How to Install APK on Android

Have an Android app not on Google Play? Install it from its APK

Holding an Android phone near a computer keyboard.

 Richard Levine/Getty Images

Installing an APK file on Android, it's as simple as clicking on the file from your phone. There are, however, a few things to consider before you can do this successfully.

First, you'll need to prepare your phone's settings. Second, get the file onto your Android. And, finally, find the file to open it.

What Is an APK?

An APK (Android Package Kit) is a type of file that installs an application for Android. If you are technically savvy, it's like a file you run to install programs on Windows or Mac (known as an executable (EXE) for Windows, or a package installer (PKG) for Mac).

In this case, the APK file is simply the installer file you click to install applications on your Android device.

Here's a simplified explanation of what an APK is, but it helps to understand why clicking on the file on your Android device will install an application.

Why Use an APK?

If you've ever installed an Android application from the Google Play store, then you've actually already used an APK file without realizing it. When you click that green Install button, Google Play automates the process of transferring the APK file to your phone and running it for you.

Installing YouTube on Google Play

But what if the app you want to install isn't available on Google Play? That's when you'll have to take matters into your own hands.

In this article you'll learn three methods to run an APK installer file to install any non-Google Play app to your phone.

Prepare Your Android Device

Enable installing Unknown Sources on an Android phone.

Since your phone considers any application outside of Google Play an "unknown app", you need to tell your phone to allow you to install unknown apps.

Enable Installing "Unkown Apps" on Android Nougat

  1. Go into Settings
  2. Tap Security (or Lock Screen and Security).
  3. Scroll down to the Device Administration section, and enable Unknown Sources.

Enable Installing "Unkown Apps" on Android Oreo

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Then Apps and Notifications
  3. Select Install Unknown Apps (or Install Other Apps).

Install an Android File Manager

Now that you've configured your phone to let you install unknown apps, you'll also need a way to find that application file (APK file) on your phone so you can run it.

Android phones typically come with a "File Manager" app you can use. But if you don't have one, then open Google Play on your phone and search for "File Manager." You'll see lots of options available.

Some of the best options include:

Install any of these file managers so you'll be able to locate the APK file after you've transferred it to your phone.

Easiest: Download the APK Installer From Your Android

Downloading an APK installer to an Android device.

The easiest way to install an APK file on your Android is to download the file using your Android Browser.

  1. Once you find a website offering an Android app, you'll see a link to download the APK file. You may see a pop-up asking if you want to let your browser save files to your phone's storage. Accept this. You'll also see a warning that, "This type of file can harm your device."
  2. Just click OK to continue.
  3. If your phone's web browser doesn't give you the option to open the file after downloading, then open the file explorer app you installed, and go to the Downloads folder on your device.
  4. Tap the APK file. Allow the app any required permissions it asks for. Then, at the bottom of the installer window, click INSTALL.
  5. You'll see a confirmation the app is installed. Now you'll see the app available in your list of installed apps.

Intermediate: Transfer the APK Installer via USB

If you don't have Internet access on your phone, or for any other reason you can't use your browser to download the file, you can still install apps from your computer.

Using your computer web browser, download the APK file just like described above. Once it's downloaded, you'll need to connect to your Android phone and transfer the file.

If you've never connected your Android to your computer, you'll need to enable USB Debugging.

Depending how old your device is, there are two ways to do this.

  • Android 4.1.x and lower: Click Settings, then tap Applications, tap Development and finally enable USB debugging.
  • Android 4.2.x and higher: Click Settings, scroll down to About phone, and tap Build number seven times. This enables the Developer menu.
  • Go back to Settings, tap Developer Options and tap USB Debugging. Enable the USB Debugging checkbox.

Once this is enabled, you can plug your phone into your computer with a USB cable and it'll mount the phone just like it would a memory stick.

Once your phone is connected to your computer, it'll show up as another drive in your computer's File Explorer. Move the APK file you've downloaded from the app website, to your phone.

  1. Find the downloaded APK file on your computer.
  2. Right click the file and click Copy.
  3. Find the new drive for your phone in the file explorer.
  4. Expand each folder until you find the /sdcard/download folder.
  5. Paste the APK file into that folder.

Now the APK file is on your phone.

Transferring APK file using WiFi FTP Server App.

Once the file is transferred, use the file explorer app on your phone as described in the previous section to tap the APK file and install the app.

If you don't have a USB cable, another solution is to install WiFi FTP Server from Google Play, and then use an FTP client on your computer (like FileZilla) to transfer the APK file from your computer to the /sdcard/download folder on your phone. However, this is an advanced option and requires an understanding of how to FTP files.

Advanced: Run APK Installer With Minimal ADB and Fastboot

If for any reason the APK installer isn't running when you tap it on your phone or your app launcher crashed and your phone isn't working right, there's an emergency, advanced solution that'll work. You can install the APK file on your Android from your computer using a tool called "Minimal ADB and Fastboot".

First, you'll need to follow the steps in the previous section to connect your phone via USB and enable USB Debugging.

Next, download and install the latest version of Minimal ADB and Fastboot on your computer. Run the tool, and a command window will launch. With your phone connected to your computer with the USB cable, type the command adb devices.

Minimal ADB and Fasbboot adb devices command to check for phone.

If the tool can detect your phone, you'll see an ID for the device listed under List of devices attached. Now you're ready to transfer the APK file.

  1. Using Windows File Explorer, find the downloaded APK file on your computer.
  2. Right click the file and click Copy.
  3. Using Windows File Explorer, navigate to the Minimal ADB and Fasbtoot folder (typically c:\Program Files (x86)\Minimal ADB and Fastboot\).
  4. Paste the APK file into that folder.
  5. Rename the APK file to something short so it's easy to type as a command.

Back in the same command window you had open before, type the command adb install <name-of-file.apk>.

Replace <name-of-file.apk> with the name of your APK file.

Installing an APK installer using Minimal ADB and Fastboot.

When you see the word Success, the app is installed on your phone!

Finding APK Installers

There are many websites where you can find non-Google Play apps to install. Three of the most popular are APK Pure, Reddit's APK Directory, and APK Mirror.

Remember to do your research before installing any app. Often a quick Google search can let you know if an app (or company that makes the app) has a questionable reputation. Seriously, do your research before you download and install the APK on your own Android device.