After a long drawn out experience with numerous email clients (mutt/isync, mutt/mailsync, Thunderbird, Eudora,, even Outlook Express in a moment of desperation) on various platforms (Mac, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD) and spanning over four years, I've come to the inevitable conclusion that all IMAP clients suck.

Yes, all of them--especially when used for off-line or disconnection operation.

My needs were simple, but I'd yet to find a tool that would Just Work. So I've replaced my lofty goals of using IMAP so that I could keep mail organized on my server but accessible anywhere.

My new system works like this. Email addressed to comes to my mail server. Exim hands it off to procmail, which runs it thru SpamAssassin. Then it sends a copy to GMail and delivers one locally. It also archives a copy on the server in monthly mbox files. (Yes, it's a secondary backup.)

I use Thunderbird on the Windows notebook that Yahoo provides me. Periodically, I make sure to archive mail in my GMail account, flag the obvious spam, etc.

The downside is that when I switch from using Thunderbird to Gmail and back (happens once in a while for short periods of time), I may see some messages twice.

The upside is that the broken IMAP sync never happens. I just download all my mail and go offline when I need to. I can then manipulate it to my heart's content on the client and worry not about things going wrong.

If my notebook blows up, I'm still okay. It is backed up regularly and I've got a copy of everything in my Gmail account as well.

Why didn't I do this a few years ago? Probably because the promise of IMAP is so damned appealing. It makes me a little sad that nobody's ever been able to get it working well and efficiently.

In Summary

  • POP good.
  • IMAP bad.
  • GMail good.
  • Thunderbird good.
  • Backups good.

Posted by jzawodn at June 21, 2005 07:48 PM

Reader Comments
# Justin Mason said:

FWIW, I find it useful to deliver to a set of folders (using procmail and SpamAssassin) on the server. That way you can separate out stuff into priority buckets *before* it has to be downloaded. I then use fetchmail to pick up the mail and deliver locally, continually, in the background on my laptop, where it's refiled into *another* set of folders.

The important thing is that crud like spam, virus bounces, spam blowback etc. can be downloaded last (if at all), while the useful stuff addressed directly to me, and work stuff, is downloaded first, before the crud, and even before mailing list traffic. This is good news for when you've got a low-bandwidth connection, and want to maximise the amount of useful mail you can get access to ASAP.

I don't use IMAP to keep my mailboxes living on the server, or synch local to remote, or any of that stuff -- I just download the lot and zero the mailbox on the server. But it is useful to use it, just to have multiple folders on a single user account this way, and allow this prioritisation.

Fetchmail has no probs with this mode of IMAP usage, of course, but I'm not sure how well it'd work on a windows laptop...

on June 21, 2005 08:19 PM
# Glen Campbell said:

How very odd. I've used IMAP for nearly five years now, with no discernable problems; using OS X Mail, Thunderbird, Squirrelmail. I always thought the cool thing about it was that, if I ever screwed things up on the client, all the files still lived on the server. I'm running imap-uw on a FreeBSD server. THe only real pain has been when I've had to move servers; copying 30+G over a DSL connection can take a while.

on June 21, 2005 08:37 PM
# Michael Moncur said:

After repeated attempts to switch to IMAP and keep all of my email on the server, I've come to the same conclusion. IMAP stinks, or at least the clients do. Outlook is actually my preferred email client, and its IMAP support is unstable in version after version.

I use the same system as Justin except I deliver mail to different mailboxes instead of different folders - suspect spam goes to one address, mailing lists to another, and the third one is (mostly) real mail. That way I can switch to my laptop or someone else's computer and use webmail without bothering sifting through spam and list mail until I'm back at home.

The one thing I miss is access to my extensive archives of mail... maybe a CC to Gmail would be a good way to deal with that.

on June 21, 2005 09:00 PM
# Mookie Kong said:

I too have used IMAP for a while now without any problems. I currently use it with on my PowerBook, Thunderbird on my VAIO, and SquirrelMail when I am at work. Never had a problem. I run exim-sa on my server, I used to use procmail, but I don't anymore.

