Why Should I Use IMAP to Access Gmail?

Using IMAP to access Gmail gives you several benefits over POP

If you want to access your Gmail account through an email client such as Outlook, you can choose whether to do so using IMAP or POP. There may be reasons you would want to use POP, but IMAP offers much more flexibility and other benefits that POP doesn't provide.

Basically, when you use IMAP to access Gmail, everything you do causes a change on the email server, and those changes are reflected on all your other devices if they're also using IMAP. For example, if you mark a message as unread on your tablet, you can open Gmail on your phone or computer and see the same message marked as unread. The same goes for deleting, moving, and sending email messages, as well as applying labels and marking messages as spam. 

Woman on tablet
Saving a Draft in Gmail. Hero Images / Getty Images

Deleting Messages

If you delete a message in Gmail through a client using IMAP, it's deleted on the mail server, so you can't open it using any Gmail access point (i.e. on your computer, tablet, or phone). Every device gets its information from the server, so if a message is deleted there, it's inaccessible from everywhere.

In contrast, with POP, depending on the settings you're using, messages you remove from your device are deleted only there, not on the server.

Moving and Archiving Messages

IMAP also lets you move messages between different folders. When you move a message to a different folder, it's moved on all your IMAP–enabled devices.

When you use POP, that's not the case. If you move a message between folders using a POP account and then look at the Gmail website, the message will appear in its original location.

Marking Messages as Spam

As with the other features above, marking a message as spam is reflected on all the devices that access your Gmail account using IMAP, including the Gmail website, the mobile app, or a desktop client.

With a POP account, this wouldn't be the case.

Adding Labels

Labeling Gmail messages makes it easier to keep track of them and search for specific messages. You can label a message from any of your IMAP–connected email programs and the same label will be used for that message on all the programs and apps that use your Gmail account.

A POP account doesn't offer the same global change.

Starring Messages

Starring Gmail messages is another way to quickly find messages. Plus, all the messages you star go into the special Starred folder. Any Gmail messages you star remain starred in any clients you use with IMAP to access your account.

Taking this action in a POP-enabled program doesn't affect how you see your account from other applications.

Marking Messages as Important

You can mark a Gmail message as important with Priority Inbox, which separates messages into categories for easier viewing. When you do so, you see the change reflected in all your IMAP accounts that access Gmail.

If you were to use a POP account to access Gmail, the change wouldn't be visible from there.

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