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What Is an APK File and Is It Safe to Install One?

what is apk file

Chances are you’ve heard the term APK, but you probably have no idea what an APK file is. If that’s your case, we can help.

In this article, you’ll learn what an APK file is, how to open and install an APK file. You’ll also learn if it’s safe to download APK files on your Android phone. Let’s get started.

What Is an APK File

APK stands for Android Package Kit. It’s the file format used by the Android operating system for the distribution and installation of apps.

What is an APK file
APK Illustration. Gardy Philogene/Gotechtor

As you already know, Google Play Store is the official app store where you can download apps and games on your Android device.

When you download an app from the Play Store, you basically download an APK file. You just don’t see the name of APK because Android handles everything behind the scenes.

APK files come in handy when you want to download an app that’s not available in the Google Play Store.

Components of an APK File

So now that you know what an APK file is, what about its components? What is inside an APK file?

APK file contents
APK file contents. Screenshot: Gardy Philogene/Gotechtor

An APK file contains all the components that an app needs for a successful installation on your phone. Below is a list of the most important files and directories.

  • AndroidManifest.xml — Contains the app metadata such as its name, version, permissions, etc.
  • assets — Contains all the app assets. Common types of assets include arbitrary files like text, xml, fonts, music, and video.
  • res — Directory with all resources that are not compiled into resources.arsc such as images.
  • META-INF — Directory with APK metadata, such as the manifest file, signature, and other resources.
  • lib — Compiled native libraries used by the app.
  • classes.dex — Compiled Java classes in the DEX file format to be run on the device.
  • resources.arsc — File with precompiled resources, such as strings, colors, or styles, used by the app.

How to Install APK on Android

We’ve put together a great guide on how to install APK on Android. It covers 3 different methods. They’re quick, simple, and easy to follow. Make sure you trust the source you’re downloading your APK file from.

How to Open an APK File

To open an APK file, you basically need to download it on your phone, then open it. The only caveat is Android by default doesn’t allow the installation of apps outside of the Play Store.

To do so, you need to bypass these restrictions. Depending on your Android version, this step might be different.

Settings > Apps & notifications Advanced Special app access > Install unknown apps

If you’d like to see the contents of an APK file, you’d need a Zip decompression toolsuch as 7Zip or WinRar. Alternatively, you can simply change the APK file extension name to ZIP, and your computer will open it like any normal ZIP file.

Keep in mind that extracting an APK file doesn’t mean that you can use it on your computer. For that matter, you’d need an Android emulator that allows you to run Android OS on your PC.

Why Install APK on Your Android Phone

There are many reasons why you’d want to install APK files on your Android phone. Chances are if you’re reading this article, you probably know a few of them.

1. Install new versions of apps ahead of the official release. Be cautious beta versions of apps are unstable and buggy and could pose a security threat to your device.

2. Whether it’s for user privacy violation or geographic restriction, certain apps are not available on the Play Store. If you want to use one of those apps, you’ll have to manually install the APK file on your phone.

3. Sometimes new updates can break things instead of fixing them. Going back to the previous version of an app can help you troubleshoot any issues you might have with its newest version.

Unfortunately, Android doesn’t let you downgrade your apps to a specific version if you don’t have root access on your phone. In case, you might be interested, here’re all the benefits of rooting your Android phone.

That’s where installing APK comes in handy. And APKMirror is one of the best options for safe and free Android APK downloads.

Wrap Up

We hope you’ve learned something useful about APK today with this beginner’s guide. Remember to only download APK files from trusted and reliable sources. Otherwise, you can end up damaging your phone by installing a corrupt APK file.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please use the comment box below.