Out of curiosity, why are you having exim pass the mail through procmail then to SpamAssassin? exim-sa has SpamAssassin run at during the SMTP connection so that it can stop any true spam from hitting the disk.

on June 21, 2005 09:03 PM
# Dmitri Maximovich said:

As previous post said, why don't you switch to latest Exim (version after 4.50 if I'm not mistaken) which has built-in support for spamassasin and antivirus. IMHO it's best to reject spam at SMTP connection time. Works excellent for me.
About IMAP - I'm using Courier IMAP for more than 5 yeares now, about 20 thousand messages in Maildir - zero problems with access from multiple clients etc, so I don't quite understand what you're complaining about.

on June 21, 2005 09:44 PM
# Mike said:

Squirrelmail + IMAP works pretty well for me. So does YahooMail + IMAP.

on June 21, 2005 10:02 PM
# RG said:

Why not Yahoo Mail?

on June 21, 2005 11:48 PM
# Nancy McGough said:

I also have been dreaming about the promise of IMAP for years and have done what I could to promote it and to try to help people to "get" it and to want it and to demand decent IMAP software. Unfortunately I too have come to the conclusion that all IMAP clients suck. And I'm slowly coming to the realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with IMAP itself. This is not a dig at Mark Crispin (the inventor of IMAP), who I have tremendous respect for. It's just that IMAP does not seem to fit into the semantic-web world of plugging and playing with bits and pieces of data (e.g. bits and pieces of email messages). The fact that an IMAP message does not have a fixed unique identifier is a big clue that there's a problem.

Anyway, for now I'm sticking with IMAP and I'm in the process of moving gigabytes of messages to's Cyrus IMAP server. I mainly use Pine and Horde/IMP for my IMAP clients and always use "online mode" IMAP so I don't have the sync issues that people who try to use offline mode or disconnected mode IMAP have.

on June 22, 2005 01:59 AM
# Derek said:

I'd love to know what's different about your environment that IMAP doesn't work for you. I've been using IMAP exclusively now for about six years with no discernible problems. I've used it with Eudora/Win, Eudora/Mac, Entourage, Apple Mail, Horde's IMP, SquirrelMail, and have a couple friends using my mail server and Outlook. Nobody seems to have any significant problems (other than standard Microsoftisms for people who are using MSFT products).

on June 22, 2005 02:40 AM
# kael said:


Did you try Mulberry ? Probably the best IMAP client but not free -

on June 22, 2005 03:09 AM
# Gary Coady said:

Mulberry's IMAP support is amazing, but its UI design is questionable (or was - I haven't looked at it in about two years).
I would pay for Mulberry on Linux with a new (GNOME HIG) interface.

I agree that there's something missing in IMAP - resyncing is extremely expensive (bandwidth-wise) if a folder is large, there's no report of incremental changes since the last sync. If you're online, this isn't so bad as long as your IMAP client and server support the IDLE extension.

One last comment - UIDs ARE sort of fixed unique identifiers (per mailbox) - unless the UIDVALIDITY changes, of course.

on June 22, 2005 04:26 AM
# Indrek Siitan said:

I agree that IMAP has its quirks, but its upsides for me have far outweighted them. On my desktop, I've used MS Outlook and Evolution and MS Entourage for the last couple of years after the Switch now.

The main things I love about IMAP:

- I can use procmail to filter the mails to folders on the server, and if I'm on a slow connection with my laptop, only check the important folders and skip the stackload of mailinglists that I'm on.

- I can access all this via a webmail client. It does happen every once in a while that I end up somewhere without my notebook and it's convenient to just log in to my mailbox with a browser and be able to quickly check the most important folders.

I agree that the syncing is somewhat slow, but when I'm going away for an extended period of time where I'll be using my laptop, I just open Entourage on the laptop at home (with a good connection) for 15-20 minutes and let it sync up before leaving.

on June 22, 2005 04:34 AM
# Roger said:

Jeremy - sounds very similar to what I've ended up using--Eudora, squirrelmail, and Gmail powered by good old POP3.

Detailed here:

on June 22, 2005 04:38 AM
# Philip Tellis said:

bah. you obviously haven't tried telnet. the king of all email clients, supports everything. you want offline archiving? memorise the damn thing. it's faster recall too. DWI*

on June 22, 2005 05:57 AM
# Rasmus said:

POP Good, IMAP Bad?? At the very least, IMAP is a way better POP if you choose to just use it for that. POP is a terrible and inefficient protocol.

Add something like imapsync to the mix and you can easily synchronize your server-based mail with your laptop(s).

on June 22, 2005 06:55 AM
# Xbot said:

First off...What's the use of the 'Jeremy's first name'? I guess to fan out the idiots?

Secondly, I find IMAP a good thing. No extra options to tick, I can prevent viruses from touching me by downloading headers instead of messages (until I click on them, which is when they conveniently download). POP seems like the brute force way of downloading mail, IMAP seems server-side, which to me is good.

It's like a single webmail interface for many services.

on June 22, 2005 07:04 AM
# Laura said:

The problems that I've seen people having with IMAP are almost always traceable to the IMAP *server* or how its been set up, not the client. I'm not familiar with the intricacies of IMAP server administration -- it was pretty darn simple for me -- but apparently from what I hear corporate IMAP servers are all different, they're all a beast to set up and administer and if its not done right it Just Doesn't Work. Which is too bad because IMAP is a dream.

