POP3 stands for Post Office Protocol 3. That’s because your server acts very much like a real post office.
Here’s how it goes.
Firstly, You have to have an agreement with some server somewhere to act as your post office, and you’ll have gotten a username, password, and the names of the POP3 (your mail comes in) and SMTP (your mail goes out) servers. Either you or some geek you know will carefully type all this info into the right place in your email application, which keeps it so you only have to type in this info again if you change something major.
You sit at your computer. You wake up your email application, and say “Go get my mail, eh?”
The email application sends a request along the line to the specific server you have the agreement with. This can be your own domain (yourname.com, yourbusinessname.com, yourhobby.com, somesillything.com) or the domain name of the folks who sell you internet service. (shaw.ca, telus.net, aol.com)
Say, for instance, that your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org (yes, I know it’s actually my email address, but bear with me). Your username is elaine, your password is banana, and your pop3 server name is pop3.ElaineMiller.Com.
The dialogue would go kinda like this if you could translate it into English.
Emailer: “Knock, knock.”
server: “pop3.ElaineMiller.Com post office. Whose email do you want?”
Emailer: “Elaine’s email please. I am Elaine’s computer.”
server: “Prove you are Elaine”
Emailer: “The secret password is… banana”
server: “Okay, I’m spitting your email down the wire to you. Four messages.” (Ptoo! Ptoo! Ptoo! Ptoo!)
Emailer: “Four messages. Got ’em all. Delete your copies.”
server: “Messages sent and erased off of this computer. Pleasure to serve you!”
Okay. Now your email is in your home computer, as files, and your emailer helps you view and work with the contents of those files.
When you choose to send something, you talk to a different part of the server.
Think of webmail like a post office that you have to visit in person, from any computer anywhere. Instead of handing your mail to you and letting you go home with it, the imaginary postal clerk holds each piece of mail for you, opened out and flat against the glass between you, and you read it there. One at a time.
You can send replies, forward email, delete, store it, simply by typing directions to the clerk behind the window. *
When you leave the post office, you’re don’t have a bag full of mail — anything you haven’t deleted is still in the post office, and the next time you visit (no matter where you visit from), you can look at it all over again.
Some companies are famous for offering free webmail services, such as Hotmail, Yahoo, and so forth. These services generally don’t offer a POP3 service unless you pay for it.
Webmail access to your POP3 account
Many hosts (like DykeTech.Com) give you webmail access to your regular POP3 box. Confused? Here’s how that goes.
On Monday you sit at your regular computer, open your email application and ask for your mail. It shoots down the line to you, and there it is in your computer.
On Tuesday you’re in Banff for a conference, and you go to an internet cafe, and use the browser to access your mailbox. Now, Monday’s mail is on your computer at home, so you can’t see it. But Tuesday’s mail is right here. You read a few, reply to the important ones, and delete three SPAM mails, and then leave the cafe to enjoy the scenery for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday, you’re back at your home computer. You open your email application, check your mailbox, and down the line comes not only Wednesday’s mail, but Tuesday’s as well — except for the deleted messages, which are gone for good.
If you don’t have a home computer, or want to keep all your mail on the server for some other reason, you’d best be sure you have a big mailbox. Just like in real life, mail takes up space.
* You can ask the imaginary webmail clerk to save a message or its attachment to whatever computer you’re on, as well