What does APK mean and what is APK file? If you have an Android tablet or mobile phone and you enjoy using different apps on it, it is likely that at some point you’ve noticed a file that ends in APK somewhere on the device.
If you’ve ever wondered what an APK file is, today’s your lucky day because you’ll soon learn everything that you need to know to understand and install these Android-related files.
APK Meaning (What Is APK File?)
If you don’t know what APK means, then here’s the definitive answer: APK stands for Android Package Kit (also Android Application Package) and is basically the package file format that the Android operating system uses to distribute and install mobile games, mobile apps and middleware.
APK is an Android-related file that stands for Android Package Kit and it is essentially a way to get apps on your device without using a play store. Think of it this way: an APK file is roughly the equivalent of an EXE file for a Windows PC. It is an operating system used by Android devices and it is used for installing software and apps.
On any particular Android device, there are already pre-installed apps but if you want other apps, you have to download them through Google Play. Typically, apps installed via third-party sources have to be installed manually. In most instances, you won’t even notice any APK files while apps are being downloaded because Google manages these downloads “behind the scenes,” if you will.
Occasionally, a website may offer you the chance to download an app manually via an APK file but you should always be careful of these sites because in some cases, there is malware installed within the file. Just as non-trustworthy EXE files can wreak havoc on your computer system, so can APK files if they are not legitimate or if they come from a website that you know nothing about.
What Does an APK File Contain?
So just what types of information can you find in a typical APK file? For starters, if you want to view the contents of your APK file, you have to first rename the file and give it a .ZIP extension or you can open it directly through the open dialogue box of a .ZIP program. This is because APK files are automatically saved in a compressed .ZIP format so that they can be opened with a .ZIP decompression tool.
Typically, APK files contain everything you need to run just one Android program. If you’re curious about some of the most commonly found files and folders in an APK file, here are a few:
- xml: The name, version, and contents of the entire APK file are described under this section.
- assets/: This file contains raw resource files that the developers usually bundle with the app.
- dex: Contained here are the compiled Java classes that will be run on the device (.DEX file).
- lib/: Found here are native libraries running on specific device architectures; e.g., x86, armeabi-v7a, etc.
- META-INF/: This is where the manifest file, list of resources, and the signature are found within the Archives.
- res/: If an image or other resource wasn’t compiled into resources.arsc, it will be found here.
- arsc: Strings and other compiled resources used by the app are found here (.ARSC file).
Why Would I Want to Install an APK File?
There are several reasons why users may wish to install APK files themselves, such as when APK files of new Android products are leaked and you want to get to them as soon as possible, when apps aren’t available in your particular area but only in other restricted regions, and when you want to install an older version of an app because you don’t like the most recent update.
Other reasons include when you do want the latest APK version because it is the best way to download an app quickly and, finally, when the APK file is the only way that you can download an app because you can’t use Google Play on your particular Android device.
As you can see, there are numerous circumstances that may require you to use an APK file to download an app instead of using Google Play or another play store. Some users have been known to accidentally delete their play store app, making it even more important to find another way to download their Android apps.
How to Install an APK File From Your Android Device
There are numerous ways to download apps to your phone or tablet. In addition to using Google Play or similar play stores, you can also use an APK file.
While Apple’s iOS operating system doesn’t allow downloads from third-party websites, that is not the case with Android devices. Any apps installed outside of Google Play are saved as APK files, which means that they have to be downloaded manually. The first thing you need to do is make sure that your device allows third-party downloads.
To check on this capability, click on Settings, then Security, then agree that you want to allow downloads from third-party sources under “unknown sources.” Make sure that you check the OK button once these steps are taken.
To install an APK file on your Android device, choose the following steps:
- For an APK file that is attached to an email, simply click on the attachment and tap on the Install button; it will then automatically download.
- For an APK file that you’ve downloaded from the web, find it in the correct Downloads folder, which is located under Apps & Widgets and then Downloads; then tap on the file itself to begin the download.
And this may go without saying, but you’ll always want to be sure that the APK file is coming from a trusted source first so that nothing is there to corrupt your Android device.
How to Install an APK File From Your Computer
To download APK files using your PC, you need either Android Studio or BlueStacks. Android Studio is an incredibly fast tool that lets you download apps on any type of Android device, including Windows computers. BlueStacks is a gaming app that lets you download almost any type of game that you’re interested in playing.
With both of these programs, you get step-by-step instructions regarding how to download your app. The programs are essentially self-explanatory and easy to understand even for those who are not tech-savvy. For example, with BlueStacks, all you have to do is click on the My Apps tab, then look at the bottom right-hand corner of the window to find Install APK and click on that.
If you don’t have either of these programs, they are super easy to find and download. You can do a quick Internet search to find them and installation can be done in minutes. And for those who are curious, you can also download an APK file on your Mac computer or iPhone.
How Do I View the Contents of an APK File?
If you want to read the entire contents of an APK file, not just the manifest files, you have two options:
- Use the tool called apktool, which will generate .smali files instead of class files. You can also add the “-s” option tag so that instead of getting the .smali files, you get classes.dex. (Note: it is possible to get a GUI version, seen as apktool.gui, but it tends to be unreliable and isn’t designed by an English-speaking company.)
- Change the APK file and make it a .ZIP file instead. Simply rename the file and use the extension .ZIP instead of .APK. Once this is complete, you should be able to easily extract the file’s contents just as you do any other .ZIP file. (Note: The exception is the class files; to get these, use the following on the .DEX file: dex2jar.)
There is also an APK Multi-Tool option, formerly known as the APK Manager; however, with any of these options, the .APK file has to be changed to another type of file in order for you to view its contents.
How Do I Create an APK File?
To make your own APK file, you can simply follow these steps:
- Make sure that you have a code for the Google Play store.
- Go to the Main Menu in Android Studio, click on Build, then on Generate Signed APK.
- Click on Next, then on Create New.
- At this point, you have to select a name and location for your key store; you also have to put the complete path name of that new store in: Key Store Path.
- Enter your passwords under the Password field, then Confirm the fields.
- In the Alias field, type in a name.
- Under Accept the Default Validity Period, click on Yes; the default validity period is 25 years.
- Of the six fields in the section called Certificate, you have to fill in a minimum of one of those fields.
- Click on OK, then on Next.
- Finally, click on Finish.
In addition, it is also good to note that there are different types of APK files including a signed APK, unsigned APK, APK in release mode, and APK in debug mode. Some of these may require different steps for creating the file but the steps mentioned above are a good starting point most of the time. Any alterations can be found by conducting a search for instructions on the Internet.