I run IMAP-uw on my local mail server for just me. Other that a bit of confusion over compile options that took some googling to figure out it was trivial to set up. I've switched clients a few times; Eudora's IMAP support got worse over the years and their support less helpful ("you're doing it wrong,") which finally forced me to dump it a few years back. Mozilla/Thunderbird is much better but I prefer's interface. I have fifteen years of email stored on the server; I sync between three computers; I read and reply offline from my laptop; I regularly ssh into the server itself and read my email with mutt and then resync when I get back to my graphical client and it all Just Works.

The few accounts I have that use POP seem hopelessly primitive to me. I would go nuts without my IMAP.

on June 22, 2005 07:37 AM
# Mike said:

Here is what I do.

My main PC runs Outlook in POP3 mode. When I check my email on this PC it gets downloaded (and backed up nightly). However, Outlook is setup not to delete the email from the server for 120 days. On all of my other PC's, I either run T-bird in imap mode or webmail. This setup has worked well for me for the last few years.

on June 22, 2005 07:51 AM
# Brian Benz said:

Try Lotus Notes. Hundreds of millions of people work offline with it every day, with no problems, for email and for other things....

on June 22, 2005 08:36 AM
# Ross said:

Well I made the transition to IMAP close to a year ago. I love it and my humble opinion is POP sucks. The fault I believe lies with not having a mail client that makes full use of IMAP. M$ Outlook just plain sucks all around. Thunderbird does a reasonable job with IMAP for basic needs. I purchased Mulberry and have been using it for a number of months and love it. It takes full advantage of the IMAP protocol, same people who code the Cyrus IMAP server code Mulberry.

Another factor is also having a service that knows does a good job supporting IMAP. I currently use IMAP4all and, both are decent. I know Fastmail does a good job with IMAP also.

So basicly it comes down to this, do your homework before you come to a conclusion.

on June 22, 2005 08:43 AM
# Matej Cepl said:

Yes, I totally agree -- IMAP clients suck. Royally. Especially all Mozilla IMAP effort are terribly buggy, unreliable and generally pain in neck to use. Even my ungeeky wife settled for mutt in ssh rather than fight with Thunderbird or Mozilla Mail (lost some mail on the way and her bug reports went generally unnoticed).

I use kmail and I am pretty happy with it. And if you want to do it Unix-way then isync is probably way to go -- extremely simple, well-done, and quite reliable (from Michael Elkins, the author of Mutt). Synchronizes to your local Maildir folders, where it could be processed by whatever else (procmail, mutt, pine, etc.).



on June 22, 2005 10:03 AM
# Adam said:

I agree with an earlier poster that IMAP sucks when your *server* sucks.

I tried accessing my Webhost-based mail via IMAP, and had nothing but problems (crashes, error messages, etc.). I bought a FastMail account, and it's been pretty blissful ever since.

Why do I now love IMAP? Let me count the ways!
1) Works fabulously -- and via PUSH! -- on my Treo 600 using Chattermail.
2) I'm able to access my mail easily via Outlook from both home and work.
3) Greater protection... I don't have to worry about my hard drive crashing and losing all my mail (even though I am finally doing nightly backups... I'd still lose up to a day of mail, or have to deal with piecemeal backups from Gmail, etc.)
4) Folders! I love how I can have Fastmail filter stuff into folders on the server side so I don't have to set up rules at home, work, and on my phone!

Methinks, Jeremy, that you've unfairly maligned IMAP. Try another server.

on June 22, 2005 10:32 AM
# tom said:

Ditto Adam's comments.

The combination of a good IMAP server and a good IMAP client is a dream. And both do exist -- FastMail and Thunderbird fit the bill. Email everywhere, rich client access from multiple machines, mobile access, virus/spam filtering and backup taken care of -- best of all worlds.

But I do understand how people can be frustrated with poor implementations of one or the another.

The Windows Mobile IMAP client, for one, is a stinker that doesn't play well with others (funny, many non-Exchange IMAP servers, like FastMail). But don't let someone's poor IMAP implementation (client or server) give you a bad taste. IMAP is delicious.

on June 22, 2005 12:02 PM
# Stephan Segraves said:

I love IMAP! You can't beat plain text files that you just download to backup.

I have had a few issues with IMAP and my server. The servers usually use inconsistent naming methods for the "Sent" folder and things of the like. In Horde it is "sent-items", in Outlook it's "Sent Items", in Thunderbird it's just "Sent".

Also, in some clients if you create a new folder under your inbox, move e-mails to it, then move those e-mails somewhere else and try to delete the folder it will not let you. Just an annoyance.

on June 22, 2005 12:06 PM
# HMCIV said:

WOW! Sounds Complicated. I've stuck to using Gmail via Firefox but have high hopes Google will implement IMAP. I had very good success with our college's IMAP server back in undergrad.

on June 22, 2005 12:24 PM
# Daniel Miessler said:

Like many others who have commented, I find it odd that you've had so many problems with IMAP. I use a Postfix, Courier-IMAP, combination.

