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About email clients

Announcement

On 18/Nov/2005, TFN added IMAP capabilities to its mail server. Yeay! Prior to that, we had only POP.

We also added webmail. Whoray! Our webmail client, IMP, uses the Horde Framework. This framework supports enhanced features such as user-based password changing, calendars, and online task lists. We may add those later, if there is demand and if resources permit.

Some definitions

mail server

One of TFN's computers. It's job is to receive email on your behalf and to hold on to it for you. When you are ready to read your email, you connect to the server and retrieve your email.

system mailbox

For every TFN username (such as aa000), there is a file in the server. That file is called a system mailbox. All mail sent to your email address (such as aa000@torfree.net) gets appended by the server to your system mailbox, waiting for you.

Every TFN username has only one system mailbox, no more. If you have created an email alias (such as john-the-rascal@torfree.net), the server stores mail sent to your alias into your one system mailbox. An email alias doesn't have it's own mailbox.

email client

The program you use to read your email is called an email client. It copies your mail from your system mailbox, to some private location. Then, typically, as soon as the mail has been copied, the client deletes it from your system mailbox. Some clients run on your own computer; others run on TFN computers (servers). We refer to clients that run on your own computer as local email clients. We refer to clients that on TFN's computers as server-based email clients.

Examples of email clients that run on your own computer are: Thunderbird, Evolution, Microsoft Outlook, Eudora. These clients download your mail to your own computer. The advantage of running a client on your own computer is that the client runs very fast and that you don't need to be connected to the Internet to read your mail -- only to download it.

TFN does offer email clients that run on its servers. They are: Pine (used by telnet users and by text-only dialup users) and IMP (the Internet Mail Program, which provides TFN's webmail). Advantages of using a server-based client:

  • You can access your mail while away from home, eg from your computer at work, from a friend's computer, or from a computer in a public library or Internet cafe.
  • You can read your mail even if you don't have an email client on your own computer, eg if you have a computer older than the 1990s, or if your computer's client has been damaged by a virus or other mishap that you have not yet repaired.

POP and IMAP

POP (Post Office Protocol) is a communication protocol (a generally agreed way on how your computer must talk to a TFN computer) for gaining access to your email. IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is another communication protocol, also for gaining access to your email. POP is the older protocol. IMAP is more complex, so more can go wrong with it.

The similarities: Both POP and IMAP work by reading your mail from your system mailbox. They download your mail from your system mailbox on TFN's mail server to another place, typically to your own computer, so that you can view it. Both protocols will let you leave your mail on the server, if you want. (but please don't pile up large amounts of mail on the server.)

The differences: IMAP can create folders on the server in which you can sort your mail. POP cannot, but most email clients have the ability to create their own folders. So you can use POP and have folders too. The difference is that, if you use POP, TFN's server knows nothing about any folders your create. If you use IMAP, both your IMAP client and TFN's mail server will know what folders you created.

Most people use POP.
TFN's webmail client, IMP, is configured to use POP too.

Local or server-based email client?

With a server-based client, you must be connected to the Internet to read your mail. With a local client, you can download your mail from the server, then disconnect from the Internet and deal with your mail at your leisure.

With a server-based client, all your mail is sitting on a TFN server. If your computer dies, your mail is still safe at TFN. On the other hand, if TFN's server dies, you won't be able to access your old mail until that server is repaired.


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