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In computing, the Internet Message Access Protocol ( IMAP) is an Internet standard protocol used by to retrieve messages from a over a TCP/IP connection.

(2018). 9781423902454, Delmar. .
IMAP is defined by RFC 3501.

IMAP was designed with the goal of permitting complete management of an by multiple email clients, therefore clients generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them. An IMAP server typically listens on 143. IMAP over SSL ( IMAPS) is assigned the port number 993.

Virtually all modern e-mail clients and servers support IMAP. IMAP and the earlier POP3 (Post Office Protocol) are the two most prevalent standard protocols for email retrieval,

(2018). 9781423902454, Prentice Hall. .
with many service providers such as , Outlook.com and Yahoo! Mail also providing support for either IMAP or POP3.


E-mail protocols
The Internet Message Access Protocol is an Application Layer Internet protocol that allows an to access on a remote . The current version, IMAP version 4 revision 1 (IMAP4rev1), is defined by RFC 3501. An IMAP server typically listens on well-known port 143. IMAP over SSL ( IMAPS) is assigned well-known port number 993.

IMAP supports both on-line and off-line modes of operation. E-mail clients using IMAP generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them. This and other characteristics of IMAP operation allow multiple clients to manage the same mailbox. Most e-mail clients support IMAP in addition to Post Office Protocol (POP) to retrieve messages; however, fewer e-mail services support IMAP.

(2018). 059600012X, O'Reilly. 059600012X
IMAP offers access to the mail storage. Clients may store local copies of the messages, but these are considered to be a temporary cache.See e.g.

Incoming e-mail messages are sent to an e-mail server that stores messages in the recipient's e-mail box. The user retrieves the messages with an e-mail client that uses one of a number of e-mail retrieval protocols. Some clients and servers preferentially use vendor-specific, proprietary protocols, but most support for sending e-mail and POP and IMAP for retrieving e-mail, allowing interoperability with other servers and clients. For example, 's Outlook client uses , a proprietary protocol, to communicate with a Microsoft Exchange Server. 's client works in a similar fashion when communicating with a Domino server. All of these products also support POP, IMAP, and outgoing SMTP. Support for the Internet standard protocols allows many e-mail clients such as or Mozilla Thunderbird to access these servers, and allows the clients to be used with other servers.


History
IMAP was designed by in 1986 as a remote mailbox protocol, in contrast to the widely used POP, a protocol for retrieving the contents of a mailbox.

IMAP was previously known as Internet Mail Access Protocol, Interactive Mail Access Protocol (RFC 1064), and Interim Mail Access Protocol. Service Name and Transport Protocol Port Number Registry. Iana.org (2013-07-12). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.


Original IMAP
The original Interim Mail Access Protocol was implemented as a client and a TOPS-20 server.

No copies of the original interim protocol specification or its software exist. Although some of its commands and responses were similar to IMAP2, the interim protocol lacked command/response tagging and thus its syntax was incompatible with all other versions of IMAP.


IMAP2
The interim protocol was quickly replaced by the Interactive Mail Access Protocol (IMAP2), defined in RFC 1064 (in 1988) and later updated by RFC 1176 (in 1990). IMAP2 introduced the command/response tagging and was the first publicly distributed version.


IMAP3
IMAP3 is an extremely rare variant of IMAP. It was published as RFC 1203 in 1991. It was written specifically as a counter proposal to RFC 1176, which itself proposed modifications to IMAP2. IMAP3 was never accepted by the marketplace. The reclassified RFC1203 "Interactive Mail Access Protocol - Version 3" as a Historic protocol in 1993. The IMAP Working Group used RFC1176 (IMAP2) rather than RFC1203 (IMAP3) as its starting point.


