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Internet Message Access Profile is an internet email system.  In IMAP, email messages are stored on a server as well as locally.  The usual method of use is to work online with the server all the time, which allows new mail to be received immediately.  However, it is also possible to work offline when the server is not available.

One key advantage of IMAP over POP email is that, because the email is stored on the server, it is possible to use more than one client device (computer, smartphone) with the same mailbox and be able to see all the email from both systems on each device.

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