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The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is an Internet standard protocol used by e-mail clients to retrieve e-mail messages from a mail server over a TCP/IP connection. IMAP was designed with the goal of permitting complete management of an email box by multiple email clients, Therefore, clients generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them.

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, with many webmail service providers such as Gmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo! Mail also providing support for either IMAP or POP3.

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. Support for the Internet standard protocols allows many e-mail clients such as Pegasus Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird to access these servers, and allows the clients to be used with other servers.

STARTTLS can be used to provide secure communications between the MUA communicating with the MSA or MTA implementing the smtp protocol.