Email Protocols & Settings, Your Best Choices

Now that email is everywhere, not only on computers but on phones and tablets, even casual technology users need to understand their email configuration options.

Not only can understanding your choices make managing your email easier, but your efficiency, privacy and security can be greatly enhanced as well.

For receiving email the most common protocol is old good old-fashioned Post Office Protocol (POP3).

Using this protocol any device can download messages from your email hosting servers. If you use multiple devices you might want to configure each device “leave mail on server” for just a few days in order to allow each device enough time to download a copy of each message. Leaving too much mail on your email server for too long can slow down your access and also exceed your email storage quota.  For more on this subject, see: Should I Leave Messages On The Server?

A more advanced option for keeping multiple devices in synch with one another is to configure each device to use the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) protocol.

IMAP allows all of your computers, phones, tablets to access and synchronize with the same mailbox on your host’s servers.  Thus, actions performed on one device will be synchronized with the others. This includes sending or deleting messages, saving drafts, and moving emails with your folders. Unlike POP3, the IMAP protocol does not automatically delete downloaded messages from your server. As a result, if you don’t manually delete old messages then you may quickly exceed your disk storage quota on your servers.

Because the protocol is more complicated, and stores all emails on the mail server, it’s not always a great choice.  Mail access tends to be slower, and we’ve certainly seen email software have more issues when using IMAP than when just using POP3. In addition, not all email hosts support IMAP so you’ll have to check yours to find out.

Despite the added complications, for users and want or need all of their email devices mirrored with one another, IMAP is the only way to go.

Regardless of whether you access your mailbox by POP or IMAP, sending of emails is always performed via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).  With many email hosts, you’ll need to set your devices to use a different mail server for sending email than you use for checking/downloading messages.

For instance, it’s pretty common for hosts to ask you to configure your email device to use pop.yourhost.com, imap.yourhost.com and smtp.yourhost.com respectively.

A useful tip, while the use of upper and lower case letters doesn’t actually matter when typing out a recipient’s email address (UserName@OnlyMyEmail.com is going to be delivered just as easily as username@onlymyemail.com) mail servers should be entered into email configuration exactly as your host specifies, almost always in lower case.

In addition to the selection of protocols, you can also choose among various security levels as well. In most cases your software will automatically configure to use the right settings, but in case you need to manually set these options, or just want to know that they are available, the most common are:

Checking for and downloading new messages, in order of preference:

  • TLS over the standard ports (110 for POP3, and 143 for IMAP)
  • SSL over alternate ports (995 for POP3 S, and 993 for IMAP S)
  • Unencrypted communications over standard ports

When it comes to sending mail, the best choices, in order of preference are:

  • SMTP with TLS over ports 25 (standard port)
  • Port 587 (mail submission)
  • SSL+SMTP over port 456
  • Unencrypted connections on ports 25, and 587

If your email provider supports it, then we strongly suggested that you enable “SMTP Authentication” within your email hardware or software device as that will make your account somewhat more resistant to being used by spammers to send junk email and spreading viruses as well.

While each email enabled device might have a different menu structure for choosing and setting protocols and options, most all have a “help” menu or provide vendor support staff that should be able to help apply our suggestions to the device at hand.

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