mail account with your favourite e-mail client – whether that’s Thunderbird, Outlook or Apple Mail?

What is POP3?
“POP3” is version 3 of the POP protocol – “POP” is short for “Post Office Protocol”. The Post Office Protocol downloads your e-mail messages to your computer unlike IMAP, which means you also have a local copy of the e-mails on your computer.

What is IMAP?
“IMAP”, short for “Internet Message Access Protocol” has the same outcome as POP3 – it allows you to read your e-mails using a user-friendly e-mail client – however, the primary difference as you may guess, is that your e-mails are NOT directly downloaded to your computer. Instead, you are reading your e-mails directly off the web server in which your e-mail account resides. In other words, your e-mails are not downloaded locally to your computer unlike POP.

Which protocol should I use when setting up my e-mail account?
Both work very well and if you have your e-mail account set up with our cPanel Hosting Services, you can make use of any two of the protocols for retrieving e-mails – if you want to keep a local copy of your e-mails, we’d recommend you opt for POP3. Otherwise, choose IMAP.

What about for sending e-mails?
When you are sending e-mails, you’re sending your e-mails over SMTP – which is short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. When you are setting up your e-mail account, the section specific to “incoming” e-mail will allow you to choose between POP3 and IMAP (with most of the major e-mail clients out there), and for outgoing e-mail you are using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.

When setting up my e-mail address, it’s asking for other information such as “server hostname” or “mail server address”?
The “incoming” and “outgoing” e-mail server address is to be able to retrieve your e-mails from the right server. If you have cPanel Web Hosting with us, you can find what the incoming and outgoing mail server address is as well as the port number for incoming and outgoing e-mail. If you’re running Thunderbird, all you need to provide is your username and password and the rest of the details should be automatically detected – including the server mail address, port number for connecting to the mail server and so forth. All you need to supply is your e-mail account username and password. Of course, make sure your “username” is your e-mail address and not a username, if you had set up your e-mail account in cPanel.

It’s important to note that popular e-mail services including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, Hotmail (soon to be known as will likely be automatically set up by most e-mail clients without you needing to supply anything else except a username and password because of how popular these e-mail services are.

However, if you have your e-mail account set up with your web hosting account with us or if you need to provide the connection information manually, you can login to cPanel and go to Email Accounts, and from the right of your Email Account, click on More and select Configure Email Client. From here, you can see the Manual Settings but you can also download a configuration file for Outlook on Windows and Apple Mail on Mac OS X. You can make use of the manual settings to understand what you need to fill in when setting up your e-mail account in your preferred e-mail client.

What is a “port”?
A server “port” is to determine what service to use when communication happens between a server and a client, or a server to another server. A “client”, in this context, is you – and the server being the machine that “hosts” your e-mail account. While there may be many default port numbers for specific standards, such as port 80 for HTTP (Hyper Text Transer Protocol – yes – http://), port numbers may be changed for certain services that may be primarily used only by system administrators. For example, to connect to a Linux-based web server remotely as a customer of a VPS or Dedicated Server, you are likely to use SSH (Secure SHell), you use a specific port number. System administrators may change this for security reasons – because there will be malicious users trying to gain unauthorised entry into that web server; and changing the port number makes it more difficult for a malicious user to be able to gain successful unauthorised entry into a web server (as well as, of course, having a secure password) – because if they commit too many failed login attempts, the server’s firewall may blacklist the IP for too many failed login attempts in a short span of time.

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