Over time, IMAP has become one of the most common email protocols used to check an email account. As the name infers, IMAP allows you to access your emails wherever you are, through the Internet. When you read your email using IMAP, you aren’t downloading or storing anything to your computer. Instead, you are simply reading it off the server itself.

Unfortunately, at times, IMAP functions can result in a heavy load on your server, especially if it is shared. This is because some functions of the protocol result in excessive CPU usage and require a significant amount of disk activity both on the server and connecting IMAP device.

While your system administration team will alert you if your IMAP accounts are causing problems that may result in excessive loads on a shared server, there are steps you can take yourself to avoid any problems from the outset.

How To Prevent Excessive IMAP Activity

There are several options available should you want to prevent excessive IMAP activity or even resolve it after having an issue.

Archiving

Option 1: Manual Archiving

Using manual archiving your system administration team will give you control over archiving your email on the server. This functionality will give you the ability to customize and personalize the names of your archived IMAP folders, instead of using the default folders that their auto archive process will create.

The benefit here is that you will have a better overview of where to find your records should you need to access them at a later stage.

Option 2: Auto Archiving

Here your system administration team will run an IMAP archiving script specifically for your account. The purpose of this is to limit your email account to store only emails for a specified time frame, say from the last 30 days, in your main inbox folder.

Once 30 days is up, the script will ensure that emails are automatically moved out of your inbox into their procedurally named/dated IMAP archive folders for storage.

Option 3: Local Archiving

Another option is to skip archiving old emails on the server, and instead archive them locally on your own computer or laptop.

This can be done by creating local folders in your chosen email client. Thereafter you simply need to drag these messages from the IMAP folders on the server, into your local archive folders on your computer or laptop.

Consider POP3 As An Option

One of the simplest solutions for less advanced users is to remove your IMAP account from your email client and re-create the same email with POP3. This would allow you to view your new emails by downloading them directly off the server itself.

One of the advantages of POP3 is that it doesn’t continually sync your older email messages when downloading or checking for new messages. This option is ideal for those looking for a simple but effective solution.

POP3 Compared To IMAP

The older POP3 (Post Office Protocol), downloads all your emails off the server and directly into your chosen email client. This is ideal for people using a single desktop or laptop, as all your mail will reside in that one machine.

The downside is that this method does not allow you to view replies or new messages across your different devices. This means that if you need to check emails from various devices like your laptop, phone or tablet and need to synchronize your messages, POP3 is not a suitable solution.

This is why IMAP has become a popular protocol. Because emails live on the server, any device connecting to your IMAP account can then easily synchronise and download all of your emails and IMAP folders, on each connection.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using IMAP All The Time?

To many people, IMAP seems the only logical choice going forward. But, like any product, it does come with its drawbacks. If you receive and store a large volume of emails on the server, each time your IMAP client connects, it will automatically sync everything in your inbox.

Unnecessary Synchronization Causes Load On The Server

As an example, if you have more than 5,000 emails on the server and want to check if you have received any new messages in the last day or so, your IMAP client will connect to the server and synchronize all 5,000 email headers. If you have not sent or received any new emails in that time, the syncing of these 5,000 emails will have been unnecessary.

While this may seem harmless if done once or twice, the reality is that most people tend to have their emails set to sync new messages on average, every 15 minutes per day. When we are talking about volumes of headers as in our example above, the unnecessary syncing can quickly overload a shared server.

More often than not, usage issues arise when accounts exceed 1,000 emails in their inbox. Most people might assume that they need to reduce their number of emails to 1,000 to ensure the server isn’t being overloaded. But in reality, these usage issues arise mainly when users don’t break up their emails into separate IMAP folders, and simply use their inbox for storing all their emails.

Solution To The Problem

Separate Emails Into IMAP Folders

For people who wish to receive and store large volumes of emails, it is advised to store only emails from the last 30 days or so. The rest of your emails should be stored in various IMAP folders, making them easily accessible while keeping them out of your main inbox folder.

You can create folders ranging from ‘monthly expenses’ to ‘newsletters’ or ‘family’, and use them to organise your email more effectively. This way every time you wish to check your new emails, your IMAP client won't have to re-sync those emails because they are no longer stored in the main inbox folder.

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