IMAP email: server storage space

Differences between IMAP and POP3:

One of the great benefits of using the IMAP protocol (instead of POP3) when collecting your incoming email is that the mail remains on the mailserver. This means that you can view your mail in more than one device (e.g. desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone) and your view is synchronised between these devices. Any emails you have read appear as read in all devices; and if you delete an email in any device, it is deleted for all devices. So IMAP makes it really convenient for you if you use more than one device to collect your email.

In comparison, when using POP3, your email application (e.g. Outlook) will download your emails to your computer and then delete them from the mailserver. This uses much less storage space on the mailserver. But you won't have the convenience of your email being synched between your different devices. If you switch on your desktop computer in the morning, open Outlook and receive your mail messages, those messages will be downloaded to your computer and deleted off the mailserver. If you open up your email app in your tablet or smartphone later in the day, the email messages you received that morning will not be visible, because you've already downloaded them to your desktop computer.

Storage space issue with IMAP:

With the increasing use of a range of devices like tablets and smartphones for collecting email, IMAP has become the first choice for many users. The big downside of this is that your email remains on the mailserver, using up your quota of disk space.

As you fill up your quota of disk space, we will warn you and you then have a few options. Please consider these options carefully before making any changes - some of these options involve deleting email messages or removing them from the mailserver and leaving you with just a local copy on one of your computers or other devices. So take care when making any changes! And review your local backup arrangements if you want to ensure you don't lose emails in the event of a disaster. If you have an IT support provider who can help with email and backup issues, you should discuss the issue with them before making any changes.

Options to resolve the storage space issue:

1. Delete messages:

You can delete messages so that you reduce your usage of storage space on the server. This is the simplest solution - especially if you don't really need to store all your old email messages. If you know you will never ever have to refer to an email that's e.g. over a year old, you could manually delete all messages this old from your mailbox. This is the simplest solution, but possibly not the best solution for everybody. Having said that, it's quite good to get into the habit of deleting irrelevant emails every day as they come in - this saves space on the mailserver and, if you later archive these messages on your own computer, will save space there as well.

2. Archive your old emails:

This option is a sort of cross between using IMAP and using POP3. For new emails, you retain all the benefits of IMAP, and its ability to synch your email between your different devices. But for your old emails, these are downloaded to one of your devices (e.g. your desktop computer) and deleted from the mailserver. Old emails will then only be visible on the one device where you archived the mail.

Please note that support for individual email applications goes beyond our services, so if you're at all unsure about how to proceed, please ask your usual IT support provider for help.

Email applications will generally have an archiving function. For example, in Microsoft Outlook, AutoArchive can automate the archiving task for you, checking regularly for mail that is older than X months and archiving it to be stored locally on your computer. This Microsoft article describes how to use the "AutoArchive" function in Outlook:


In addition, a further setting may need to be configured to ensure that archived emails are removed from the mailserver: - in Tools ... Accounts ... (..account..) ... More settings ... Advanced - check Purge items when switching folders while online.

The AutoArchive process can also be used to delete old messages, instead of deleting them manually as described in option 1. So, for example, if you know you don't ever need emails that are older than e.g. a year, your can use the AutoArchive settings to delete these old emails. See the Microsoft article mentioned above for more information.

Bear in mind that your archived mail is downloaded to your computer and deleted from the mailserver. So make sure that the location where your email application archives your email is part of your regular (hopefully daily!) backup plan - otherwise you run the risk of losing all your emails in the event of a disaster such as a fire or the theft or failure of your computer.

3. Switch to POP3:

The issue of storage space on the server can be resolved by switching to POP3 to collect your email. You will lose the benefit of a synchronised view of your email if you access your email on different devices such as a computer and a smartphone. But if you don't use more than one device to collect email, or if you can operate without a synchronised view of your email, this solution is simple and effective. With POP3, your email is downloaded to your computer and deleted from the mailserver. So make sure that the location where your email application (e.g. Outlook) stores your email is part of your regular (hopefully daily!) backup plan - otherwise you run the risk of losing all your emails in the event of a disaster.

To switch to POP3, you will need to change how your email account is configured in your email application. This article gives more information - see the differences in port numbers used for IMAP compared to POP3:


4. Upgrade your web hosting account:

You can upgrade your web hosting account so you get more storage space - but this will cost you more money every year. And this only gets you more time. If you have already filled up the storage space on a standard hosting account, you'll soon fill up the extra space on an upgraded account - and when you reach that point, you'll have even more email messages to deal with!

Please contact us to discuss upgrading your hosting account.

5. Switch to another email service:

You could switch to another email service such as Gmail - see here for more information:



IMAP is often the preferred method of collecting email, because it allows your different devices to see the same synchronised view of your email. But it comes with a major disadvantage - IMAP leaves all your email messages on the server, which can use up your quota of storage space allowed within your web hosting account. Users have a range of options to reduce the amount of storage space they use. The simplest is to delete any emails you no longer need access to (e.g. old emails). But if you need to store all your email, the next best option might be archiving. Your email application (e.g., Outlook) can archive your email according to rules that you set. Archived mail is stored on your computer and deleted from the server, thus reducing the amount of storage space you require on the mailserver. Check that your email archive is covered by your regular computer backup - or you will run the risk of losing your archived mail in the event of a disaster. These two options, deleting emails and archiving emails, will probably be the best solution for most users, although other options are also described above.