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POP3, which is an abbreviation for Post Office Protocol 3, is the third version of a widespread method of receiving email. Much like the physical version of a post office clerk, POP3 receives and holds email for an individual until they pick it up.

Pst Office Protocol (POP) is an application-layer Internet standard protocol used by local e-mail clients to retrieve e-mail from a remote server over a TCP/IP connection. POP and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) are the two most prevalent Internet standard protocols for e-mail retrieval. Virtually all modern e-mail clients and servers support both. POP has been developed through several versions, with version 3 (POP3) being the current standard. Most webmail service providers such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail provide both an IMAP and POP3 service.

POP supports simple download-and-delete requirements for access to remote mailboxes (termed maildrop in the POP RFC's). Although most POP clients have an option to leave mail on server after download, e-mail clients using POP generally connect, retrieve all messages, store them on the user's PC as new messages, delete them from the server, and then disconnect. Other protocols, notably IMAP, (Internet Message Access Protocol) provide more complete and complex remote access to typical mailbox operations. Many e-mail clients support POP as well as IMAP to retrieve messages; however, fewer Internet Service Providers (ISPs) support IMAP.

A POP3 server listens on well-known port 110. Encrypted communication for POP3 is either requested after protocol initiation, using the STLS command, if supported, or by POP3S, which connects to the server using Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on well-known TCP port 995.

Available messages to the client are fixed when a POP session opens the maildrop, and are identified by message-number local to that session or, optionally, by a unique identifier assigned to the message by the POP server. This unique identifier is permanent and unique to the maildrop and allows a client to access the same message in different POP sessions. Mail is retrieved and marked for deletion by message-number. When the client exits the session, the mail marked for deletion is removed from the maildrop.

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