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What is an APK file and how do you install .apk file?

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You might have come across an APK file if you have ever tried to download an android app from a source other than Google Play Store. So, what is a .apk file? APK stands for Android Package Kit. APK files distribute applications primarily on the Android operating system.

In Android phone, some apps are pre-installed while other apps can be downloaded from Google Play Store. Since app installation via Google Play is handled in the background, you do not get to see the APK files. Apps that are not available on Play Store need to be manually downloaded. In these instances, you can find .apk files. They are similar to .exe files in Windows.

What is an APK file and how do you install .apk file

APK files can be downloaded to the Android device either through Google Play Store or through other sources. They are compressed and saved in zip format.

Where are APK files used?

Installing apps manually using an APK file is called sideloading. There are several benefits of installing an app from an APK file. For instance, when updates are released for major Google apps, it can take a while (usually a week or so) before your device has access to it. With an APK file, you can skip the waiting period and access the update right away. APK files are also handy when you want to download an app that is not available on the Play Store. However, one must be careful while downloading APKs from unfamiliar sites. Certain sites provide free APKs for downloading paid apps. This brings us to the next section. Are APK files safe?

How safe are APK files?

Not all websites are safe. Apps that violate terms of conditions of use are not listed in Play Store. To download such apps, you have to perform side-loading. While Play Store identifies malicious apps and removes them, it is a good practice to exercise caution from your side as well. While downloading an APK from a third-party website, there is a possibility of installing malware or ransomware that is made to look like a legitimate app. Research online for trusted websites to download APKs from.

How to open an APK file

Although APK files can be opened in many OSs, they are primarily used in Android devices. In this section, we shall see how to open an APK file in various devices.

1. Open an APK file on an Android device

For applications that are downloaded from Google Play Store, APK files just have to be downloaded and opened. However, the system blocks files are downloaded from unknown sources. The user can, however, change this setting so that you can download APK files from sources other than Google Play Store. The following steps will bypass the restriction.

Depending on the version of Android you are using, follow one of the three methods listed below:

  • Settings Security.
  • Settings Apps and notifications.
  • Settings Apps and notifications Advanced Special app access Install unknown apps.

From the list select the Install unknown apps option.

In some devices, permitting a certain app to download APK files from all sources would suffice. Or you can just go to settings and enable the ‘Install unknown apps or unknown sources’ option. In some cases, the APK file does not open. Then, the user can use a file manager app such as Astro File Manager or ES File Explorer File Manager to browse for the APK file.

2. Open an APK file on a Windows PC

To open an APK file on a Windows device, the first step is to install an Android Emulator. Blue Stacks is a popular Android emulator used in Windows. Open the emulator My Apps Install the .apk file.

bluestacks

3. Can you open an APK file on an iOS device?

APK files are not compatible with iOS devices as the OS is built differently. Opening an APK file on an iPhone or an iPad is not possible. The file works differently than the way the apps on these devices function.

4. Open an APK file on a Mac

There is a Google Chrome extension called ARC Welder for testing Android apps. Although it is meant for Chrome OS, it works on a couple of other operating systems too. Therefore, if you install the app within the chrome browser, it is possible to open the APK file on your Windows system or a Mac.

5. Extraction of APK files

A file extractor tool can be used to open an APK file in any operating system. A program such as PeaZip or 7-Zip can be used to check the various components of an APK. The tool only allows you to extract the various files and folders in the APK. You will not be able to use the APK file on your system. For this, you will have to download an Android emulator.

Contents of an APK file

An APK file is usually an archive of multiple files and folders required for an Android program/app. Some of the commonly found files are listed below.

  • arsc – contains all the compiled resources.
  • xml – contains details such as name, version, and contents of the APK file.
  • dex – contains the compiled Java classes that need to be run on the device.
  • Res/ – contains resources not compiled in resources.arsc.
  • Assets/ – contains raw resource files bundled with the app.
  • META-INF/ – holds the manifest file, the list of resources, and signature.
  • Lib/ – contains the native libraries.

