cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

Why you need IMAP email (a.k.a. What is IMAP email?) - April 19, 2004

You need IMAP email. IMAP will make your email life simpler, vastly more reliable, more efficient, and less taxing on your Internet connection. Acronyms aside, stay with me...

IMAP is an email protocol. Basically, IMAP differs from what you are probably using now (POP3 or web mail like Yahoo!) in whether the email is erased from the server after you receive it on your machine. (note: The people who supply your email service also store your email, according to the protocol, on their computers, or servers.) With IMAP, the "headers" (to: email address, from: email address, subject line, size information and flags) are downloaded when you connect to your email server by hitting "send/receive." When you select an email message to read, the rest of the information is downloaded, including the text of the message, links, and attachments. The message is not erased from the server when it is downloaded, or even when it is deleted; you must "purge" your deleted email in order to permanently delete a file. The server records your activity; it knows which emails you have read or marked read, which emails you have moved to a folder, and remembers all of the information about emails you have sent.

With POP3, the much more widely used protocol used by Earthlink, Comcast, AOL, MSN and all the rest, once emails are received on your computer, all the email information is downloaded at once, including attachments, and the information is immediately erased from the server. If you download an email and then 10 seconds later throw your computer in the path of a city bus, you will never be able to retrieve that email. If you are downloading a 5MB attachment over dial-up, you will have to wait until the entire attachment downloads before you can receive any more recent emails or do anything else with your connection.

Web mail works very differently, as emails are never downloaded onto your computer to begin with. Your information is reliably available, whenever you have a good Internet connection; however, you typically have a very limited amount of space and sent items are seldom automatically saved. Hotmail, MSN, Yahoo! and the new Gmail are entirely web-based.

Now that you know a little about IMAP, you may be able to guess why you want it. The two most important reasons are synchronization and reliability.

Synchronization on IMAP means that you can have identical email information on all your computers. Folders created in IMAP will have the same information on all your computers; your inbox, sent items and deleted items folders will be identical. This is most convenient for those of you who work in the office and at home; for those who own a laptop and a desktop computer; for anyone who needs to keep information in more than one place. I used to email myself documents from work to my personal address; with IMAP, once a document has been sent or received, it can be accessed from any machine. This makes finding information so much simpler and working so much more efficient.

Reliability with IMAP is nearly foolproof; your email is as safe as your provider's server backup plan. This, you can be assured, is almost certainly better than your own personal backup plan. Your daughter downloads a boot virus? The flood plain turns out to be right down the middle of your office park? You won't lose those endless late-night brainstorming emails to and from your business partner. You won't lose those photographs your sister sent of your baby niece. You won't lose anything in your email; you can just synchronize your folders with another computer and everything is restored.

IMAP is also great for anyone in a transient position in their life. Whether you are about to graduate from school, about to change jobs, or never sure whether your company will be purchased or merged with another, rendering all that work you have done the property of someone new, transfering your email to an IMAP provider means that you won't have to beg and plead for a CD of your Outlook files (take it from someone who has been there, you will likely never get that CD).

So, are we clear? You need IMAP. Whether you work from more than one computer, are looking for more reliability in case of the inevitable accident, are thinking about a change in your life, or just have a slow connection and want to manage your email more efficiently, IMAP is for you. Email me at mama [at] cafemama [dot] com and I'll let you know how you can get an IMAP account from us.