All emails travel over the internet and are stored on email servers.
An email server can belong to a webmail provider like Gmail, an internet service provider like Telstra or a web-hosting provider like GoDaddy.
An email server is similar to a post office where your mail is collected and stored until it is delivered to you.
“Webmail” and “Email Clients” are two ways you can receive your email.

What is Webmail?

It is an email system in which a user can access their emails via a browser on any computer or device that is connected to the Internet.  There is nothing to install.  Popular examples include Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.

  • Access emails directly on your providers’ email server where it is stored and will remain until you delete it.

  • Email is only accessible with an internet connection.

  • Some of the webmail websites may not provide some of the advanced features and functionality you get from using an email client such as Microsoft, Outlook or Apple Mail.

  • It is not uncommon for email providers to change their interface. You have no control over it and have no choice but to deal with it.

  • The servers of the email service you use are the ONLY place your email is stored.  If anything happens to that email, it’s lost forever so it is vital to take additional steps to back it up.

  • You have restrictions on the amount of email you can keep. This varies greatly from provider to provider, as do the consequences of exceeding your allowance or “quota”.

What is an Email Client?

This is a program that is installed on your computer which lets you send or receive emails by connecting to your email service and downloading it to your computers hard disk. Popular examples include Microsoft Office Outlook and Apple Mail. 

  • You don’t need an internet connection to read previously downloaded emails, but to send and receive new messages you do.

  • Use a web-based email service to access your email from any computer on the internet.
    Use a PC-based email program to download a copy of your email, using a protocol (POP or IMAP).

  • Email clients must be configured to work with your providers email servers.  While configuration is not a difficult task an email client must be configured on every device you want to use.

  • Since your email is downloaded to your computer, you have the ability to back it up. With an appropriate backup strategy, you need never lose email.

  • The amount of email you keep, and where you keep it, is limited only by your computer’s own hard disk space, additional storage you provide, and your ability or willingness to manage it.

SMTP stands for “SIMPLE MAIL TRANSFER PROTOCOL” and is the protocol that allows you to send email to a mail server.

Specifically, the SMTP protocol is used to send email from an email client to your email providers mail server and to send mails between two mail servers on the internet.  When you use a free email provider, your email address uses their domain name (eg [email protected] or [email protected]),  and in turn, they allow you to use their email servers.  If you use their webmail site to read and send email they handle the email server settings that direct your incoming and outgoing emails however if you want to use a local email client like Microsoft outlook or apple mail you will need to enter your email providers incoming and outgoing settings when you set up your client.  The incoming server setting tells the email client where it can retrieve your email from and the outgoing server setting tells the email client where it can send your email to.

The outgoing server setting is also known as the SMTP server setting. It is the protocol that allows you to send emails from an email client to a mail server.  Once on a senders outgoing mail server, SMTP uses the domain name in an email address to locate the recipients’ email server where the email remains until the recipient receives it.

What is the difference between POP3 (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) email?

They are the two most common incoming email protocols.

POP was created as a simplified way to download and delete email messages on a remote email server.  POP3 is supported by almost all email clients and servers,  Using POP an internet-connected email client accesses a remote mail server, downloads all email to your local computer and marks the messages for deletion on the email server.  This means the messages you retrieve using POP can only be in the specific email client on the specific computer that you downloaded them to.  Once downloaded you cannot access these email via webmail or a different email client on another computer.

IMAP was designed to free us from the limits of sending and receiving from a single email client.  In contrast to POP, IMAP allows you to login to any internet-connected email client or a webmail client and view all of the same emails at any time.  In a constantly connected world, the ability to send and receive emails from both email clients and webmail sites has made IMAP very popular.  With IMAP, your email is stored on your email providers server until you delete it. While this makes email access convenient, some providers limit the amount of email you can store on their servers and may temporarily supsend email services if you exceed this amount.

While POP and IMAP are not the only incoming server settings, they are the most common. The type of incoming email server you have is primarily dependent on the type of email account you have and where you purchased it so find out which type of incoming email server you are using and if it’s not meeting your needs you always have the option to change it.