While you may not give much thought to how your email works, knowing the basic functionality can be useful for troubleshooting problems and ensuring the security of your messages. Learn what an incoming mail server does for your email and why it's important in your day-to-day management of messages.
What does incoming mail server mean?
Think of your email inbox as a digital version of your actual postal mailbox. The mail has to sit somewhere before it gets delivered to you. The server that stores this mail and then sends it to your inbox is called an incoming mail server. It may also be referred to as a POP, POP3, or IMAP server. POP is short for Post Office Protocol and IMAP is short for Internet Message Access Protocol.
As you can imagine, there are many mail servers out there to accommodate the many people accessing and using email. Each large email provider, such as Gmail or Yahoo!, has its own mail servers. Internet providers generally have their own as well. Even a large company may have its own mail servers that they use to store emails and, in turn, use to communicate with mail servers across the globe.
Important uses for incoming mail server information
Why is this information useful? To properly set up the email software applications that come on your computer, such as those offered by Microsoft, you’ll need information about your email service, including the incoming mail server. It will help you get your emails on time to the inbox product of your choice. You may also need to know about your incoming mail server data to assist a computer repair professional with troubleshooting or to deal with security issues on your computer or mobile device.
If you use a web-based email service, such as Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail, and you use one of their free email addresses to get your email, you may not ever really need this information. Most of us just log in with our username and password, read new emails, and hit send on emails we want to deliver to others.
If you log into a web-based email inbox or email service through an internet service provider (ISP), however, the info and tips in this article are essential to know. Even if your email is shown to you through an interface like Gmail, your ISP has an incoming mail server. It’s useful to know this if you ever want to move all those old emails over to a product like Microsoft Outlook or read them from the email application that’s pre-installed on your phone or tablet. When setting up these solutions, you’ll be asked for your incoming mail server, outgoing mail server, and other data, such as the port and email password.
What is an outgoing mail server?
If you’re interested in your incoming mail server information, then your outgoing will be useful too. Going back to our postal mailbox analogy for the mail you receive, in our example, if you want to send a letter to someone else, you’ll need a second mailbox at the end of your driveway. That’s the equivalent of the outgoing mail server, a second and separate server just for those emails you send.
The outgoing mail server is as important as the incoming server since you’ll want to respond to some of those incoming emails. And you’ll need to know it for setting up email software solutions, too. It’s usually referred to as the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server.
How do I find my incoming and outgoing mail server info?
Whether you’re setting up the inbox on your computer or are simply curious, finding your incoming mail server will vary based on the way you get your email service. You can locate it by accessing the settings on your web-based email or searching the FAQ to find “incoming mail server” answers. If your email comes from your service provider, check your online account or contact them to learn the server name.
Here are some examples of the most common free email servers and the format for their mail server addresses:
- Gmail incoming mail server: pop.gmail.com
- Gmail outgoing mail server: smtp.gmail.com
- Yahoo! incoming mail server: pop.mail.yahoo.com
- Yahoo! outgoing mail server: smtp.mail.yahoo.com
- AOL incoming mail server: imap.aol.com
- AOL outgoing mail server: smtp.aol.com
- Outlook incoming mail servers: eas.outlook.com or imap-mail.outlook.com or pop-mail.outlook.com
- Outlook outgoing mail servers: smtp-mail.outlook.com
- Office 365 for Business incoming mail servers: outlook.office365.com
- Office 365 for Business outgoing mail servers: smtp.office365.com
- iCloud incoming mail servers: imap.mail.me.com
- iCloud outgoing mail servers: smtp.mail.me.com
While not always accurate, you can take an educated guess and assume that any address with pop or imap and the name of your service or email provider is an incoming mail server. Any address with smtp and that same provider is an outgoing server. If your email info doesn’t follow any of these common naming rules, contact your ISP or the company that runs your email service and ask for the details for each.
It's important that you don't mix the two server addresses up when setting up your email. Since you can't send outgoing mail through the incoming server and vice-versa, you’ll only receive an error message or not see any emails at all.
Double-check the format of the addresses to ensure you have incoming and outgoing set up properly. It’s usually best to send a test email to ensure you have the correct connection before you find yourself in a position where you have to get time-sensitive emails sent or received.
Why incoming mail servers matter
Whether you check your email on the web, from your phone, at work, or use a software solution like Microsoft Outlook, your email is being handled by both incoming and outgoing mail servers. The POP3 incoming server is what you’ll have if you get your email from your ISP. IMAP is more common with free, online email solutions like Yahoo! and Gmail. By knowing how to find your incoming server name and address, you can mix and match solutions to meet your needs and you can access your email anywhere on any device.
The role of the incoming mail server in receiving your emails is important. Without it, you wouldn’t get all those important messages, from your credit card statements to the latest deals at your favorite online retailer, like HP®. Problems with your incoming mail server may result in not getting your emails on time - or at all - and knowing your mail servers can help your ISP troubleshooting go smoothly.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.