What are Email Protocols? – POP3, IMAP and SMTP

Table of Contents

Email protocols are sets of rules that define how an email should be exchanged between servers and email clients. There are 3 main ones – POP3, IMAP and SMTP.

These protocols ensure email services are universal and make it possible for users to message each other even if they use different email clients, devices or networks.

For example, a Gmail and Outlook user can exchange emails without problems. This is because both clients follow rules and standards defined by email protocols.

Types of Email Protocols

A standard list of email protocols includes POP3, IMAP and SMTP. They all function differently and provide you with a service necessary for managing your emails.


Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) allows email clients to retrieve messages from an email server. As soon as a connection to the internet is established, email clients using this protocol will download and store emails on your device and delete them from the server.

Latest version of this allows you to keep copies of the emails on the server if enabled.

This protocol was primarily designed to allow users to manage their emails despite poor internet connections.


Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is also a retrieval protocol like POP3, with some differences. By default this protocol stores emails on the server, only downloading them when needed. 

It gives users greater control over their inbox, allowing you to manage folders and messages on the server. An additional benefit of this protocol is that it allows multiple users to use a single mail server.

This is especially useful for businesses that need multiple employees to use the same email address for contacting clients.


Single Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) allows you to send emails. Mail servers and email clients use this to exchange messages. 


Email clients use protocols to retrieve/sync or send emails over the internet in a standardised way. This is what makes email a universal method of communication regardless of what email client or server you use.

There are 3 main email protocols that are commonly used. 2 of those are transfer protocols known as POP3 and IMAP which are used to retrieve from and/or sync your emails with the email server. 

SMTP is the only protocol dedicated to sending emails. Email clients use it to transfer messages across the internet.

Need help setting up a business email?

An email with your custom business domain helps you look more professional and adds authenticity. You are more likely to establish successful communication with your recipients if your email address is tied to a trusted domain. 

We can help you set up your business email using the Microsoft Exchange platform, which is a reputable email server among businesses.

Use the contact form below and an expert from our highly rated support team will contact you.

Get In Touch

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest news and offers

Subscribe To Our Newsletter