IMAP2bis
With the advent of , IMAP2 was extended to support MIME body structures and add mailbox management functionality (create, delete, rename, message upload) that was absent from IMAP2. This experimental revision was called IMAP2bis; its specification was never published in non-draft form. An internet draft of IMAP2bis was published by the IETF IMAP Working Group in October 1993. This draft was based upon the following earlier specifications: unpublished IMAP2bis.TXT document, RFC1176, and RFC1064 (IMAP2). The IMAP2bis.TXT draft documented the state of extensions to IMAP2 as of December 1992. Early versions of Pine were widely distributed with IMAP2bis support (Pine 4.00 and later supports IMAP4rev1).


IMAP4
An IMAP Working Group formed in the IETF in the early 1990s took over responsibility for the IMAP2bis design. The IMAP WG decided to rename IMAP2bis to IMAP4 to avoid confusion.


Advantages over POP

Connected and disconnected modes of operation
When using POP, clients typically connect to the e-mail server briefly, only as long as it takes to download new messages. When using IMAP4, clients often stay connected as long as the user interface is active and download message content on demand. For users with many or large messages, this IMAP4 usage pattern can result in faster response times.


Multiple clients simultaneously connected to the same mailbox
The POP protocol requires the currently connected client to be the only client connected to the mailbox. In contrast, the IMAP protocol specifically allows simultaneous access by multiple clients and provides mechanisms for clients to detect changes made to the mailbox by other, concurrently connected, clients. See for example RFC3501 section 5.2 which specifically cites "simultaneous access to the same mailbox by multiple agents" as an example.


Access to MIME message parts and partial fetch
Usually all Internet e-mail is transmitted in format, allowing messages to have a where the leaf nodes are any of a variety of single part content types and the non-leaf nodes are any of a variety of multipart types. The IMAP4 protocol allows clients to retrieve any of the individual MIME parts separately and also to retrieve portions of either individual parts or the entire message. These mechanisms allow clients to retrieve the text portion of a message without retrieving attached files or to content as it is being fetched.


Message state information
Through the use of flags defined in the IMAP4 protocol, clients can keep track of message state: for example, whether or not the message has been read, replied to, or deleted. These flags are stored on the server, so different clients accessing the same mailbox at different times can detect state changes made by other clients. POP provides no mechanism for clients to store such state information on the server so if a single user accesses a mailbox with two different POP clients (at different times), state information—such as whether a message has been accessed—cannot be synchronized between the clients. The IMAP4 protocol supports both predefined system flags and client-defined keywords. System flags indicate state information such as whether a message has been read. Keywords, which are not supported by all IMAP servers, allow messages to be given one or more tags whose meaning is up to the client. IMAP keywords should not be confused with proprietary labels of services which are sometimes translated into IMAP folders by the corresponding proprietary servers.


Multiple mailboxes on the server
IMAP4 clients can create, rename, and/or delete mailboxes (usually presented to the user as folders) on the server, and copy messages between mailboxes. Multiple mailbox support also allows servers to provide access to shared and public folders. The IMAP4 Access Control List (ACL) Extension (RFC 4314) may be used to regulate access rights.


Server-side searches
IMAP4 provides a mechanism for a client to ask the server to search for messages meeting a variety of criteria. This mechanism avoids requiring clients to download every message in the mailbox in order to perform these searches.


Built-in extension mechanism
Reflecting the experience of earlier Internet protocols, IMAP4 defines an explicit mechanism by which it may be extended. Many IMAP4 extensions to the base protocol have been proposed and are in common use. IMAP2bis did not have an extension mechanism, and POP now has one defined by RFC 2449.


Disadvantages
While IMAP remedies many of the shortcomings of POP, this inherently introduces additional complexity. Much of this complexity (e.g., multiple clients accessing the same mailbox at the same time) is compensated for by workarounds such as or database backends.

The IMAP specification has been criticised for being insufficiently strict and allowing behaviours that effectively negate its usefulness. For instance, the specification states that each message stored on the server has a "unique id" to allow the clients to identify messages they have already seen between sessions. However, the specification also allows these UIDs to be invalidated with no restrictions, practically defeating their purpose.

Unless the mail storage and searching algorithms on the server are carefully implemented, a client can potentially consume large amounts of server resources when searching massive mailboxes.