The thing I love so much about IMAP is you're talking to the "real" mail. I love Gmail's interface, don't get me wrong -- I just can't give up being ON my mail server -- regardless of my client.

I'll tell you what I'd pay out the butt for -- a Gmail interface to my own IMAP server. That would be godlike.

Anyway, I love IMAP. I think you're psycho. :)

on June 22, 2005 08:08 PM
# Art Cancro said:

It's not the software's fault. IMAP is a horribly designed protocol. I wrote the IMAP implementation for the Citadel groupware server (do take Citadel for a spin if you haven't seen it yet, it's great) and I can tell you without a doubt, it's because the protocol semantics are so convoluted that the software implementing it ends up being so quirky.

It's not a simple protocol, which is a shame because it could be. You need fairly sophisticated language parsers at both ends of the link, you need to translate data formats, you need to understand how to handle the same data in several different formats ... it's a BIG mess.

Simple protocols tend to be implemented reliably because they're straightforward. That's why POP3 is so easily implemented. IMAP is way too complex. The only reason it's a standard is because Marc Crispin was in the right place at the right time.

on June 23, 2005 05:53 AM
# Trey Van Riper said:

I think people who try to implement IMAP, either for the client, or for the server, would see that IMAP itself, as a protocol, likely has some problems.

As currently written, the protocol imposes a lot of difficulty on the part of both client and server to determine the best means possible to achieve a particular end.

I suspect most of the people who claim to love IMAP like what they have managed to get it to do for them, rather than the actual protocol itself. Which is okay, I suppose, but you won't likely come to understand why so many people have problems with it.

Consider that you very rarely hear of people experiencing problems with SMTP, POP3, HTTP, FTP, and many of the other established protocols people use on a regular basis. However, consistently, and often, people experience problems getting clients and servers to communicate effectively with each other through IMAP.

Pity a more sane protocol to achieve the same sort of purpose hasn't been popularized (like, say, POP4 at ... and no, I had nothing to do with creating the POP4 protocol).

on June 23, 2005 06:35 AM
# Mike Jackson said:

Server-side, I use Sendmail, procmail, and Courier-IMAP (surprised not to see anyone else using it). My Gmail account is downloaded by fetchmail and stored in an IMAP folder. For a text-based client, I use Pine (first used it in about 1996, never felt the need to switch to mutt). For a web client, SquirrelMail. On my Windows machine, I've tried Thunderbird, but the offline support frustrates me and that it can't seem to check more than one folder per connection without barfing on itself (maybe that's server/client interaction issues, who knows). Darned if Outlook Express doesn't just *work* with IMAP. I have occasional IDLEing problems, but nothing that leaving and re-entering the folder won't fix. It downloads all the messages (or headers) from all the folders I tell it, and I never have to worry about it. The mail filtering doesn't work with IMAP, but that's what procmail is for, and I use it to filter my mail into about 20 or so folders. If I ever switched to a FreeBSD/Linux desktop, I'd use Evolution for sure. It's always worked in my few tries of it.

on June 23, 2005 07:57 AM
# Jay said:

Your comments seem to indicate a lousy IMAP server experience. Try IMAP Partners (Google them). They run Mirapoint IMAP and it is nearly bulletproof.

on June 24, 2005 05:34 AM
# Artem Frolov said:

No, I'll never return to POP nightmare again! I never had any problems with IMAP, except for offline support. But I worked around that by setting up filters in a way that they copy all (or selected) messages to local folders - now you have all your mail when you are offline! Backups are created on server (and on every client you use).

gmail does not support IMAP, so I do not use it actively anymore. I paid for a member account on and I am going to upgrade further in near future. Their IMAP support, HTTPS server and "works everywhere" no JavaScript interface beats gmail hands down in my eyes.

In other words
* POP very bad.
* IMAP good.
* GMail looks cool but useless.
* Thunderbird good.
* Backups good.
* Fastmail rocks

on June 28, 2005 03:27 PM
# Greenie said:

First off, blaming a technology because of the lack of adequate client support is asinine. Last time I heard anyone make this sort of claim was in 1994. An executive with NEC tried to lecture me on how HTML wasn't going anywhere because "even the leading client [Mosaic] didn't adequately support the standard."


Anyone that favors a POP-based solution over IMAP is simply not one who both truly depends on email (whether professionally and/or socially) while requiring multi- platform/machine/locale flexibility.

