# Connecting to a mailbox

To do anything with an IMAP account you need to connect to it first. To do this you need to specify some required parameters:

  • The server name or IP address of the mail server
  • The port you wish to connect on
    • IMAP is 143 or 993 (secure)
    • POP is 110 or 995 (secure)
    • SMTP is 25 or 465 (secure)
    • NNTP is 119 or 563 (secure)
    Flag Description Options Default
    /service=service Which service to use imap, pop3, nntp, smtp imap
    /user=user remote user name for login on the server
    /authuser=user remote authentication user; if specified this is the user name whose password is used (e.g. administrator)
    /anonymous remote access as anonymous user
    /debug record protocol telemetry in application's debug log disabled
    /secure do not transmit a plaintext password over the network
    /norsh do not use rsh or ssh to establish a preauthenticated IMAP session
    /ssl use the Secure Socket Layer to encrypt the session
    /validate-cert certificates from TLS/SSL server enabled
    /novalidate-cert do not validate certificates from TLS/SSL server, needed if server uses self-signed certificates. USE WITH CAUTION disabled
    /tls force use of start-TLS to encrypt the session, and reject connection to servers that do not support it
    /notls do not do start-TLS to encrypt the session, even with servers that support it
    /readonly request read-only mailbox open (IMAP only; ignored on NNTP, and an error with SMTP and POP3)

    Your connection string will look something like this:


    Please note that if any of the characters in your connection string is non-ASCII it must be encoded with utf7_encode($string) (opens new window).

    To connect to the mailbox, we use the imap_open (opens new window) command which returns a resource value pointing to a stream:

    $mailbox = imap_open("{imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}", "username", "password");
    if ($mailbox === false) {
        echo "Failed to connect to server";

    # Install IMAP extension

    To use the IMAP functions (opens new window) in PHP you'll need to install the IMAP extension:

    Debian/Ubuntu with PHP5

    sudo apt-get install php5-imap
    sudo php5enmod imap

    Debian/Ubuntu with PHP7

    sudo apt-get install php7.0-imap

    YUM based distro

    sudo yum install php-imap

    Mac OS X with php5.6

    brew reinstall php56 --with-imap

    # List all folders in the mailbox

    Once you've connected to your mailbox, you'll want to take a look inside. The first useful command is imap_list (opens new window). The first parameter is the resource you acquired from imap_open, the second is your mailbox string and the third is a fuzzy search string (* is used to match any pattern).

    $folders = imap_list($mailbox, "{imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}", "*");
    if ($folders === false) {
        echo "Failed to list folders in mailbox";
    } else {

    The output should look similar to this

        [0] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX
        [1] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX.Sent
        [2] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX.Drafts
        [3] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX.Junk
        [4] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX.Trash

    You can use the third parameter to filter these results like this:

    $folders = imap_list($mailbox, "{imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}", "*.Sent");

    And now the result only contains entries with .Sent in the name:

        [0] => {imap.example.com:993/imap/tls/secure}INBOX.Sent

    Note: Using * as a fuzzy search will return all matches recursively. If you use % it will return only matches in the current folder specified.

    # Finding messages in the mailbox

    You can return a list of all the messages in a mailbox using imap_headers (opens new window).

    $headers = imap_headers($mailbox);

    The result is an array of strings with the following pattern:


    Here's a sample of what each line could look like:

    A     1)19-Aug-2016 someone@example.com Message Subject (1728 chars)
    D     2)19-Aug-2016 someone@example.com RE: Message Subject (22840 chars)
    U     3)19-Aug-2016 someone@example.com RE: RE: Message Subject (1876 chars)
    N     4)19-Aug-2016 someone@example.com RE: RE: RE: Message Subje (1741 chars)
    Symbol Flag Meaning
    A Answered Message has been replied to
    D Deleted Message is deleted (but not removed)
    F Flagged Message is flagged/stared for attention
    N New Message is new and has not been seen
    R Recent Message is new and has been seen
    U Unread Message has not been read
    X Draft Message is a draft

    Note that this call could take a fair amount of time to run and may return a very large list.

    An alternative is to load individual messages as you need them. Your emails are each assigned an ID from 1 (the oldest) to the value of imap_num_msg($mailbox) (opens new window).

    There are a number of functions to access an email directly, but the simplest way is to use imap_header (opens new window) which returns structured header information:

    $header = imap_headerinfo($mailbox , 1);
    stdClass Object
        [date] => Wed, 19 Oct 2011 17:34:52 +0000
        [subject] => Message Subject
        [message_id] => <04b80ceedac8e74$51a8d50dd$0206600a@user1687763490>
        [references] => <ec129beef8a113c941ad68bdaae9@example.com>
        [toaddress] => Some One Else <someoneelse@example.com>
        [to] => Array
                [0] => stdClass Object
                        [personal] => Some One Else
                        [mailbox] => someonelse
                        [host] => example.com
        [fromaddress] => Some One <someone@example.com>
        [from] => Array
                [0] => stdClass Object
                        [personal] => Some One
                        [mailbox] => someone
                        [host] => example.com
        [reply_toaddress] => Some One <someone@example.com>
        [reply_to] => Array
                [0] => stdClass Object
                        [personal] => Some One
                        [mailbox] => someone
                        [host] => example.com
        [senderaddress] => Some One <someone@example.com>
        [sender] => Array
                [0] => stdClass Object
                        [personal] => Some One
                        [mailbox] => someone
                        [host] => example.com
        [Recent] =>  
        [Unseen] =>  
        [Flagged] =>  
        [Answered] =>  
        [Deleted] =>  
        [Draft] =>  
        [Msgno] =>    1
        [MailDate] => 19-Oct-2011 17:34:48 +0000
        [Size] => 1728
        [udate] => 1319038488