Why should you install an APK File?

APK files are a way to access apps that are restricted in your region. Sometimes, you can install an APK file to get access to new features and updates before their official release. Also, if you realize that you do not like an update, you can install an older version. If for some reason, you do not have access to Google Play Store, then APKs are the only way to install apps on your device. However, remain cautious as some websites have APKs for pirated apps. This is not legal, and you may get into trouble for downloading such apps. Some websites that have previous versions of an app may contain malware. So, do not blindly download APKs from any website online.

Converting an APK file

Files such as MP4s and PDFs are supported on multiple platforms. Therefore, one can easily use a file converter program to convert these files from one type to another. However, with APK files, this is not the case. APKs run only on specific devices. A simple file converter program will not do the job.

It is not possible to convert an APK file to IPS type (used in iOS) or to .exe file type (used in Windows). It can be converted to zip format. The APK file is opened in a file converter and repackaged as a zip. Renaming the .apk file to .zip will work only in case of APK files because APKS are already in zip format, they only have the .apk extension.

Most of the time, converting an APK file for an iOS device is not required as the developers release their apps on both platforms. To open an Android app on a Windows system, install a Windows an APK opener. APK files can be opened on a Blackberry device using an APK to BAR converter program. Upload the APK to Good e-Reader Online APK to BAR converter. After conversion, you may download the file in BAR format to your device.

Creating an APK file

How does one create an APK file? Android developers use Android Studio which is the official IDE for developing Android applications. Android Studio is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. After the developers have made the app, the app can be built into APK files.

Android Studio’s Emulator

How do you install a .apk file?

In this section, we shall be seeing the methods to install an APK file from (a) an Android device (b) your PC/laptop

1. Installing APK files from your Android device

  1. Open any browser and search for the APK file you are looking for. Tap on the desired file to download it to your device
  2. After it has finished downloading, click on the file (found in the Downloads folder). Select yes in the prompt that follows.
  3. Now the app will get installed on your device

2. Installing APK files from your PC/laptop

Although there are multiple sites on the web that have APK files, it is recommended to install them only from trusted websites. Some websites may have pirated copies of apps. Others may have malware made to look like a legitimate app. Beware of such sites/files and stay away from them. Downloading these could cause security issues for your phone and data. This is why one must always be cautious while downloading apps from sources other than the Play Store.

1. Browse for the APK file that you are looking for. Download it from a safe website. You may choose the location of the download such that it is easy to spot.

2. By default, third-party apps may be blocked on your device. Thus, before installing the APK file you should allow third-party apps on your phone.

3. Go to Menu à Settings à Security. Now check the box against ‘unknown sources.’ This will allow the installation of apps from sources other than Google Play Store.

4. In newer versions of Android, you will receive a prompt to allow a particular app (browser/file manager) to install APKS from other sources.

5. After the download completes, connect your Android device to your PC/laptop. The system will ask you how you want to use the phone. Select ‘media device.’

6. Go to the phone’s folder on your system. Now copy the APK file from your system to any folder on your Android phone.

7. You can now browse the sile in your device. Make use of the File Manager if you are not able to find the file.

8. Open the APK file, tap on install.

Summary

  • APK stands for Android Package Kit
  • It is the standard format for distributing apps on Android devices
  • Apps from Google Play Store download the APK in the background. If you want to download apps from third-party websites, you can get the APK from many websites online
  • Some websites have malware disguised as APK files. So, the user needs to be cautious of these files.
  • An APK file provides benefits such as early access to updates, earlier versions of an app, etc…

Recommended: What is an ISO File?

That was all the information about an APK file, but if you have any doubt or don’t understand any particular section then feel free to ask your questions in the comment section.

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Elon Decker

Elon is a tech writer at TechCult. He's been writing how-to guides for about 6 years now and has covered many topics. He loves to cover topics related to Windows, Android, and the latest tricks and tips.

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