The Differences Between Push and Fetch Emails and Which One You Should Use

Essentially, push relies on a remote server to tell your device when new emails have arrived. The fetch method relies on your device repeatedly asking if the server if new email messages have arrived. The push method is more efficient but sometimes unsupported by older email clients or servers. The fetch system is older and slower but more reliable and easier to program.

Most email clients these days use push notifications by default. Sometimes you’ll have the option to change to fetch email. What’s the difference between push and fetch emails? Why would you choose one over the other?

Fetch Emails

fetch-vs-push-email-message-push

By making the email client responsible for noticing new messages, you can reduce the load on a server. This is ideal for popular services running on less-than-excellent hardware. This system appears on older corporate email systems or outdated free email clients. The server holds your mail until the client asks for it. Most of the time the client will ask every couple of minutes.

The most common interval is between five and fifteen minutes, but sometimes it can last as long as hours. The user can typically adjust the interval via the client’s preferences. Regardless of settings, fetched emails often arrive late. If your client fetches email every fifteen minutes, an email could arrive as long as fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds after delivery.

Fetch email notification also puts a greater load on a client device. For a desktop PC with virtually unlimited power, this doesn’t matter. But for a laptop or mobile device, this puts a greater strain on the device’s battery. Both of those attributes have led to the fetch method’s decreasing popularity over the years as mobile devices have ascended into a position of prominence.

While you can still find this method of retrieving emails, it’s rare that it will be the default. POP3 inboxes are limited to fetch notifications, but that email protocol has largely fallen out of favor against the superior IMAP protocol.

Push Emails

fetch-vs-push-email-announcement

Push notification of new email messages is a more modern protocol for message notification. With push notification, the server is responsible for notifying the client of new messages. The client is free to kick back and handle local functions, listening for the server to announce a new message. Once that announcement comes through, the client downloads new messages. This means messages arrive in your inbox moments after the server receives them.

Push notifications are embedded in the modern IMAP email protocol. Any reasonably modern email service such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook will support push notifications.

Conclusion: Should You Use Push or Fetch Email Notification?

Push email notification is virtually always the better choice. Messages come faster, the client device has fewer responsibilities, and communication is smoother. Communication between server and client stays at a minimum, conserving bandwidth on low-end connections.

Fetching emails should only be used when the client or server does not support push email notification. Fetch notifications measure up worse in virtually all objective respects. However, they can be more reliable on older client applications. If your email server only supports POP3 protocol, it can only support fetch notifications – unlikely here in 2018. When we say older, we mean on the order of a decade. Only a very small number of users need to be concerned about this.

If you have a choice between POP3 and IMAP protocols, you should always chose IMAP. It’s a superior protocol for a number of reasons. It doesn’t require local duplication of email messages, for one. And it avoids the possibility of clients falling “out of sync” with the server over long fetch intervals. If at all possible, avoid POP3 and its fetch email notification limitations.

2 comments

  1. This advice catastrophically recommends to abandon email archiving. To some guys ‘in the cloud’. Nuff said.
    Will try to filter down things by ‘Alexander Fox’ from now on.

    1. I would be interested to hear why you think this post recommends against email archiving, whatever it is that you understand that term to mean.

      Both IMAP and POP allow for the creation of a local copy of messages, which can then be archived and backed up at your discretion. While IMAP copies emails from the server and POP (typically) moves and deletes messages from the server, neither of those protocols affects your ability to create local backups. It’s simply how the message is collected. What happens after that is largely up to you.

      If you demand that emails exist only on your local machine, that’s fine. However, I think most users of email would find out-of-sync inboxes across multiple devices confusing. This breaks the standard metaphor of web services that almost all users are familiar with today, that multiple devices connected to the same source reflect the same information. The average user would surely be baffled to find that the emails on their phone are not the same as the emails on their laptop and that an authoritative copy of their inbox does not exist on the email provider’s servers. For that reason alone, IMAP is the best choice for most people.

      If you prefer an email system that’s configured in a very specific way, as it seems you do, that’s your prerogative. If you have privacy or data integrity concerns, then deleting emails from the email provider’s servers after fetch would likely assuage your concern—provided you can confirm the messages are in fact removed from their servers, of course. But that hardly means that every other configuration is automatically worse or incorrect.

Leave a Comment

Yeah! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic! Check out our comment policy here. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation.