Gmap - Gmail IMAP

Last week Gmail launched free IMAP support, which was one of the most user-requested features. We were fortunate and got the IMAP access to show up in our account simply by logging out and logging back in, but some of my friends are still sitting around waiting for it to show up in their accounts. Google has said that it will take about a week to roll it out to everyone, which means all accounts should have access to IMAP by the end of the month (on Wednesday).

Since the launch of IMAP support I’ve received several questions from friends and readers wondering how it all works, and why they should use it. Lifehacker has a killer article that walks you through using Thunderbird with Gmail’s IMAP, and so I thought I would just give a quick rundown on the important points such as setting it up.

–IMAP vs. POP–

IMAP, unlike POP3, supports two-way communication between the email client and Gmail. If you read/delete a message in, lets say Outlook, the same action will be taken on the message in your Gmail account. If you put an email in a folder, for example “Personal”, in Outlook it will also be labeled as “Personal” on Gmail. I think you get the gist.

For a lot of people IMAP is just better because you don’t have to manage your email in two different places. Although some people still prefer to use POP because they know that their messages are still accessible in the event that they permanently delete it from their email client.

–How to Enable Gmail IMAP–

As of right now Gmail is still rolling out IMAP access to their users, but they plan on it being done around Wednesday, October 31st. They require that you set your interface language to “English (US)” in order to use the IMAP access, and when it becomes available this is how you can enable it:

  1. Log in to your Gmail account.
  2. Click Settings at the top of any Gmail page.
  3. Click Forwarding and POP/IMAP.
  4. Select Enable IMAP.
  5. Click Save Changes.

–Setup your Email Client–

Setting up the IMAP access is not all that different from setting up a POP account, but there are some address and port changes you need to be aware of. Here are the general settings that you’ll need:

Incoming Mail (IMAP) Server – requires SSL:
Use SSL: Yes
Port: 993
Outgoing Mail (SMTP) Server – requires TLS: (use authentication)
Use Authentication: Yes
Use STARTTLS: Yes (some clients call this SSL)
Port: 465 or 587
Account Name: your Gmail username (including
Email Address: your full Gmail email address (
Password: your Gmail password

Google has more detailed setup instructions available for the most popular email clients:

–How Gmail IMAP Works–

Action on mobile device/client (e.g. iPhone/Outlook) Result in Gmail on the web
Open a message Mark a message as read
Flag a message Apply a star to the message
Move a message to a folder Apply a label to the message
Move a message to a folder within a folder* Apply a label showing folder hierarchy (‘MainFolder/SubFolder’)*
Create a folder Create a label
Move a message to [Gmail]/Spam Report a message as spam
Move a message to [Gmail]/Trash Move a message to Trash
Send a message Store message in Sent Mail
Delete a message in inbox** Remove the message from inbox**
Delete a message from a folder** Remove that label from the message**
Delete a message from [Gmail]/Spam or [Gmail]/Trash** Delete the message permanently**

*IMAP translates labels with a forward slash (/) into a folder hierarchy like you see in your computer’s file system. If you have a label such as ‘Family/Friends,’ you may want to reconsider your naming schemes because your IMAP client will display it as a folder named ‘Family’ with a subfolder named ‘Friends.’

**If you delete a message from your inbox or one of your custom folders in your IMAP client, it will still appear in [Gmail]/All Mail. Why’s that? In most folders, deleting a message simply removes that folder’s label from the message, including the label identifying the message as being in your inbox. [Gmail]/All Mail shows all of your messages, whether or not they have labels attached to them. If you want to delete a message from all folders, move it to the [Gmail]/Trash folder. If you delete a message from [Gmail]/Spam or [Gmail]/Trash, it will be deleted permanently.

–Applying Multiple Labels–

Managing your email can be a bit tricky since Gmail uses labels and almost all email clients use folders. Naturally if you move an email to a folder in your email client, it will have the same label applied on Gmail. But how can you add more than one label to an email?

It’s actually fairly simple. Copy a message, instead of moving it, to each folder corresponding to the labels you want to have applied. Gmail will recognize this action and apply multiple labels to the same message.

–What Doesn’t Gmail IMAP Support–

From first glance it may seem like Gmail’s IMAP service supports everything that you’ll need, but there are still a few things that have not been implemented:

  • \Answered and \Recent flags on messages.
  • Folder subscriptions. All folders are always in the ‘Subscribed’ list.
  • Substring search. All searches are assumed to be words.
  • Searching arbitrary headers. Only some headers are available for searches: From/CC/BCC/To/Subject.
  • There is no SIEVE interface to Gmail filters.
  • Only plain-text LOGIN over SSL tunneled connections are supported.