What Is an APK File?

You can open Android apps on a computer with an emulator

What to Know

  • An APK file is an Android Package file.
  • Open one on your computer with BlueStacks.
  • Sideload Android apps by changing your settings: Settings > Apps > Special app access > Install unknown apps.

This article describes what an APK file is, how to open or install one (exactly how depends on your operating system), and why converting one might not be useful.

What Is an APK File?

A file with the APK file extension is an Android Package file that's used to distribute apps on Google's Android operating system.

APK files are saved in the ZIP format and are typically downloaded directly to Android devices, usually via Google Play, but can also be found on other websites.

Some of the content found in a typical APK file includes an AndroidManifest.xml, classes.dex, and resources.arsc file; as well as a META-INF and res folder.

Person looking at an Android smartphone with an APK file on the screen
Lifewire 

How to Open an APK File

APK files can be opened on a number of operating systems, but they're used mainly on Android devices.

Open an APK File on Android

Opening an Android app on your Android device just requires that you download it like you would any file, and then open it when asked. However, APK files installed outside the Google Play store might not install right away because of a security block put into place.

To bypass this download restriction and install APK files from unknown sources, navigate to one of these menus, depending on your Android version:

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

Depending on your device, you might need to give a specific app, such as Chrome, permission to install unofficial APK files. Or, if you see it, enable Install Unknown Apps or Unknown sources.

If the file doesn't open, try browsing for it with a file manager like Astro File Manager or ES File Explorer File Manager.

Open an APK File on Windows

You can open an APK file on a Windows PC using an Android emulator (these are our favorites) like BlueStacks. We have a guide on how to use BlueStacks to run Android apps on Windows if you need help.

You can also get Android apps on Windows 11 through the Microsoft Store, eliminating the need to deal with APK files at all.

Android Studio is what's used to make Android apps, but you won't be able to use that to easily play an Android game or test out a new app on your computer. It works on Windows and macOS.

Open an APK File on a Mac

BlueStacks works on Mac, too. See How to Use BlueStacks on Mac for all the details.

Another Android emulator you can use to open APK files in macOS is Nox.

Open an APK File on iOS

You can't open or install APK files on an iPhone or iPad because the file is built in an entirely different manner than apps used on those devices, and the two platforms aren't compatible with each other.

iOS apps are stored in a format that uses the IPA file extension.

Extracting APK Files

You can also open an APK file in Windows, macOS, or any other desktop operating system, with a file extractor tool. (Try one of our top free unzip programs.) Since APK files are simply archives of multiple folders and files, you can unzip them with a program like 7-Zip or PeaZip to see the different components that make up the app.

Doing that, however, doesn't let you actually use the APK file on a computer. To do so requires an Android emulator (like BlueStacks), which essentially runs the Android OS on the computer.

How to Convert an APK File

Although a file conversion program or service is normally necessary to convert one file type to another, they're not very useful when dealing with APK files. This is because an APK file is an application that's built to run on specific devices only, unlike other file types like MP4s or PDFs that work on a variety of platforms.

Instead, if you want to convert your APK file to ZIP, you'd use the instructions explained above. Either open the APK file in a file extraction tool and then repackage it as a ZIP, or simply rename the .APK file to .ZIP.

Renaming a file like this isn't how you convert a file. It only works in the case of APK files because the file format is already using ZIP but it's just appending a different file extension (.APK) to the end.

As you read above, you can't convert an APK file to IPA for use on iOS, nor can you convert APK to EXE to use the Android app in Windows.

However, you can normally find an iOS alternative that works in place of the Android app that you want to be installed on your iPhone or iPad. Most developers have the same app available on both platforms (an APK for Android and an IPA for iOS).

Instead of an APK to EXE converter, install a Windows APK opener from above and then use it to open the Android app on your computer; it doesn't need to exist in the EXE file format for that to work.

FAQ
  • Can APK files harm my device?

    Yes, unfortunately, APK files can sometimes harm devices. That's because they can contain malware, so it's recommended to run APK files through an online virus scanner before installing them. Only download from sites you know and trust to minimize the possibility of a fraudulent program infecting your device.

  • Are APK files legal?

    It's perfectly legal to download APK files and use them to install apps from outside the Google Play Store. APK is just a file format like the EXE or ZIP. Google developed the APK format, but anyone can create and use APK files.

  • How do I find APK files on my Android device?

    Locate APK files on your device by using an Android file manager to search for the file. Some mobile devices come with a preloaded file manager, but many alternatives are in the Google Play Store.

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