An Internet standard protocol for storing and retrieving messages from Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) hosts. Internet Mail Access Protocol version provides functions similar to Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3), with additional features as described in this entry.

How It Works?

SMTP provides the underlying message transport mechanism for sending e-mail over the Internet, but it does not provide any facility for storing and retrieving messages. SMTP hosts must be continuously connected to one another, but most users do not have a dedicated connection to the Internet.

IMAP4 provides mechanisms for storing messages received by SMTP in a receptacle called a mailbox. An IMAP4 server stores messages received by each user until the user connects to download and read them using an IMAP4 client such as Evolution or Microsoft Outlook Express.

IMAP4 includes a number of features that are not supported by POP3. Specifically, IMAP4 allows users to

  • Access multiple folders, including public folders 
  • Create hierarchies of folders for storing messages
  • Leave messages on the server after reading them so that they can access the messages again from another location
  • Search a mailbox for a specific message to download
  • Flag messages as read
  • Selectively download portions of messages or attachments only
  • Review the headers of messages before downloading them

To retrieve a message from an IMAP4 server, an IMAP4 client first establishes a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) session using TCP port 143. The client then identifies itself to the server and issues a series of IMAP4 commands:

  • LIST:

         Retrieves a list of folders in the client’s mailbox


         Selects a particular folder to access its messages

  • FETCH:

         Retrieves individual messages


         Ends the IMAP4 session