Mail.App and Mulberry both work *flawlessly* with IMAP, and does so with any server I've had to connect with. This includes IMAP servers that all of the Mozilla "support" forum posters claim are either misconfigured or not compliant with the IMAP standard. I've had equal success using the web-based Squirrelmail and the mobile clients Chattermail and SnapperMail.

I use all of the above products on a regular basis in which read and write over 700 messages each day. Before adopting solid IMAP clients, I was stuck with various forwarding and import/export solutions. Now I can't imagine how I could ever go back to a POP-based solution.

Meanwhile, every time I have experimented with Thunderbird I have run into lockups, crashes, lost mail and overall performance slowdown. One glance at the Thunderbird "support" forums shows that problems are not the exception -- they are the norm.

on July 1, 2005 05:39 AM
# Carsten Pedersen said:

After a lot of the same headaches that you describe, I cam across offlineimap - a small, very stable Python script that gives you the best of all worlds: synced desktop/laptop, offline reading and writing, and - in a clinch - the ability to ssh into the mail server and read the mails stored there using pine.

on July 3, 2005 04:38 AM
# LarsJ said:

Well, as a Windows XP user, I use IMAP and have been for about 6 years. I use Outlook Express which has proven itself as the most reliable IMAP client for me. It *does* sync folders/emails and I am on the run all the time with all my email offline on the laptop. And when I'm not in reach of my laptop, I can use any web browser and read my email *exactly* as it is organized on the client.

All I know is I use OE and the server is Hexamail - it just works. IMAP and webmail with no problems at all.

on July 18, 2005 11:37 AM
# John Schneider said:

I love IMAP also. Running imap-uw on FreeBSD 4.9 with Outlook 2002 as the client. Never a problem, except for very occassionally a dropped connection. I work offline and online. I've also used Thunderbird without issues (but only for a short time). - John

on August 10, 2005 05:17 PM
# Hank said:

I'm with Jeremy. I've gone through OE, Eudora, Opera's email client, Mulberry, SquirrelMail, and I can't get IMAP to work perfectly in any of them.

The closest so far, I'm sorry to say, is Outlook Express, but the only problem I have is that no matter how many times I tell it to save sent mail in the IMAP folder, it saves it locally.

If anyone has a clue why OE would be doing that, regardless of being told otherwise (I know what I'm doing, please don't tell me about the "IMAP" tab in account settings for the "Sent" folder - I've set it), please email me before I pull all of my hair out.

BTW, I'm running Courier-IMAP server, as part of the Bill Shupp Qmail Toaster (google for it).


on September 9, 2005 01:32 PM
# Fred said:

Oh my God. That's a funny page. A lot of people don't understand that the service is as good as what you are using for this service.
Using Outlook for IMAP is already stupid. Ever called M$ when you have a problem with IMAP? "Sorry, we don't actively support IMAP!".

I'm using Thunderbird as client and Courier as server. It Just Work. I read my mail from everywhere, whenever I want. Online or offline ...

on November 3, 2005 07:03 AM
# Bill Mitchell said:

My IMAP config has worked well for 3 years:

Server: Debian, qmail, spamassassin, courier-imap
Clients: OE, Thunderbird,, PalmOS Mail

This system hosts several mail domains, stores about 3 gigabytes of mail in hundreds of subdirectories, and has had few glitches.

I agree the clients all have various problems.

OE can handle vast numbers of messages (many thousands per subdirectory before it starts to slow down) in multiple accounts, and has nice options to optimize synchronization -- but messes up on some basics. When you send a message, it's automatically placed in a server-side "Sent Items" folder, yet they inexplicably provide no corresponding delete action. If you click delete, instead of moving to a deleted items folder of your choosing, it simply draws a line through the item (real helpful), and then purges it out of existence when you hit "purge".

Apple's handles that one correctly, but is quickly overwhelmed by multiple accounts or large quantities of mail. With 3 or 4 accounts on a single client (Jaguar on a G4 cube), outgoing messages start disappearing, synchronization can hang, etc.

T-bird is OK, much better than, probably equivalent to OE. It's never lost anything, at least.

For me, the benefits of IMAP (exactly one copy of each message, accessible from anywhere) vastly outweigh the modest client UI hassles. Maybe I've just been lucky?

on November 13, 2005 09:08 AM
# William Mitchell said:

My IMAP config has worked well for 3 years:

Server: Debian, qmail, spamassassin, courier-imap
Clients: OE, Thunderbird,, PalmOS Mail

This system hosts several mail domains, stores about 3 gigabytes of mail in hundreds of subdirectories, and has had few glitches.

I agree the clients all have various problems.

