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What is an APK file and how to install on Android?

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If you own an Android device you will likely have heard of "APK files" at some point, and possibly wondered what they even are. Understanding this is essential if you want to start downloading pre-release 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.

What is an APK File?

An Android Package Kit (APK for short) is the package file format used by the Android operating system for the distribution and installation of mobile apps. Just like Windows (PC) systems use an .exe file for installing software, the APK does the same for Android.

When you download an APK online, you're essentially getting an app. Most users get apps from the Google Play Store, without ever seeing the word APK. But there are occasions when you would want to do otherwise.

In 2021, Google started phasing out APK files on the Play Store, replacing them with the more flexible AAB format. But because AAB files are custom-made for each device, they require different steps to install.

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 outside of your own. App updates can take a frustrating amount of time to arrive automatically over the air. Getting the latest APK for your favorite apps will let you jump the queue. Or you might even not like a particular app after an update, and want to install an older version instead.

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. Worse still, sketchy APK files may contain malware, as many who thought they were getting early versions of Fortnite for Android discovered to their dismay. Do some research before you download so you don't do anything against the law or contaminate your device.

How to install an APK on your Android device

You can install APK files on your Android smartphone or tablet directly from your browser.

  1. 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.
  2. Once it's downloaded, open the Downloads folder, tap on the APK file, and tap Yes when prompted.
  3. The app will begin installing on your device. Simple.

How to install APK Files from your computer

You don't need a smartphone to download and install APK files. You can also do this on a desktop PC. Here's how it works.

First, you must find the 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).

Install unknown apps Android screen
When you first install from a non-Google source on newer Android versions, you see a prompt like this. / © NextPit
  1. If you like, you can also download a file manager app so you can easily find files on your Android device. We recommend our favorite file managers in our list of the best file explorers for Android.
  2. Once you've downloaded the APK file on your computer, connect your Android device to it.
  3. At this point, you may be asked if you want to charge your phone or connect it as a 'media device' Choose Media device (File Transfer in some phones).
  4. Then, find your phone's folder on your computer. It will be in 'My Computer' or 'Computer' on Windows (PC). 
  5. Copy the APK file into a folder of your choice on your Android smartphone.
  6. You will now be able to search for the file location in the My files folder of your device.
  7. Open the file manager, find the APK file, tap it, then hit Install.

Note: If it is the first time you are using the file manager to install an APK file, Android will prompt you to authorize the app to Install unknown apps (or apps from unknown sources)—i.e. those not downloaded from the Play Store. Follow the on-screen instructions to allow the app to do so, similar to the screenshot above.

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.

If the operating system on your smartphone is running a version older than Android 8.0, you need to change a system setting to be able to install apps not downloaded from the Play Store:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Security.
  3. Activate the Unknown Sources option to allow your phone to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store.

Do you download APK files? Which do you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

The best APK download sites

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 reputable sites like the ones listed here should be safer to download than from elsewhere, but read some reviews and user comments before downloading or installing an APK.

APK Mirror website screenshot
With APKs you can get app versions not yet available on Google Play. / © NextPit (screenshot)

APKMirror is generally regarded as the safest option out there. It is now owned and operated by the Android Police, and those guys know what they are talking about. APKPure is another good option. Security is a priority on this site and you can download APKs without having to worry about spyware and viruses. Finally, Aptoide is a good resource for APKs. It has more than 200 million users, apparently.

Read more on this topic:

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Nicholas Montegriffo

Nicholas Montegriffo

A cyberpunk and actual punk, Nicholas is the Androidpit team's hardcore gamer, writing with a focus on future tech, VR/AR, AI & robotics. Out of office, he can be found hanging around in goth clubs, eating too many chillies, or at home telling an unlucky nerd that their 8th level wizard died from a poisoned spike trap.

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  • 4
    Beazy 7 months ago Link to comment

    Thanks for this guide!

  • 49
    storm Jan 6, 2022 Link to comment

    APK is just a .zip file with a specialized extension. Thus it is trivially easy to tamper with them. Change the extension to zip, unzip the archive, add or delete as you like. Rezip. Reset the extension.

    Get them only from a trusted source.

    I recommend you save ones you like because older apps tend to disappear from the play store but will still run on most newer distributions.

    Zois Bekios Zannikos

  • David Kolton 7
    David Kolton Jan 6, 2022 Link to comment

    I might be wrong but now there are many APK sites on the internet so device security is also an issue now.
    That's why I avoid APKs and install apps from the official store.

    Zois Bekios Zannikos

  • AlexMsr 5
    AlexMsr May 15, 2021 Link to comment

    Good info, thanks

  • 2
    Himanshu khare Feb 18, 2021 Link to comment

    Great to see your info and i used this into my project, thanks

  • 7
    RowanRosh Dec 24, 2020 Link to comment

    Good article for the beginners...

  • 1
    TechnicalGang Jun 1, 2020 Link to comment

    Some apk apps are modded apps so they have more features than the installed apps from playstore, we have some good premium modded apps

    • apks all 1
      apks all Jun 29, 2021 Link to comment

      The Movie five app is an app to watch and download movies as we can conclude from its name. The Movie five app features some awesome services for its users.
      visit apksall

  • 3
    Nitin Singh May 22, 2020 Link to comment

    Some app doesn't available in a specific country. In that case, we have download app from other sites.

  • 7
    Deactivated Account May 19, 2020 Link to comment

    Thank you for sharing, a very complete article

  • appsmodapk 2
    appsmodapk May 12, 2020 Link to comment

    thanks to the author to write such an informative and amazing article. No doubt it is really helpfull for us

  • 5
    Peter_Jeftic Apr 29, 2020 Link to comment

    I hope FBI didnt see this

  • 3
    Megamind Apr 23, 2020 Link to comment

    I download a apk file

    Nitin Singh

  • 3
    Megamind Apr 23, 2020 Link to comment

    excellent explanation about apk thanks you so much for sharing this post with us

  • Verus 9
    Verus Dec 26, 2019 Link to comment

    I find that the APK file is advantageous in numerous cases such as for downloading geo-restricted or incompatible apps. But it seems that lots of people detest APK files because they're afraid of malicious and suspicious files outside Google Play store.

    • 2
      THABANI BRIGHT RADEBE Mar 17, 2020 Link to comment

      I want download Apj

      • 3
        Robert Harrison Apr 8, 2020 Link to comment

        You can easily get original APK files on website

  • 2
    SEO Backlinks Dec 20, 2019 Link to comment

    thanks to the author to write such an informative and amazing article. No doubt it is really helpfull

  • 1
    hellohello Oct 30, 2019 Link to comment

    Hi is this apk for chromebook to download apps

  • marco sarli 39
    marco sarli
    • Admin
    Sep 19, 2019 Link to comment

    Nice and informative. Now please explain where to get safe APK outside of Google Play


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