APK files allow you to install apps on Android devices without using the Google Play Store. This offers more flexibility for downloading region-locked or unpublished apps. However, security risks exist with sideloading untrusted APKs. This article covers what APK files are, why you might want to install them, how to install APKs on Android, and best practices for doing so safely.
What are APK Files?
- APK stands for Android Package Kit.
- APK files contain apps packaged up with all necessary code and resources.
- They allow installing apps directly on Android devices.
- Each APK file is specific to an app and Android OS version.
- APKs contain the app code alongside manifest, certificates, assets, and resources required to run.
- They are analogous to the .exe files used to install programs on Windows.
Reasons to Install an APK
Installing apps outside the Google Play Store carries risks. But there are legitimate reasons you may want to install an APK file:
- Get apps limited to certain regions.
- Try out apps in development before they release officially.
- Install apps no longer available in the Play Store.
- Use apps blocked by your country or network administrator.
- Avoid Play Store limitations on devices like the Amazon Fire tablet.
- Install unofficial ports bringing apps from other platforms.
- Distribute apps internally to company employees outside public stores.
- Access niche specialty apps unattainable through standard channels.
- Try modded or tweaked app versions adding custom features.
How to Install APK Files on Android
Here are the steps to safely install APK files on Android:
1. Allow App Installation from Unknown Sources
First you must enable “Unknown Sources” in Settings to permit installing apps outside the Play Store:
- Open Settings and select Security or Applications (varies by device).
- Enable the “Unknown Sources” or “Install Unknown Apps” option.
- Confirm any warning prompts explaining the risks of enabling this setting.
2. Download the APK File
Obtain the APK file from a trusted and verified source:
- Many sites directly host APK files for download. Avoid shady sites prone to hosting malware.
- For unpublished apps, you may receive an APK directly from the developer.
- Check user reviews and ratings to evaluate the safety and legitimacy of any APK.
- Scan the APK at VirusTotal.com before downloading to check for red flags.
3. Install the APK
Once downloaded, begin installation:
- Open the APK file from your device’s file manager app.
- The package installer will launch. Accept any requested permissions.
- Following setup prompts, the app will be installed on your device.
- You can view and launch the app like any other installed from the Play Store.
4. Revoke Unknown Source Permissions
After completing APK installation, it’s recommended to disable “Unknown Sources” under device settings again to prevent untrusted app installs in the future.
Uninstalling APK Apps
To remove an app installed from an APK:
- Open Settings and go to Apps or Application Manager.
- Select the app and tap Uninstall.
- Confirm removal when prompted.
- The app APK will be deleted from your device storage.
Uninstalling removes all files, data, cache, and associated resources from storage. You may need to re-enable app installation permissions temporarily to successfully uninstall APK apps.
Safely Installing APKs
To minimize security risks from third-party APKs, follow these best practices:
- Only enable “Unknown Sources” temporarily during active installs.
- Thoroughly research apps and only install trustworthy APKs from reputable sources.
- Check ratings, reviews, development history, and transparency of APK origins before installing.
- Only grant the exact permissions an app needs to function, denying broad or unnecessary access.
- Install a trusted antivirus app to scan for potential malware hidden in APKs.
- Avoid APKs requesting unusual permissions combinations or access to sensitive data.
- Stick to apps from well-known developers and companies whenever possible.
- Ensure your device runs the latest Android OS and security patches.
While APKs carry risks, following secure installation practices minimizes chances of issues arising.
Comparison Between Installing APKs vs Play Store Apps
|Metric||APK File Installation||Play Store App Installation|
|App Vetting||No vetting process or checks||Google checks apps for policy compliance and malware|
|App Sources||Can be downloaded from any website or developer||Restricted to Google Play Store listings only|
|Security Risk||Higher with untrusted sources||Lower due to Google vetting process|
|App Selection||Access to apps prohibited on Play Store||Limited to apps permitted by Google|
|Developer Revenue||Lack of install tracking reduces ad revenue||Google tracks installs and displays ads|
|Install Steps||Manual download and launch||Simple one-click install through Play Store|
Installing APKs offers flexibility but requires greater user diligence compared to the streamlined and controlled Play Store process. Both enable app access but take very different approaches.
Comparison Between Android APK Files and iOS APP Files
|Metric||Android APK||iOS APP|
|Full Name||Android Application Package||iOS Application Archive|
|Format||Based on JAR file format||Proprietary IPA file format|
|Contain||App code, resources, manifest, certificates, signatures||App code, resources, entitlements, metadata|
|Distribution||Can be installed directly or via Play Store||Must be installed through App Store only|
|Verification||Optional signature checks||Apple thoroughly reviews and signs all apps|
|Openness||Can obtain apps outside official store||Walled garden approach bars external sources|
|Installation||Enable “Unknown Sources”, install downloaded APK||Apps auto-install when downloaded from App Store|
Android uses industry standard JAR technology for more flexible APK creation and distribution, whereas Apple tightly oversees all stages of iOS app development and distribution through the App Store.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I install an APK on my non-Android devices?
No, APK files only work for Android operating systems. Apps designed for iOS, Windows, MacOS, and other platforms cannot be installed from an APK.
What should I do if an APK doesn’t install correctly?
First, try re-downloading the file in case the original was corrupted. Also ensure you have enough device storage space. If issues persist, contact the app developer for troubleshooting.
Is it illegal to install APKs?
Downloading apps outside official stores generally does not violate laws or copyrights. However, pirating paid apps via APKs is illegal. Apps themselves may also facilitate illegal activities.
Can I update APK apps?
Unfortunately no. The Google Play store handles updates automatically for its apps, but APKs must be manually re-downloaded and reinstalled when new versions become available.
Why are some APK files so large?
The APK contains all code, graphics assets, libraries, and other resources needed to run the app. Complex apps like games require far more resources than simple apps, resulting in much larger file sizes.
Should I uninstall apps after using their APKs?
Yes, for security best practices it is wise to uninstall any apps you have finished testing or no longer need that were installed via APKs outside the Play Store system.
Where is the safest place to get APKs?
Reputable app repositories like APKMirror that develop vetting procedures and host APK files uploaded from verified developers tend to be the safest options.
Can I get a virus by installing an APK?
Yes, there is always a risk that an APK could contain malware or unwanted programs. Only install trusted APKs and scan files before installation to minimize the risks.
Are APK files free?
The APK files themselves are free to download, but they may be associated with paid apps. Downloading paid app APKs from unauthorized sources equates to piracy.
Can I install iOS apps on Android via APKs?
No, iOS apps made for iPhones will not function on Android even if converted to APK format. APK is specifically for Android apps. iOS apps must be installed through the App Store.