Using IMAP with Outlook

Why you might prefer IMAP to get your email into Outlook.

What are IMAP and POP?

IMAP and POP are methods for retrieving email from an email host like your ISP, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail so you can access it from your desktop through some of the common desktop email applications like Outlook.

IMAP is abbreviation for Internet Message Access Protocol. As already mentioned it is a method of synchronizing email to and from a server as if the server is locally located i.e. emails on IMAP server can be accessed remotely from anywhere like home, office and while travelling. Email accessed in this way is very convenient since a copy of the email is stored locally as well as in the server. You need not worry about shifting your emails between different computers. The synchronization of email between computers is the main difference and advantage of IMAP.

By comparison, POP or Post Office Protocol is also a method of moving emails from a host to a local computer. With POP once the email is downloaded to your computer it is deleted from the mail server either immediately or sometime later.

Advantages of IMAP

  • IMAP server not only stores the Inbox email folder but also all folders in the email server including sent and deleted email folders.

  • As already mentioned, by using IMAP you can access your emails from any number of computers, any platform and from any location. E.g. If you send email from your office or a laptop while travelling then you can see that message in the ‘Sent Items’ folder on your home PC.

  • IMAP supports both online and offline access of emails.

  • Using IMAP multiple users can simultaneously access shared mailboxes.

  • Whatever email application you use locally to download the messages, it does not affect the file format in which it is stored in the server.

  • Your Outlook email becomes just one method of reading and sending email rather than a single program you have to try to access at all times.

  • With your email stored ‘offsite’ you can switch computers or email software at any time. IMAP will synchronize all your email to your new computer or software automatically.

  • You can access your email (past and present) on the IMAP server via a web browser and, most likely, a PDA, mobile phone etc. You’ll see the same email store that you have in Outlook – totally up to date.

  • IMAP is compatible with internet messaging standards like MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) which enables users to create, delete, rename folders and set and clear flags for emails conveniently.

  • Unlike POP you need not download the entire email with attachment with fear of losing it once it is downloaded completely since in IMAP you can download only part of emails like header, body of messages or even search for messages based on certain criteria. This gives the users a feeling of accessing the emails locally although they are actually communicating with the remote server. This also optimizes the email performance especially if your internet speed is slow.


  • IMAP is a different way of managing your email, it takes a little time to become accustomed to it but that’s time well spent.

  • Microsoft’s implementation of IMAP is a little clumsy, possibly because they’d prefer people to use Microsoft Exchange Server to sync email (and other data).

Overall when compared to POP, IMAP is more preferred mainly because it allows both online and offline access of emails and for better management of various email folders.


IMAP has been around for many years and it’s been an option in Outlook for many versions. But it’s only recently becoming a practical and popular option:

  • Online email storage capacity is much larger now. For example Gmail supports over 7GB of email storage which is more than enough for most people. Compare that with ISP email accounts which are sometimes only 100-500MB – not enough to keep a copy of all your incoming and outgoing messages.

  • Use of email from many locations. Gone are the days when you go to one computer (probably with Outlook) to do your messaging. These days you can email from multiple computers – at the office, home, mobile device and any internet terminal. IMAP lets you sync your email use wherever you are and whatever device you’re using – all with a single email address/account. You’ll see both the new and past messages with no ‘missing emails’ because they were done on a different device.

  • Higher speed internet connections make the initial transfers of bulk email practical.

If you’ve ever worked for a company that uses a corporate email system like Exchange Server then the concept of centralized message storage might be familiar. You can use your email on any work or home computer via Outlook, via a PDA/Blackberry or a browser link to Outlook Web Access. It doesn’t matter which software you use, you can see all your folders and current email because everything is stored on the central server.

IMAP is a way for anyone to do that with their email.