IMAP4 clients need to maintain a TCP/IP connection to the IMAP server in order to be notified of the arrival of new mail. Notification of mail arrival is done through in-band signaling, which contributes to the complexity of client-side IMAP protocol handling somewhat. A private proposal, , would extend IMAP to implement by sending the entire message instead of just a notification. However, push IMAP has not been generally accepted and current IETF work has addressed the problem in other ways (see the for more information).

Unlike some proprietary protocols which combine sending and retrieval operations, sending a message and saving a copy in a server-side folder with a base-level IMAP client requires transmitting the message content twice, once to SMTP for delivery and a second time to IMAP to store in a sent mail folder. This is remedied by a set of extensions defined by the IETF LEMONADE Working Group for mobile devices: URLAUTH (RFC 4467) and CATENATE (RFC 4469) in IMAP and BURL (RFC 4468) in SMTP-SUBMISSION. POP servers don't support server-side folders so clients have no choice but to store sent items on the client. Many IMAP clients can be configured to store sent mail in a client-side folder, or to BCC oneself and then filter the incoming mail instead of saving a copy in a folder directly. In addition to the LEMONADE "trio", Courier Mail Server offers a non-standard method of sending using IMAP by copying an outgoing message to a dedicated outbox folder.


Security
can be used to provide secure communications between the MUA communicating with the MSA or MTA implementing the SMTP Protocol.


Dialog example
This is an example IMAP connection as taken from RFC 3501 section 8:

C: 
S:   * OK IMAP4rev1 Service Ready
     C:   a001 login mrc secret
S:   a001 OK LOGIN completed
     C:   a002 select inbox
S:   * 18 EXISTS
S:   * FLAGS (\Answered \Flagged \Deleted \Seen \Draft)
S:   * 2 RECENT
S:   * OK [UNSEEN 17] Message 17 is the first unseen message
S:   * OK [UIDVALIDITY 3857529045] UIDs valid
S:   a002 OK [READ-WRITE] SELECT completed
     C:   a003 fetch 12 full
S:   * 12 FETCH (FLAGS (\Seen) INTERNALDATE "17-Jul-1996 02:44:25 -0700"
      RFC822.SIZE 4286 ENVELOPE ("Wed, 17 Jul 1996 02:23:25 -0700 (PDT)"
      "IMAP4rev1 WG mtg summary and minutes"
      (("Terry Gray" NIL "gray" "cac.washington.edu"))
      (("Terry Gray" NIL "gray" "cac.washington.edu"))
      (("Terry Gray" NIL "gray" "cac.washington.edu"))
      ((NIL NIL "imap" "cac.washington.edu"))
      ((NIL NIL "minutes" "CNRI.Reston.VA.US")
      ("John Klensin" NIL "KLENSIN" "MIT.EDU")) NIL NIL
      "")
      BODY ("TEXT" "PLAIN" ("CHARSET" "US-ASCII") NIL NIL "7BIT" 3028
      92))
S:   a003 OK FETCH completed
     C:   a004 fetch 12 body[header]
S:   * 12 FETCH (BODY[HEADER] {342}
S:   Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 02:23:25 -0700 (PDT)
S:   From: Terry Gray 
S:   Subject: IMAP4rev1 WG mtg summary and minutes
S:   To: imap@cac.washington.edu
S:   cc: minutes@CNRI.Reston.VA.US, John Klensin 
S:   Message-Id: 
S:   MIME-Version: 1.0
S:   Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; CHARSET=US-ASCII
S:
S:   )
S:   a004 OK FETCH completed
     C    a005 store 12 +flags \deleted
S:   * 12 FETCH (FLAGS (\Seen \Deleted))
S:   a005 OK +FLAGS completed
     C:   a006 logout
S:   * BYE IMAP4rev1 server terminating connection
S:   a006 OK LOGOUT completed
     


See also
  • List of mail servers
  • Comparison of e-mail clients
  • Comparison of mail servers
  • Post Office Protocol (POP)
  • Simple Mail Access Protocol


Further reading


External links

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