POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is the most recent version of a standard protocol for receiving e-mail. POP3 is a client/server protocol in which e-mail is received and held for you by your Internet server. Periodically, you (or your client e-mail receiver) check your mail-box on the server and download any mail, probably using POP3. This standard protocol is built into most popular e-mail products, such as Eudora and Outlook Express. It’s also built into the Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers.
POP3 is designed to delete mail on the server as soon as the user has downloaded it. However, some implementations allow users or an administrator to specify that mail be saved for some period of time. POP can be thought of as a “store-and-forward” service.
An alternative protocol is Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). IMAP provides the user more capabilities for retaining e-mail on the server and for organizing it in folders on the server. IMAP can be thought of as a remote file server.
POP and IMAP deal with the receiving of e-mail and are not to be confused with the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), a protocol for transferring e-mail across the Internet. You send e-mail with SMTP and a mail handler receives it on your recipient’s behalf. Then the mail is read using POP or IMAP.