Owners of Android devices have plenty of options when it comes to customizing appearance and enjoying the most out of your device. There are third-party launchers you can use for live wallpapers, tweak a lot of settings to customize the look of your menu, or even add additional settings on your phone. Android phones have a lot of these options and most of them are through APK files.
If you’re an Android user, you’ve come across an APK at least once, but what is APK? Why is it important for Android users to know about this type of file? Let’s quickly discuss what an APK is and why it’s important to Android.
What Is an APK File?
APK stands for Android Package Kit (also Android Application Package) and is the file format that Android uses to distribute and install apps. It contains all the elements that an app needs to install correctly on your device. A file with the APK file extension is an Android Package file that’s used to distribute applications on Google’s Android operating system.
APK files are saved in the ZIP format and are typically downloaded directly to Android devices, usually via the Google Play store, but can also be found on other websites. It is a package file format used by the Android operating system for the distribution and installation of mobile applications. Some of the content found in a typical APK file includes an AndroidManifest.xml, classes.dex, and resources.arsc file; as well as a META-INF and res folder.
Just like the Windows operating system uses .exe file for installing software, the same thing goes for Android. So basically, when you download this kind of file, you are just getting an app. The reason why some people don’t know about APK is because most people get their app from the Google Play Store which doesn’t show the word APK when you download an app. Normally when you visit Google Play to download an app, it automatically downloads and installs the APK for you. While you can extract APKs from the Play Store, they’re also available to download from alternative app stores.
How to Open an APK File
APK files can be opened on a number of operating systems but they’re used mainly on Android devices.
1. Open an APK File on Android
Opening an APK file on your Android device just requires that you download it like you would any file, and then open it when asked. However, APK files installed outside of the Google Play store might not install right away because of a security block put into place. To bypass this download restriction and install APK files from unknown sources, navigate to one of these menus, depending on your Android version:
- Settings > Apps & notifications > Advanced > Special app access > Install unknown apps
- Settings > Apps and notifications
Depending on your device, you might need to give a specific app, such as Chrome, permission to install unofficial APK files. If you see it, enable Install Unknown Apps or Unknown sources.
Before you can download APK files using Chrome or any other browser, you must first allow unknown apps:
- Go to your device settings and tap Apps & Notifications (or Apps in older versions of Android).
- Tap the three dots in the upper-right corner.
- Tap Special access
2. Open an APK File on Windows
You can open an APK file on a PC using an Android emulator like BlueStacks..
In that program, go into the My Apps tab and then choose Install apk from the corner of the window.
3. Open an APK File on a Mac
ARC Welder is a Google Chrome extension that’s meant for testing Android apps for the Chrome OS, but it works on any OS. This means you can open an APK on your Mac or Windows computer so long as you have this app installed within the Chrome browser.
4. Open an APK File on iOS
You can’t open or install APK files on an iPhone or iPad because the file is built in an entirely different manner than apps used on those devices, and the two platforms aren’t compatible with each other.
- Can APK files harm my device?Yes, unfortunately, APK files can sometimes harm devices. That’s because they can contain malware, so it’s recommended to run APK files through an online virus scanner before installing them. Only download from sites you know and trust to minimize the possibility of a fraudulent program infecting your device.
- Are APK files legal?It’s perfectly legal to download APK files and use them to install apps from outside the Google Play Store. APK is just a file format like the EXE or ZIP. Google developed the APK format, but anyone can create and use APK files.
- How do I find APK files on my Android device?Locate APK files on your device by using an Android file manager to search for the file. Some mobile devices come with a preloaded file manager, but many alternatives are in the Google Play Store.
What does an APK file contain?
The Android Package Kit contains all the necessary files and data to install and run a single program. The data inside an APK file is elaborate and extensive but here are some strands of the most important data present in an Android package.
- META-INF/: Contains the manifest file, the certification of the application and a list of resources in the archive
- lib/: The directory contains the code that is specific to a software layer of a processor e.g. the code may be different for x89, ARM and ARM v7 types of processors
- resources.arsc: The compiled resources, such as strings, used by the app
- res/: Resources, such as images, that were not compiled into resources.arsc
- assets: a directory containing applications assets, which can be retrieved by AssetManager.
- AndroidManifest.xml: Describes the name, version, and contents of the APK file
- classes.dex: These are the compiled Java classes to be run on the device in .dex format
Users may benefit from APK from trusted sources. However, some sites, despite looking reliable may contain APK files that are malicious. Before downloading an APK file, users should thus look at some user comments or reviews before proceeding to download.