Apps are the lifeblood of any operating system. Without apps, we can only do so much on platforms like Android on our favorite smartphones. Fortunately, Google Play offers millions of apps, but due to platform restrictions, not every good app can be found on the store. Sometimes, app availability is also restricted on a geographical basis. So the only way to get such apps is by sideloading them.
Thanks to the openness of Android, you can sideload and install Android apps from third-party stores as well as other sources. In this guide, we’ll explain how you can sideload Android apps.
Getting the APK files or app bundles
Before you can sideload an app on Android, you need to obtain its installation file. Android app installers have the .APK file extension that’s short for Android Package. APK files contain everything that’s needed to install and run the app. Apart from APKs, you’ll find app bundles, which are also used to install Android apps.
There are two kinds of app bundles – official and unofficial. The official Android app bundle format is AAB and it was introduced back in 2018 by Google. The company is making it mandatory for app developers to publish all new Android apps in AAB in the Google Play store starting August 2021. One can also covert a standard AAB package to an APK set archive, which uses the .apks file extension.
The unofficial app bundles come from sites like APKMirror and APKPure, which have created their own app bundles called APKM and XAPK, respectively. The app bundles pack a base APK file and multiple resource bundles meant for different architectures, layouts, and languages.
These APKs and app bundles are shared by the developers and community members on XDA forums, and uploaded on third-party resources like APK Mirror, APKPure, or on stores like F-Droid and Amazon. Once you’ve obtained the APK file or an app bundle for the app you need to install, we can move forward to the actual sideloading bit.
Caution: Do not install APK files from random sources. Only install APK files from trusted sources. Otherwise, you could end up infecting your device with malware.
Transferring the APK or App Bundle to your phone
If you haven’t downloaded the APK file or the app bundle directly onto your Android phone, you’ll need to transfer it from your computer to the phone. You can transfer it using Bluetooth, a USB cable, or a cloud storage service. Using a cloud storage service like Google Drive is normally the easiest way to get an APK onto your phone. Just upload it onto Google Drive from your computer, and download it using the Drive app on your phone. If you’re looking for more methods for file transfer, check out our guide on How to Transfer Files between Android and Windows PC.
Installing/Sideloading the APK file
Once the APK has been transferred to your phone, you’re ready to install it.
- Locate the file on your phone. The downloaded APKs can be found in the Downloads app. Or you can use a file manager to navigate to the Downloads folder.
- Tap on the file name to start the installation. If this is the first time you’re installing an APK from that file manager, the Downloads app, or the web browser, Android will throw a warning and ask your permission to continue. Give the permission and, depending on the app from where you’re installing the APK, you may have to tap back to get to the installer. In some apps, you’ll automatically be sent back to the installer.
- Tap on Install, and the application will be installed successfully unless there are compatibility issues.
If your Android device is running on Nougat or an older version, you’ll first have to enable Installation from Unknown Sources by going to Settings > Security, after which you’ll be able to install the APK. Sideloading support is available on all Android versions, and you don’t need root access or any other special privileges.
Sideloading App Bundles on Android
While sideloading an APK is pretty easy, as you can see in the previous section, it can be slightly tricky to install app bundles, whether it is the official Android App Bundle or unofficial bundles. Thankfully, there are apps that make it easier to install app bundles. Alternatively, you can use ADB to install the unofficial app bundles and Google’s bundletool to install the official app bundles.
How to install app bundles using Split APKs Installer (SAI)
Split APKs Installer supports APKM and XAPK app bundles.
- To install an APKM or XAPK app bundle, download and install the SAI app from the Google Play store.
- Open SAI and tap on the Install APKs icon on the bottom.
- You can now either use the app’s internal file picker or the system file picker to locate the app bundle.
- SAI will now automatically select the right resources from the bundle for your device. In most cases, the auto-selected resources will work just fine. If you think something is wrong, you can also manually select the resources.
- Tap on Install to proceed.
- If this is the first time you’re installing an app bundle through SAI, you’ll have to allow the app to ‘install apps from unknown sources‘.
- Tap on Install again for confirmation, and the app will be installed on your phone.
How to install app bundles using App Bundle Installer
Apart from the APKM and XAPK formats, the App Bundle Installer app can also install the official Android App Bundles (AAB).
- Download and install the App Bundle Installer from Google Play. The app is currently in early access, so you might see some bugs.
- Open the App Bundle Installer and select the right app bundle format from the bottom bar. You can pick from AAB, APKS, XAPK, and APKM. Normal APKs can also be installed using the app.
- Once you have selected the format, you can either use Scan or Select options to pick the app bundle.
- Tap on Install File to proceed with the installation.
- If this is the first time you’re installing an app bundle through App Bundle Installer, you’ll have to allow the app to install apps from unknown sources.
- Tap on Install again for confirmation, and the App Bundle Installer app will install the app. Unlike SAI, the App Bundle Installer app doesn’t give the option to manually pick the app resources, and automatically selects the right ones for your device.
- Once the app is installed, you’ll see a confirmation.
Using ADB to sideload app bundles
If you’ve ADB set up on your computer, you can use it to sideload app bundles like APKS (converted from AAB), APKM, and XAPK. For help in setting it up, check out our guide on how to install ADB on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Now, to install an app bundle, we need to extract its contents to a folder. You can use an archiver app to extract it. As mentioned earlier, the bundle can include a base APK and various resource APKs for different Application Binary Interfaces (ABIs), languages, and screen DPIs. If you’re unsure of your device’s ABI or screen DPI, you can either download Droid Hardware Info or DevCheck Hardware and System Info app, and check the ABI and DPI details. You’ll have to pick the right APKs for your device from the extracted APKs, based on the ABI and DPI data.
Once you’ve ADB up and running, use the following command to install the app bundle. Make sure you put the extracted APK files in the platform-tools or ADB folder for easy access. You can also rename them if you want. Alternatively, if you have ADB path/ alias set up, you can also directly run ADB in the folder containing the extracted APKs.
adb install-multiple one.apk two.apk three.apk
This command will install the app on your phone.
In case the bundle includes additional opaque binary blobs (commonly referred to as OBB files), you need to manually copy them to the device’s internal storage/Android/OBB/<package_name_of_the_app> folder.
This is how you can sideload APK files and app bundles on Android. If you think we missed something, let us know in the comments section.
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