How to Choose Between Push and Fetch Emails


In Apple Mail and other email clients, you may have the option to choose between push and fetch email delivery. These two methods differ substantially in theory but are quite similar in practice. Is push better than fetch email? What are push and fetch emails? Let’s find out!

TL;DR: Use push delivery.

What’s This About?

Two different ways to have your emails show up in your inbox. You still get all the same emails in all the same places. They just take a different route.

Push emails use a remote server (Gmail.com) to tell your email client (Apple Mail) when new emails have arrived. The fetch method makes your device repeatedly asking if the server if new email messages have arrived.

If push emails are a mother ringing her dinner bell when the emails are ready, then fetch emails are the children shouting every three minutes to find out if the email kiln has a fresh batch yet. The internal temperature of your email is rarely relevant, but push delivery tends to be the better option.

Fetch Emails

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 This system appears on older corporate email systems or outdated free email clients.

With fetch emails, the central mail 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

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.

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Alexander Fox

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