OE can handle vast numbers of messages (many thousands per subdirectory before it starts to slow down) in multiple accounts, and has nice options to optimize synchronization -- but messes up on some basics. When you send a message, it's automatically placed in a server-side "Sent Items" folder, yet they inexplicably provide no corresponding delete action. If you click delete, instead of moving to a deleted items folder of your choosing, it simply draws a line through the item (real helpful), and then purges it out of existence when you hit "purge".

Apple's handles that one correctly, but is quickly overwhelmed by multiple accounts or large quantities of mail. With 3 or 4 accounts on a single client (Jaguar on a G4 cube), outgoing messages start disappearing, synchronization can hang, etc.

T-bird is OK, much better than, probably equivalent to OE. It's never lost anything, at least.

For me, the benefits of IMAP (exactly one copy of each message, accessible from anywhere) vastly outweigh the modest client UI hassles. Maybe I've just been lucky?

on November 13, 2005 09:09 AM
# Wake up and smell the Coffee said:

Forward all your email to Gmail???

Google/Gmail's policy is to never delete anything.

If your never going to use your email to send/receive anything of a sensitive nature (passords / work email / reminders / cell phone numbers etc etc) then fine.

Otherwise be careful. Be very careful!

Your paranoid in cyberspace


on March 23, 2006 12:59 PM
# Mr. Flanders said:

I've been using Courier IMAP for the past 3+ years without a problem. I use Thunderbird (Fedora Core 5) on my laptop, for webmail and Snapper Mail on my Treo 650.

For me IMAP works great, I'm able to keep synchronized even the messages I read and sent from my Treo.

on September 29, 2006 08:02 AM
# jfo said:

UW-IMAP failed miserably when I tried to use it. It gets the job done for very small mailboxes but when you have more than 100 or so messages it really starts to fall apart.

Right now I'm running Citadel and I have to say they've done a good job at working around the flaws in IMAP. From what I understand it's a tough job for server developers to build IMAP servers with reasonable performance.

on February 26, 2007 11:27 AM
# David Wolf said:

Interesting. After some many months (almost 2 years!) it seems that IMAP still has issues around it. Obviously some who have posted have no problems at all. I identify with those that do. I have tried all the IMAP clients out there for Mac OS X that allow for downloading of messages and attachments locally (I need to read offline frequently) and ALL of them have had problems. I don't have control over the server side of things (we use CrystalTech as an email and web host) so this leads me to think that some email servers work well with IMAP clients and others don't. Our internet connection is solid (we have a partial T1) so I don't think that plays a part.

IMAP is essential. Forcing POP accounts to hold messages for several computers to access info from the same account for remote access pushes the envelope. This is especially true when where we have to use scripting and rules to re-post sent messages so they appear in the sent folders of other systems accessing the account later. What a mess! This is just the thing that IMAP was designed for and I know it does work for some.

The best I have gotten is by using Entourage. The program works fine until it loses the message info on a folder or folders and then we have to rebuild the message list. This takes a good chunk of time when there are a lot of messages on the account, and it is required several times a day. Very frustrating. It also will show, for instance, that there are 5 new messages in the In Box but won't display them. I can refresh the list with command-L and then a couple will show. Hit command-L again and then a few more pop up. Eventually all of them show up... or the box loses its message list entirely and I need to rebuild the entire list using option-command-L.

Like I said, very frustrating. But this is still better than some of the clients I tried that duplicated messages or lost them entirely.

I've been searching the net for a solution to these problems for a few weeks now and the best advice I've found is exactly what I've been doing. IMAP is promising, but by no means is it solid for everyone. Those who have it good be happy, but don't treat us that don't as if we don't know what we are doing, or that we are being too unrealistic. Not everyone has control over the server software used. There are real issues out there and we are looking for real solutions.

on April 3, 2007 03:22 PM
# goodimaprocks said:

you should try The Bat! from ritlabs...
it is by far the best imap client... and by best imap client I means it's the only one that handles correctly imap synchronization and everything that goes with it. (including on-demand sync, where you work "offline" for a while, prepare a few emails, delete some, read some, then do a send/receive and all flags are sync'ed correctly...

So you can have The Bat! installed on 3 different computer (office, laptop and home for example), and have them sync with your imap server nicely.

It is to my knowledge the only one doing it correctly.

on April 15, 2007 12:54 AM
# David Wolf said:

Thanks for the mention of TheBat!, but won't work for me. TB is Windows only. I'm on a Mac. Also, though I have not used TB myself, or no anyone personally who does, I did go through the forums on their site and it is clear that there are at least a few souls out there who still find TB to have issues with IMAP.

While the email clients out there might have IMAP implementation problems, it seems just as likely that the email servers have issues as well. This would create a complex web where a combination of server and client software maybe be the issue with IMAP, who knows.

The search continues...

on May 15, 2007 06:01 PM
# Chris D said:

I'm always a little saddened about IMAP because it seems so good, but then I wish it had support for things like Contact Sync (and, even, iCal..!)

Yes, I know I should be using MS Exchange, but who wants to use an expensive proprietary solution (hosted Exchange servers cost upwards of 7/month) just to access e-mail from anywhere?

on August 28, 2007 11:41 PM
# Adrien D said:

I just tried the Bat after Thunderbird crashed again on me for the zillionth time today whilst half way through writing an email.

Unfortunately the Bat seems to ignore decent practise for IMAP (like is happy to send STARTTLS without even having established server CAPABILITY). It's also happy to send pipelined requests even when server pipelining isn't advertised. So I can't recommend it.

I've got over 700 mail folders, and tens of thousands of messages. In that situation IMAP does suck. I've even tried getting the protocol changed. Problems with it include:

* have to SELECT folders, therefore can only monitor one mail folder per connection (leading to all manner of nice race conditions and lockups).
* 2 indexing methods, one based on UUID (good) another on "index" (extremely bad). Unfortunately for some key commands or responses (such as EXPUNGE response), only the extremely bad index is used.
* No folder synch support in the protocol (i.e. notifications about folders, renames, deletes etc etc). They do this for the messages but not the folders - that's just lame.

on April 1, 2008 03:48 AM
# sean lu said:

Hi, I also like to use IMAP with my company's email which using Google Apps, i used thunderbird, and opera M2 , and our company's long loved 'becky internetmail' ...

this is what i feel:
1. the Operamail M2 is the fast one to see message.
2. the thunderbird and becky , similar speed...
3. thunderbird can creat a 'template' folder in our Gmail server which is nice when you like to use some template......

but all of them worthy trying to read email IMAP way.

hope this info helpful


on May 10, 2008 09:21 PM
# John R said:

Not that some time has passed, it would be interesting to see how you would review the current batch of apps.

My experience IMAP syncing with Gmail:

Outlook 2003 - generally fine but occasionally get lockups during mail sending. Don't know if this is an IMAP issue or a problem sending through Gmail's SMTP server. And of course Outlook has crappy logging so can't identify source of issue.

Folder updates are slower than I would like, especially when trying to deal with multiple accounts.

Thunderbird v2 - Overall IMAP functionality seems rock solid. A lot of settings to work through to get it working like Outlook but those are more client gui visual things, not actually IMAP related.


on August 20, 2008 05:23 PM
# Dan T. said:

A couple comments in response to John R.

I have been using Outlook 2003 for a few weeks with my 4 simultaneous Gmail IMAP accounts, approximately 5GB altogether.

On crashing: With Outlook 2003, I certainly see quite a bit of crashing and stalling. Overall, it's workable, but pretty annoying.

Because gmail won't allow me to control my "From" field, I don't use the gmail outgoing smtp server. Instead I use my ISP's outgoing mail server. This helps isolate the source of the crashes he mentioned, or at least suggests that it's not *just* the gmail smtp server.

So I tried Thunderbird, and at first impression, noticed that it seemed to be much more savvy about handling IMAP syncing--I didn't give up control to the sync process as I seem to in Outlook 2003. But I haven't used it long enough to comment on stability.

Unfortunately, my workaround for the lack of contacts support in IMAP is to keep them in a hotmail account so I can access and change them from multiple Outlook 2003 clients. Thunderbird doesn't have http mail support, so I am now forced to pick between the convenience of portable contacts and the quicker response of TBird. Hmmmm. Not sure yet.

on October 22, 2008 07:47 AM
# said:

I absolutely hate IMAP. It makes no freaking sense.

on January 10, 2009 06:15 AM
# mike said:

Im switching to an exim/dovecot imap server from 2003 exhange server and I have to tell you im strongly considering switching back.
for a single user its kind of expensive but for a small to medium size business I must say its superior in all. Unfortunately its superior in cost, it cost a hell of a lot more than the alternatives.

on February 2, 2009 08:30 AM
# Brandon Phelps said:

IMAP clients still suck, four years on from the original post.

I've used Thunderbird and EMClient with IMAP. The main problem I have is that Tbird will randomly stop getting email, and then start again after some time. This is AFTER I dealt with a bunch of sucky Tbird idiosyncrasies. (on another topic, I think Tbird should install with the option to "Set defaults to mimic MS Outlook with Exchange". This is so obvious)

Plus calendaring with both Gmail and MS Exchange calendars is *******HELL*********.

My setup:
Tbird running on two different laptops (some of them simultaneously, though usually only because I forgot to turn on off). I am accessing three gmail accounts from two different domains. I am also accessing an Exchange account via IMAP. All of these set up on all PCs. Also accessing via a Blackberry using IMAP.

