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Android Basics: How to sideload an APK

APK Sideload

Android applications are made up of many different files which are then compressed into a format called ‘APK.’ Typically, developers then upload these files to the Google Play Store and then users can download them. This usual method hides all of the technical work in the background.

Sometimes, though, you might want to install an app that isn’t in the Play Store. The steps below will walk you through the process of setting up your device to install APKs…

One of the benefits of sideloading APKs is that doing so lets you install updates to apps before they officially roll out to your device via the Play Store. This is also a way for developers to quickly test their own applications without needing to upload them to the Play Store first.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that installing APKs from third-party sources can be potentially dangerous. As the application files can be easily modified, parties with hostile intentions can release an APK for a popular app or game which is infested with viruses.

Among others, APKMirror is one of the safer sources for these files, though, as they check each APK sent their way for a signature that matches the ones from other builds of the application.

The first thing you need to do is enable ‘Unknown sources’ so that your Android device allows you to manually install apps. If you don’t do this, most Android devices are going to tell you that you can’t install downloaded APKs until you do:

  1. Go to your phone or tablet’s Settings menu.
  2. Scroll down and tap on Security under the Personal subheading.
  3. Under device administrators, toggle on Unknown sources.

Now that you’ve turned on ‘Unknown sources,’ you can download and install APKs:

  1. Download the APK file from a trusted source.
  2. Open a file manager application. I recommend Astro File Manager but any from the Play Store or built into your device should work.
  3. Navigate to the location of the downloaded APK. This will most likely be the ‘Download’ folder.
  4. Tap on the icon for the APK.
  5. The interface will ask you if you would like to install the application and lists all of the permissions that you will be granting it.
  6. Select Install.

The most common use case, as mentioned, is installing just-released apps that haven’t rolled out to your device. Any time we mention that you can download the the latest version of an app from some third party source in an article here at 9to5Google, now you know that all you have to do is navigate to that page on your mobile device, download the app, and then follow the above quick steps.

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Avatar for Justin Duino Justin Duino

I’m a writer for 9to5Google with a background in IT and Android development. Follow me on Twitter to read my ramblings about tech and email me at Tips are always welcome.