Smartphones

How to side-load apps on your Android device

Donovan Colbert offers a how-to guide for backing up an application from one Android device and side-loading it onto another.

One of the nicest things about the Android platform is freedom. Android lets you use your device the way that you want, compared to alternate platforms like iOS. Instead of a strictly controlled App Market that requires you to load only approved applications, most Android devices allow you to "side-load" an application package (called an .apk file) onto your device that was not downloaded directly from the Android Market.

There are a variety of ways outside of the market that you can get an Android .apk package, including downloading directly from the Internet (generally from a publisher/author's web site), downloading from an alternative app marketplace, or by backing up from one Android device and restoring to another. Sometimes modders, like the people at XDA-Developers, will take an application like Google Voice that has not been officially released for tablets, modify it slightly to work, and then publish the modified .apk on their forums.

When might you decide to side-load apps? Generally speaking, there may be apps that are not available or that are available but not through the market on your particular device or wireless carrier. In other cases, you may have an Android device like the Archos or Coby Kyros MID7015 tablets that do not come with the Android Market installed. The alternate markets that are installed on these devices frequently do not have as wide of a selection of apps as the Android Market, and you may be disappointed to find many of your favorite apps missing.

If you have an Android device that has the Android Market, you can easily download many apps and use a 3rd-party file manager like "Astro" to back up those files to .apk packages. Then you can easily transfer the applications to your other device and attempt to install them there. In my experience, this works more frequently than it doesn't.

This how-to guide will attempt to describe how you can back up an application from one Android device, copy it to another, and install it there. For practical purposes, what you learn here will allow you to copy .apk files from other sources (as mentioned above) and install them on your Android device as well.

I've made the following assumptions here:

  • That you've already downloaded and installed Dropbox on both your source and target Android devices, created a Dropbox account, and understand how to copy files from one device (through your Dropbox folder) to another. This isn't the only way to move files between Android devices, but it is the method I describe here.
  • That you are familiar with using a file explorer-type interface to navigate a system file structure and manipulate / copy files. If you've used OS X, Gnome, KDE, or other Xwindows shell, or even Windows File Explorer to do these sorts of tasks, you should be able to follow the steps I describe here as well. Root or super-user access to your Droid device is not required, but some wireless carriers, device manufacturers, or models of Android devices may disable these features.
Warning: Side-loading apps requires you to enable "Unknown Sources" in your Android device settings, which increases the risk that you might install malicious applications or malware. You should be aware of the potential danger and use your best judgment, because you assume the full risk and sole responsibility should you follow the steps I describe here. If you're unsure, don't do it.

With that said, I hope this document helps you explore the maximum potential of your Android devices, giving you the freedom to run the apps you want - not just the apps determined by the CEO at your device manufacturer or wireless telco. Please leave any feedback, comments, or questions in the forum. I'll try to help or answer any that I can.

Back up an Android application to an .apk file.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

9 comments
Techlazlo
Techlazlo

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kdusang
kdusang

An easy way to do this is with freeware Android Injector for pc. (http://www.androidinjector.com) Android Injector allows users to install multiple apk files onto Android devices via USB cable effortlessly. Users need only connect their device to their pc using a USB cable, select some apk files, and click Install. The program then silently goes about installing the selected apps and lets you know when it's done. The new version makes this even easier by seamlessly integrating with Windows shell, allowing users to select any amount of apk files in Explorer, right-click, then click "Install with Android Injector" from the context menu. The program then opens with the files loaded, ready to be installed.

ecwinslow
ecwinslow

For example, I have a little Dart, which has limited space for packages (177MB) but a big enough microSD (2GB). I'd like to just keep less-used apps on SD and be able to quickly install as needed. Creating .apk's and installing on the fly from SD? (I haven't read the whole article yet... :-) =e

radleym
radleym

Since most Android devices suport USB, uSD, wifi and/or bluetooth, you can usually just copy the. apk file from one device to another, or from one device to your PC to another. Get a decent file manager for android that includes ftp and/or http hosting, or get one of the free ftp server apps from the market. A decent file manager will know to install the apk file on the destination machine. Of course you need root access ...

Regulus
Regulus

For all multiple page articles, we (I) need a one-click 'print-to-.doc' button. 4x copy-and-paste just isn't cutting it. i.e., 'You're wasting my Life'. Even a .pdf would help, but I really need a format that I can edit to for my own comments and local application. Please Note: This pertains to ALL Tech Republic articles. Thank You

dcolbert
dcolbert

That sounds like a great way to backup most of your device state for a clean install or other factory reset. Back up all of your .apks using something like Astro, move them to your PC, do what you need to do, then batch re-install all of the apps once you've finished. Wish I had know about this a few weeks ago.

dcolbert
dcolbert

But... not much has changed with side-loading. If your device supports it, and most Android devices do, what you suggest should be a piece of cake to achieve, and the general instructions in the article above should support you in doing that. In your case, you could easily install a program, back it up to .apk using Astro, then use Astro to copy the .apk from the backup folder on your internal memory to the external SD. Uninstall the app, and then later, when you need it, you'll just browse to the external SD using Astro, double-click the backed-up .apk, and it will re-install (this will also give you a portable library of .apk files from the Google Play store even when you don't have an internet connection). When I talk about examples of how Android users are more empowered than iOS users, this is one great example of that in action.

dcolbert
dcolbert

You could also use BUMP. There are any number of solutions. I've been personally leveraging Dropbox a LOT lately when I want to get something from one place to another - with the advantage that it is so well integrated into EVERY platform I use. Once I copy a file to Dropbox, it is easily available on my Windows machines, on my Android machines, on my iOS machines, on my OS X machines and on my Linux machines. It is easy to get to when I'm on someone ELSE's machine(s). So, Dropbox was my choice for the article mostly because, well - I like Dropbox. I felt like Dropbox would also be among the easiest methods for a neophyte to get their mind around. If you're familiar with these other methods you've described, the odds are you don't need an introductory "How to sideload Android apps" howto. At least, that was my thinking. I could be wrong. Although I don't understand why you would need root access for any of the methods you describe. Additionally, if you're going to root, you're probably WAY advanced from worrying about how to sideload apps. Can you root without sideloading, anyhow? I guess if you manually root? But most people out there doing roots are using a 1-click root method, I'd guess. Wait... are you saying the apps that allow you to host a server, like an FTP or Web server, on your Android device require root access? Sometimes the things that iOS allows that Android requires root access for make no sense to me. I've never looked at any of the server host apps for Android because - well, with the open OS, there isn't a lot of need for them, unlike with iOS. But the idea that you would need to root to do that on an Android seems counter-productive to me... kind of like requiring root to take a screenshot.

dcolbert
dcolbert

This seems to be one of my most consistently visited articles recently - I understand your frustration. I'll look into seeing if we can make this article available as a downloadable document.

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