What's the Difference Between a Chrome App, Extension, and Theme?

Learn about the Chrome Web Store options

'Google Mobile Services' : Illustration
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The Google Chrome web browser offers a convenient way to access the web. Like other browsers, Chrome can be enhanced through the use of extensions and personalized with themes, which are available in the Chrome Web Store.

What Are Chrome Apps?

Web apps are applications, such as Gmail, that you use by accessing a website. This type of application differs from a standard one, which is loaded directly onto a computer.

Standard applications were more common in the early years of personal computing, prior to widespread internet use. Web apps, in turn, have become replaced by "progressive web apps" (app-like web pages), which is why Google removed all apps from the Google Web Store in 2017 and declared them obsolete.

Extensions Boost Chrome Functionality

An extension is a small program that downloads a CRX file to your computer. The extension is saved to a specific location in the Chrome installation folder, you can’t choose where to save it.

Chrome extensions change the way the Chrome browser operates. For example, Full Page Screen Capture takes a screenshot of an entire web page. After installing the extension, use the feature with any website you visit because it's installed in the browser.

Another example is the Ebates extension, which finds deals online. It runs in the background and checks for price savings and coupon codes when you visit a shopping site.

How to Install Chrome Extensions

Use the following steps to preview extensions in the Chrome Web store, install extensions, and make changes to an extension after it is installed.

  1. Open Chrome and navigate to the Chrome Web Store.

  2. In the left pane, select Extensions.

    Home page of the Chrome Web Store
  3. If you want a more specific search, make the appropriate selections under Categories, Features, and Ratings.

    Chrome Web Store with search characteristics selected
  4. In the main window, choose any extension that interests you. On the next screen, you'll see a description, screenshots, reviews, version information, release date, related apps, and other information.

  5. When you find an extension you like, select Add To Chrome.

    Chrome Web Store with Colorful Tic Tac Toe extension selected
  6. In the confirmation dialog box, select Add extension.

    Dialog box for adding Colorful Tic Tac Toe Chrome extension
  7. The extension begins working immediately, and you'll see its icon in the upper-right corner of the Chrome window, next to the search bar.

  8. To adjust settings for the extension, right-click on the extension icon and select Options.

    Menu for Chrome extensions
  9. To stop the extension from operating, right-click the extension icon and select Manage extensions, then turn off the toggle switch at the top of the page.

    Extension options for Adblock Plus Chrome extension
  10. To uninstall an extension, right-click the extension icon and select Manage extensions, then, at the bottom of the page, choose Remove extension > Remove.

    Extension options for Adblock Plus Chrome extension
  11. Use your new Chrome extensions to work faster and smarter.

Chrome Themes Make Browsing More Fun

Themes personalize the appearance of the browser by changing the color scheme and background. Themes also change the appearance of everything from the tabs to the scrollbar. However, unlike extensions, changing a theme does not change how Chrome works.

How to Install Chrome Themes

Personalizing your Chrome browsing is fun and temporary. Try out as many themes as you like.

  1. Open Chrome and navigate to the Chrome Web Store.

  2. In the left pane, select Themes.

    Chrome Web Store Themes section
  3. If you want a more specific search, in the left pane make the appropriate selections under Categories and Ratings.

    Chrome Web Store Themes section with features selected
  4. Select a theme to view a larger image, see reviews, and read a description.

  5. To use the theme, select Add To Chrome, and it is immediately applied. If you don't see the effect in the current window, open a new tab or window to see it.

    Chrome Web Store with theme selected
  6. If you don't like what you see, choose Undo at the top of the screen.

  7. To remove a Chrome theme, in the top-right corner of the browser, select the menu (three-dot) icon and choose Settings. In the Appearance section, next to Themes, select Reset to default.

    Chrome Settings screen showing Themes Reset to default
  8. Downloading another theme removes the current one.