How To Sideload Apps Using APK Files On Android Devices

In one of our previous tutorials on the Android mobile operating system, we taught you how to use the Google Play Store to find and install the apps you need. That is the most important and within reach method of installing apps onto your Android-based mobile device, but it's not the only one. Say you're an Android developer. You're building apps for the Android ecosystem, but before you get to launch your app in the Google Play Store, you have to test it while it is under development. Another case might be that you're working in a company that uses its own-developed Android apps that don't need to be published to the app store, since they're not intended for general use. What do you do, how do you install them on your device? Luckily, there's the "sideload" method. This implies getting a hold of the.apk file (.apk is the file format used for Android app installers), load it onto your device and install it locally, without going through the Google Play Store. In this tutorial, we'll teach you how to achieve exactly that.

NOTE: For the purpose of this tutorial, we used a Google Nexus 5 device running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The procedure is similar on all Android powered devices, so you should be good to go even if you're running a different version of Android on your device.

How To Sideload Apps Using APK Files On Android Devices

The Android operating system is protected against the installation of unauthorized apps through the sideload method using a setting found in the Settings of the device. So the first thing we will do is to allow the installation of apps by using the sideload method by going to the Settings panel of the device and switching this option to On.

From the home screen of your device, tap on the Apps icon on the bottom, to open the apps panel.

Scroll the list of apps until you find the Settings app and tap on it to open the settings.

Once inside the Settings panel, scroll down through the options until you find the Security category under the Device section.

Amongst the various security-related settings, the option that deals with the installation of apps using the sideload method is the Unknown sources option. Tap it to turn it on.

The system needs one final confirmation from you to make sure that this is indeed what you want. Read the warning and tap on OK to continue.

With this option turned on, we're ready to install apps via the sideload method. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will assume that you already have the.apk file of the app you want to install (acquired by downloading it from the internet, by building it yourself or through any other means). The.apk file has to be uploaded to your device and we will also assume that this has been done in advance.

You can load files on an Android device through numerous methods: connecting the device to your computer and browsing its file system, loading the files on a memory card and then inserting it in the card slot of your Android device (if the latter supports it) or by sending the files to the device using a wireless network connection and an app that offers this functionality. To this extent, we can also recommend the free service to you, which you can use by opening the URL of this service, selecting the.apk file you wish to upload and the scan the provided QR code with your device to download the.apk file onto it. The choice is yours.

Now that you have the file loaded up on the device, you need to navigate to it using any Android file manager app. You can safely use the one preinstalled onto your device by the manufacturer or any other file manager you prefer; no fancy requirements are needed for this purpose. So once again, from the home screen, open the Apps drawer by tapping on the apps icon at the bottom of the screen.

Scroll the list of apps until you find your preferred file manager or, if you don't have any, use the default one instead. We'll use the default file explorer app that came preinstalled in our version of Android.

Use the filesystem to navigate to the folder where you have previously saved the.apk file of the app you want to install. In our case, we need to navigate to the Downloads folder.

Once you find the.apk file in the folder, tap on the file to launch the installation process.

You are presented with a screen that shows you some of the features the app you want to install will be able to access, as well as the permissions it needs in order to run properly. Familiarize yourself with them and when you are ready to install the app, tap on the Install button at the bottom of the screen.

After a short waiting period, the app finishes installing and it is ready for use. You can either open the app directly from this screen or return to what you were doing before by using the buttons at the bottom of the screen.

And you're done, the app is installed onto the device and available to you!


Congratulations! You have just learned how to install apps onto your Android-based device by using the sideload method. Whether you're an app developer, you have an Android app developer for a friend and he asks you to test his freshly built apps or you're just in need of using an app that cannot be found in the Google Play Store, now you know how to install it onto your device.

Thank you for reading our guide! Post any comments and questions you may have below and we'll gladly do our best to help. Also, feel free to browse this section of our website for tutorials on Android-specific common tasks to simplify your daily digital life!