I'm considering going to Scalix and just giving into to the force. Hell, I'll just start using Exchange hosted out of my house if it comes to that...... well, I WOULD if Exchange ALLOWED MULTIPLE SIMULTANEOUS LOGINS!!!!!! WHAT IS THIS, 1995????!?!?!?!?!!?

on April 24, 2009 05:16 PM
# Gregor said:

wow, the comments history is pretty long,-)

I recently completely switched to IMAP for all my mail, after getting hooked to my HTC Magic ("G2") GoogleAndroid phone.

Client side, I was very positively surprised by KMail (1.11.x) in KDE 4.2.4, which handled the first BIG sync with *all* my GMail mail without any bigger hickups, syncing in some 37000 headers and 10 "folders" (which are just tags in GMail). It even ran quite fast.

Subsequent syncs are relatively fast but accessing individual msgs sometimes takes some seconds too long, but I'm happy with it for the moment, hope they do iron out some minor issues (redundant download of headers etc., but never get duplicates or loose msgs) in the next KDE release (4.3).

So for me, GMail + KDE's KMail via IMAP is the killer-combo, all in sync, incl. status, starred msgs and tags. No more unread msgs on the client when I've read them already on my phone etc. IMAP hurray:)

on July 20, 2009 12:59 PM
# johny why said:

"resyncing is extremely expensive"
--only if youre using a very dumb imap client.

i've been using imap for 10 years-- it is much more sensible than pop, which routinely creates dupe messages.

even outlook express does incremental syncing.

if you set it to sync headers-only on inboxes, and NO syncing on other folders (until you select them), syncing is quite fast. then, when you click on a message, it downloads the body.

only the initial sync, the first time you add a new account, can take a while (but be sure to halt the new-account sync and set it to headers-only before allowing it to finish).

also, outlook express (now "windows mail") gives you offline mode, so you can view dowloaded mails when youre not connected to the server. (but if you enabled "sync headers only", you can only view bodies offline that you downloaded fully, by reading them while online.)

if you access your email from multiple locations (home pc, office pc, library pc, laptop, mobile device), then imap is the only way to go. downloading all 10,000 of your emails to every device makes no sense. imap keeps every client in-sync, all the time.

this is the Software-As-Service era. imap is to SAS what pop is to heavy-client computing. imap makes light-client email possible.

re jeremy's proclamation that "imap sucks, or at least imap clients do"-- imap and imap clients are two very different things. although you cant have one without the other, its incorrect to lump them together.

the one problem i have with imap clients-- they are too fat. i have very little ram, so i am looking for something lighter than windows mail. for now, i use web-based imap clients, until i find a tiny desktop client.

the tiniest imap desktop clients i've found are koma-mail, which does not have headers-only syncing (it treats imap like pop, which is really dumb)

and sylpheed, which has some bugs

Anyone know of a really tiny windows imap client?

on September 6, 2009 09:31 AM
# johny why said:

I did not like tbird, but outlook is lovely (tho large). i recommend windows mail (outlook express).

some are saying google wave is the next phase of email, after imap-

on September 6, 2009 11:10 PM
# Chris Gilchrist said:

Actually after trying just about every IMAP client out there Windows Live Mail does an amazing job with Gmail IMAP.

I've explained why here

And here's a detailed guide on hoe to configure it

Once you start using WLM it will revive your faith in IMAP :)

on April 30, 2010 08:19 AM
# karl said:

I guess I don't understand the complaints. I have used IMAP for over 15 years and it has always been the perfect solution to the problem to avoid having multiple copies of mail on multiple computers, yet being able to view and manage email from any computer, anywhere. At work, I use a linux laptop running dovecot IMAP as my server, so that I can see my work mail from about 6 computers at work - evenb corporate Windows machines running Outlook. Since dovecot IMAP is on my laptop, when I'm on the road, I have my complete IMAP mail store with me and readable even when disconnected from the network (my mail store goes back to 1989). I don't sync to my other computers - just have the headers always sync'd so I can read whatever I like from any work computer I am using.

For my personal email, I use the gmail IMAP server, so I can see all my mail anywhere in any browser. My IMAP client of choice is Thunderbird. Always has worked perfectly (in the early days, I used text-based pine). On my personal gmail IMAP account for which I almost always use the browser interface, I only use Thunderbird for sorting on size, detaching and/or deleting attachments only. The ability to detach or delete attachments while keeping the mail body intact is one of the features I like about IMAP. However, the key feature is ONE set of mail (OK, I have one for work and one for personal, due to corporate firewall policy) accessible from EVERYWHERE, with no thoughts at all about syncing, etc. I can only presume that people who claim that IMAP (and its clients) are terrible, haven't taken the time to set it up correctly, although it's no more difficult than POP.

on May 31, 2010 02:37 PM
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