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Numerous users often find themselves in a state of confusion when setting up their Outlook email client application, grappling with the choice between IMAP and Exchange configurations. This article is tailored to address this common dilemma by highlighting the key distinctions between these two setups.


The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is a widely-accepted internet standard that empowers email clients to connect with mail servers over TCP/IP connections to access messages. The default IMAP server typically operates on port 143, while IMAP over SSL/TLS secures communications on port 993. Today, an array of IMAP-supported email servers, email clients, and web-based email services exist, often offering both POP3 and IMAP protocols for configuration. IMAP was designed with the primary goal of preserving emails on the server until a user actively deletes them.


Microsoft’s Exchange Server is a versatile mail server solution that leverages the Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) protocol to establish connections with email clients, while relying on the ubiquitous Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) to interface with other email servers. This versatile platform is available both as an on-premises deployment and as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, catering to the unique requirements of businesses. Exchange email accounts can be seamlessly accessed through popular email clients such as Outlook and Windows Live Mail. Notably, Exchange Server offers a rich set of features, including ActiveSync for efficient cross-platform synchronization, online services through Microsoft 365 Exchange Online, hosted Exchange services, as well as compatibility with various third-party services, making it a comprehensive choice for managing email communication and collaboration.

Differences between IMAP & Exchange

In order to avoid confusion, there is a need to compare both services and find out the best suited for the organization at present.

Comparison Factor



Basics Message Access Protocol Mail Server
Protocol Internet Message Access Protocol Use MAPI (proprietary) protocol to connect to email clients
Storage Store inbox emails on the server and sent items locally on the desktop, and can download emails for offline access Stores both inbox and sent emails on the server, which can be accessed through supported webmail or email clients
Modification Emails deleted or moved on the server gets automatically modified from the respective client and vice versa Modified content on configured email clients would update it on the server as well.
Synchronization Server-based email synchronizing with visibility in multiple email clients Server-based email, calendar, contacts synchronizing (Exchange Active Sync)
Services Email management only Emails, Contacts, Calendars management
Devices support Apps on laptops, mobiles, tablets, systems, etc. Mail apps on Android, iPhone mobiles, tablets, iPads, etc.
Offline Accessibility No such facility requires email client online for access to emails This feature offers users offline access to their mailboxes in cached mode, empowering them to read, view, and edit emails. These changes are seamlessly synchronized with the server as soon as a network connection is established, following the successful configuration of the Outlook email client with the Exchange Server.
Favorable when Mail server is connected to multiple devices simultaneously The organization already using Exchange Server
Supported email clients Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird, Notes, Zoho Mail, Yahoo Mail, Notes,, Office 365, etc. Microsoft Outlook for Mac, Microsoft Outlook for Windows, Outlook Web Access, Outlook app for iOS and Android
Which Protocol Should I Choose: IMAP or Exchange?

Once you’ve thoroughly compared IMAP and Exchange, and conducted a comprehensive evaluation of their respective features, you can make an informed decision about which server best suits your needs.

  • If you wish to seamlessly access all components of your mailbox, including your inbox, outbox, sent items, contacts, and more, across multiple devices, IMAP server is the ideal choice.
  • If you’re seeking enhanced mailbox security, synchronization, and collaborative functionalities, Exchange Server is your ideal choice for accessing your email.

Do you Need to Migrate IMAP to Exchange?

If your organization uses IMAP but wants to use an Exchange Server mail server, we got you the best migration tool to backup or migrate IMAP mailboxes to Exchange Online and on-premises. The tool supports almost all IMAP servers for migration and offers single/multiple mailbox migration to public folder, archive mailbox. It integrates smart filters for moving the desired data. To get a complete idea about the tool, it is better to visit the website and work on its trial version available on the same link-

Q- Is Exchange a protocol?

A- No. Exchange Server is a mail server and utilizes proprietary protocol MAPI to establish a connection with email clients like Outlook for sending and receiving emails.

Q- Do contacts get synchronized on IMAP servers?

A- No. Only emails are synchronized with the IMAP server and can be accessed on multiple email clients

Q- What credentials should I have to add my on-premises Exchange Server as the destination in the Kernel IMAP to Office 365 tool?

A- The main credentials required to add an on-premises Exchange Serve account as the destination in the Kernel IMAP to Office 365 tool are – Exchange Server name, mailbox login ID, and password information.