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

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

If you own an Android device you will likely have heard of an APK file at some point, and possibly wondered what it even 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.

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What is an APK File?

An Android Package Kit (APK for short) is the package file format used by the Android operating system for 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.

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

  1. You can install APK files on your Android smartphone or tablet directly from your browser.
  2. 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.
  3. Once it's downloaded, open Downloads, tap on the APK file, and tap Yes when prompted.
  4. 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 desktop. Here's how it works.

  1. First, 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). 
  2. Before you can install it on your phone you will need to make sure that third-party apps are allowed on your device.
  3. Go to Menu > Settings > Security > and check Unknown Sources to allow your phone to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store.
  4. Newer versions of Android do things a little differently. Rather than check a global setting to allow installation from unknown sources, you'll be prompted to allow your browser or file manager to install APKs the first time you attempt to do so.
AndroidPIT install google play store 06
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
  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 in your Android smartphone. 
  6. You will now be able to search for the file location in the My files folder of your device.
  7. 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.

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
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.

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

  • Good article for the beginners...

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

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

  •   7
    Deactivated Account 11 months ago Link to comment

    Thank you for sharing, a very complete article

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

  • I hope FBI didnt see this

  • I download a apk file

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

  • 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.

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

  • Hi is this apk for chromebook to download apps

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

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

  • Excellent web-site learnt a lot, but cant find the app I just installed. Where is it?. Eventually I want it on my home page. How do I do that?

  • lipwak Apr 14, 2019 Link to comment

    So, once I've installed the app can I throw out the downloaded file? Is that just an installer or the newly installed app? Thanks.

    (I reinstalled the Google Play Store from a file called com.android.vending... blah blah blah. I've checked and the Google Pay Store app is the latest version so do I need this file anymore?)

    Deactivated Account

  • you can download android apk from this site too

  • Hello yesterday I was found a video downloader for android. It is really works. Search DownMob on Google PlayStore

  • I want to install Chrooma keyboard for android apk file to unlock all premium features .. how can i do it )

  • Great information....thanks for sharing

  • Alot or most APKS i download won't install on my note 8. Most Samsung apks.

  • This is a great tip!

  • Arun May 16, 2018 Link to comment

    This Web Site is amazing. I flow always For find information.

  • this is a very nice post for the beginners

  • Sorin Jan 21, 2018 Link to comment

    The APK is a compressed file that, after being unpacked, contains several files and folders that make up the application. The files in the root are AndroidManifest.xml, classes.dex and resources.arsc, along with other possible files required. These 3 files see that they are encrypted and a special decryption software will have to be used. It would be interesting to search what these files contain.

  • Common guys, really? THIS is the level of articles that you are publishing now, just for the sake of writing something? Absolute disgrace.

  • While I had a few things to say here (especially about security issues) in May 2016, I'll add that there are some very handy apps to produce your very own APKs from the installed apps on your device - they can then be saved offline, available for reinstallation and use any time - saving the storage and resource drain of installation. I've found it handy to have a folder of rarely used and/or older versions of apps as APKs, not clogging the running Android. (Rolling your own APKs also avoids the security or installation / compatibility issues that can plague third party download sites and preserves your status for paid app updates.)

    Updated: Currently using App Backup & Share Pro (Buggy_Apps) - fast, intuitive and very good letting users select storage locations - but there are several others.

  • The option to install is not showing up it just says cancel

  • APK full form is Android Application Package. Its a file format of android application or you can say an installer file that of an app. When you install an app from android play store, behind the scene it downloaded the APK file of the app. Kindly avoid to donwload an APK from other unofficial site, sometime it may harm your mobile. Ref: android.wikinsta.com

  • roy Sep 24, 2017 Link to comment

    Thanks for such a article

  • Hi, I tried and followed your instructions however when I go to the file and try to press the install button it doesn't work for some reason. I can only press the cancel button...any idea why that may be?

  • i suggest the best cleaner for Android mobiles is www.appsdrives.com Supo Cleaner APK it cleans almost all junk files, cache clean and speed up your device

  • this is such a great option for downloading apk apps , thanks admin for your efforts indeed

  • Thanks for this guide. Amazon underground is also a great source of app APK files.

  • You can manually install an apk file using almost every File explorer. There are many apps that is designed to do this easily. My APK from Andatsoft is one of them. It lists all of your apk files on device (with many sort, filter and search options).

  • Actually i used to download www.itexprt.com for apk files that i need to download and then i go to setting in android mobile and check to install open source application as there need access to install apk file from out of google play store.
    that all

  • Really was amazing coz i didnt know what was the apk really thanxxx . From rgypt with lovee

  • Excellent writeup Scott, my Android, Galaxy Note 4 prompted for scanning and automatically took me to the install screen also offering the option to limit the "unknown source install for this app only" and the APK file provider was known to me, but I wanted to be double careful. No malware was found and the app installed. Thank again for you tips and putting a face on APK file.

  • Just registered to say thank you!

  • Reyn Jul 7, 2016 Link to comment

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

  • Every time I try to download an APK file it says it had trouble parsing. Help?

  • Whenever I try to install it it says can't open file what do I do?

  • I use apk mirror....

  • OK so I had to download an APK file for an app that wasn't on Play Store. I might sound like an idiot, but I can't figure out how to actually run it?! It appears in my File Manager but when I click on the file, it only gives me the option to install the file, which I've already done. The 'open' button that appears after I've downloaded the file is greyed out. Anyone able to help?

    • Close it out and look for the app you downloaded on your phone then open it from there.if that doesn't work sometimes restarting your phone will do the trick,then try reopening it again.

  • Android application package (APK) is the package file format used by the Android operating system for distribution and installation of mobile apps and middleware. The files that contain the .apk file extension store the files that are needed to run a single Android application on an Android mobile device. A way to install an application on your Android is to download an APK file first.Then open it with the file manager on your phone.Follow the instructions and you will have a new application.
    You may have lots of applications on your Android.To manage them,I recommend to you Power Clean,a very powerful tool.It helps you clean up your phone,make it more smoothly without impact on normal use.

  • This is a stupid article and probably should be reported! All the author did was talk about the virtues of bypassing regulated channels to obtain *.apk files, but not one word of how to manually run the Android Installer app. The problem is that's the title of this blog!

    Do I make myself clear?

    The installer wants to update a package that it claims is already installed, and yet I never saw it before. Was hoping you'd mention a thing like that!

  • Well, you didn't mention how to install the app file. If you use a file manager app, open it and find your .apk(s), then tap it, it will ask for permission to install. Tap Install and the Android os will install it.
    Then find the icon in your app store or main page and run it!

  • When I try to install an APT file in my devide it won't let me proceed, it always gives me an error message saying the file is unable to scan. How can I get rid of this?

    • Did you download the .apk file as well? If not go back to the site and get it. Or search by app name for any additional files...

    • Try another browser to open it or download it.It might work .It helps me most of the time.

  • paulc May 26, 2016 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 wanted, 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).

  • Alex May 22, 2016 Link to comment

    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???

  •   8
    Deactivated Account Mar 30, 2016 Link to comment

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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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