Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is another protocol that describes a method to retrieve email messages. However, unlike POP, when the user connects to an IMAP-capable server, copies of the messages are downloaded to the client application. The original messages are kept on the server until manually deleted. Users view copies of the messages in their email client software.

Users can create a file hierarchy on the server to organize and store mail. That file structure is duplicated on the email client as well. When a user decides to delete a message, the server synchronizes that action and deletes the message from the server.

For small- to medium-sized businesses, there are many advantages to using IMAP. IMAP can provide long-term storage of email messages on mail servers and allows for centralized backup. It also enables employees to access email messages from multiple locations, using different devices or client software. The mailbox folder structure that a user expects to see is available for viewing regardless of how the user accesses the mailbox.

For an ISP, IMAP may not be the protocol of choice. It can be expensive to purchase and maintain the disk space to support the large number of stored emails. Additionally, if customers expect their mailboxes to be backed up routinely, that can further increase the costs to the ISP.