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What is an APK file and how do you install one?

Authored by: Scott Adam Gordon — 7 months ago

If you own an Android phone you will likely have heard of an APK file at some point, and possibly wondered "what exactly is an APK file?" Understanding this is essential if you want to start downloading leaked apps or customizing your own Android experience further than would be possible using the Play Store alone. In our guide you'll learn what APK files are, how to download them, and finally, how to install them. Read on to discover what these little packages are all about.

androidpit apk file teaser
Installing APK files gives you access to apps that aren't available in the Play Store. / © ANDROIDPIT

What is an APK File?

Just like Windows PC systems use a .exe file for installing software, Android does the same. An APK file is the file format used for installing software (usually games or apps) on the Android operating system. 

Why would I want to install an APK File?

Searching for and downloading APK files allows you to access apps that have leaked ahead of their official release. (You can also download apps which have been banned, though we would not recommend this.) APK files of new Android builds are often leaked ahead of time, giving you early access to all the exciting new features that otherwise wouldn't be available to you. A recent example of this would be with the early Android L build which found its way online despite that it's yet to be officially released.

APK files also allow you to bypass carriers to get the latest Google updates, which can take a a frustrating amount of time to arrive via an over-the-air update from your network, and if your Android device lacks access to the Google Play Store, APK files may be your only option for installing apps on your device. 

mountains now google play
Installing APK files give you access to apps that aren't available on the Google Play Store. Just make sure you download and install them responsibly, and not to gain access to pirated apps. / © Intcast

How to install APK Files from your computer

There are many sources of APK files across the web, but be sure to choose a site which you trust. Some APK files may contain malicious software (malware) which could compromise your phones security, so it is best to be cautious before downloading or installing any app from outside of the Play Store (and even in the Play Store you're not completely safe!). Generally speaking, APK files found on sites like XDA should be safer to download than from elsewhere, but read some reviews and user comments before downloading or installing an APK. 

FIrstly, you must find an APK file that you want. Search online for an APK file and download it to an easy-to-find location on your computer (like your desktop). Before you can install it on your phone you will need to make sure that third-party apps are allowed on your device. Go to Menu > Settings > Security > and check "Unknown Sources" to allow your phone to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store. If you like, you can also download an app like ES File Explorer so you can easily find files on your Android device.

ES File Explorer File Manager Install on Google Play

Once you have downloaded the file on your computer, connect your device to it. At this point, you may be asked if you simply want to charge your phone or connect it as a "media device." Choose "media device". Then, simply find your phone's folder on your computer (it will be in "My Computer" or "Computer" on Windows machines) and copy the APK file into a folder of your choice in your Android smartphone. 

You will now be able to search for the file location in the "my files" folder on your device. Find the APK file, tap it, then tap "install". And you're done.

How to Install APK Files from Your Browser

You can also install APK files from the browser on your Android smartphone or tablet. Just open your browser, find the APK file you want to download, and tap it - you should then be able to see it downloading on the top bar of your device. Once it's downloaded, open your "downloads", tap on the .apk file, and tap "yes" when prompted. The app will begin installing on your device. Simple.

That's basically all there is to it. Installing APKs opens up a whole new world of opportunity to give niche or hard-to-come-by apps a try. Have a go yourself and let us know how you get on in the comments.

Originally from the UK, Scott graduated in Popular Music Studies at Newcastle University and attributes most of his success there to his beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. A dedicated Android fan, Scott has never owned an Apple device, of any kind, and doesn't see this changing anytime soon.


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  • you can download the android apk files from this site :

  • I downloaded an apk file and am trying to copy it to my phone. on the PC it says it's there in the folder.
    However, on my phone I can't find the file anywhere. Could this have to do with the fact that my phone is not rooted?

  • Reg Joo 7 months ago Link to comment

    Oh, I forgot about root, and apps that can only be installed, if your phone's rooted. Having root, in many ways, make you the owner, not the carriers, or mfg's. Rootings good for ridding yourself of bloatware, but I root, for the compelling apps, that you can install, which, with the right apps can make your phone better than new. So, even with the right version of android, root apps(apk's), won't install on a non-rooted phone, and, most of the time, will say your not rooted. This safeguard, is helpful, when you side-load a apk, the playstore doesn't need this, it checks first, and won't let your phone download it, if it's not right. This ties into the other article about stopping apps from running in the background, you can have apps that can turn off individual permissions, inside the app, to stop the app from running all the time,but don't mess with any google play apps, and associated apps from google. You have to be a little careful though, the wrong permission will stop the app from working.

  • Reg Joo 7 months ago Link to comment

    apk files, are like .exe (executable) files on a pc, with some differences. When you install software on a pc, it loads the program, with all of the files it needs to operate on your pc, and the .exe, is the working part of the program (dll"s are the libraries). Unlike .exe files, apk's hold all of the files(which are separated, to various destinations on install). PC installers, give you a choice(mostly) of installing companion software, apk's don't. Just think of the install as a install on a pc, but apk's are version specific, so before you install, make sure that apk can be put on your version of android, apk's meant for kit kat, won't install on , say froyo, gingerbread, ice cream sandwich,... older versions.. If you install, say angry birds, you just installed a apk. The playstore, makes it easy(it'll check for what version you have, and won't install it, if it's not compatible). Getting your apk, from somewhere else, once you put it on your phone, is easy too, but if it's version, that it runs on, say lollipop, it won't install on , say gingerbread, you get a message, parse error, or other script, saying it didn't install.

  • Apk files
    I have been trying to install an apk. I downloaded it to my phone. When I tap it opens the installer but the install button is locked. Only the cancel button works. I have other sources checked. Any ideas?

    • Scott Adam Gordon
      • Admin
      • Staff
      Sep 11, 2014 Link to comment

      Go into your security settings and tick the "allow apps from unknown sources" box. If that doesn't help, try asking the question in our forum :)

    • Reg Joo 7 months ago Link to comment

      Check your version of android, and see if the program(apk) is too new for it, and needs a later os(android version). Clicking on usb debugging, and unknown sources, won't install the app, if it's not meant for your os, because it's too old for it.

  • I didn't know about APK files

  • How do i install an apk the correct way on my samsung galaxy tab 2 10.1?

  • can you tell me about android SDK & what it is

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