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

Authored by: Scott Adam Gordon — 5 days ago

If you own an Android device you will likely have heard of an APK file at some point, and possibly wondered what an APK is. Understanding this is essential if you want to start downloading leaked apps or customizing your 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.

Play store ANDROIDPIT
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 an .exe file for installing software, Android does the same. An APK file is the file format used for installing software on the Android operating system.

Why would I want to install an APK File?

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. Also, some apps are restricted to regions and outside of yours.

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. 

Be careful though, you don't want to download stolen apps. Some APK services let you download pirated apps. This is illegal and should be avoided. Do some research before you download so you don't do anything against the law.

apk
Installing APK files gives you access to apps that aren't available on the Google Play Store. / © ANDROIDPIT

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 you trust. Some APK files may contain malicious software (malware) which could compromise your phone's security. It is best to be cautious before downloading or installing any app from outside of the Play Store. Generally speaking, APK files found on sites like APK Mirror 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 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 (click the link below) so you can easily find files on your Android device.

androidpit best file manager apps es file explorer
Es File Explorer helps you find your downloads. / © ANDROIDPIT
ES File Explorer File Manager Install on Google Play

Once you've downloaded the APK file on your computer, connect your device to it. At this point, you may be asked if you want to charge your phone or connect it as a 'media device.' Choose Media device. Then, find your phone's folder on your computer. It will be in 'My Computer' or 'Computer' on Windows (PC). Then, 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 of your device. Find the APK file, tap it, then hit Install. And now you're done, congratulations, you have your app. Just open it up from your smartphone and make sure it works properly. If it doesn't, repeat the process with a different APK file. You may have to try a different APK site.

How to install an APK from your Android device

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 Downloads, tap on the APK file, and tap Yes when prompted. The app will begin installing on your device. Simple.

Give it a try and let us know how it went 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.

26 comments

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  • paulc 12 hours ago Link to comment

    I agree with everything Albin says below. Been using apkpure.com for quite a while now, experienced zero malicious files. It seems to have a good reputation in reviews and a direct line into the play store. To ensure no identity leaks, you can download and transfer via a PC, but they also present their own useful app which provides automatic apk updates, and allows keeping your old apks if you want to roll back to a previous version, or back them up to another device.

  • From a couple of years experience with them, I'd add 1) scanning APKs is the main thing that makes security software worthwhile, not so if only Play Store is used, 2) in many or most cases installing from an APK will not be recognized by Google Play for update notifications, so it's necessary to repeat installs when wante, 3) APKs can come in very handy in locating older versions of an app that work better on older devices or if the user doesn't like recent changes in the current version.

    Buying APKs direct from developers and reliable sources instead of Google Play has avoided a "real me" credit card identity relationship with snoopy Google, so my entire Google identity is a nonsense Gmail address. That is a plus for personal privacy (though I'm sure the NSA or Google itself could ferret it out through my telco service).

  • This might be useful to the very beginners and the article should be named Android 101 (This one is not for me)

  • site for android hach 101android.ru

  • i found apk store in google ( apkgames.org ) i downloaded games, its working fine with blue stack, but in my phone its saying i need to enable permission.....

  • Ok, so I downloaded ES File Explorer File Manager and then downloaded the app that I wanted on my phone. I opened the File Manager and clicked downloads. It's showed up in there 3 times. (I'm sure that's because every time I went back to the site it started downloading again.) Anyway, I clicked on the app and hit install. When it was done installing I clicked it again and it gave me an option to open the app but when I hit open a little bubble popped up at the bottom of my screen and said, "cannot open the app." Why won't the app open if it's been installed??? And is there any other way to open this app other than going thru my file manager???

  • 9

    I found this tutorial can be helpful to teach how to install apk file, http://goo.gl/Hp0NUx.
    Just follow it.

  • zan tab 2 months ago Link to comment

    Getting betas is not the only reason for downloading APK files. Google has this obtuse policy of blacking out countries at random, with apparently no logic. I live in an affluent Western European country that is blacked, most probably because Google's accountants flunked geography at school. If you are in such a country, paid apps simply don't show up on the Play store. This includes antivirus software, office software, quality apps like mediamonkey, etc. It's not just silly but hazardous. So we have no option but to live dangerously, surfing dodgy sites in search of APK files, dodging scammers, pleading with developers to allow us to purchase outside the Play store, etc. Frankly, Google sucks.

  • How do you install an APK if your Android says "unable to scan (file name) for threats"? I can download the APK, but my phone won't allow me to install it. I have "unknown sources" checked and pretty much every security setting turned off, yet it still tries to "scan for threats" and won't let me install an APK I Really need for work. Advise?

    • Did you ever figure this out. I am having the exact same problem trying to download apps that aren't on Google Play.

  • How the hell do you install this google play.Been trying for an hour. I have a Gal 4.

  • What about Shve160s phone
    I can't install apk files preload

  • you can download the android apk files from this site : apk-dl.com

  • 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?

    • If you have a file manager app like ES File Explorer File Manager open it and click downloads and the app icon should show up in there. Mine are automatically put in alphabetical order so you may have to scroll down a little bit depending on the name of the app. Then click on the app and it should give you an option to open the app. If you don't have a file manager I recommend downloading the one I mentioned above. I hope this is helpful.

    • No need for root. Use the built in file explorer on your phone or if it does not show up try a reinstall. A possibility is also that it is a malware so check your device admins. But Root has nothing to do with it

  • Reg Joo Apr 26, 2015 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 Apr 26, 2015 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.

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