What Is an IPA File?

How to use iOS application files

What to Know

  • An IPA file is an iOS application.
  • Install one to your device with iFunbox.
  • You can't convert IPA to APK to install it on an Android.

This article explains what an IPA file is and how they're used with your Apple devices.

What Is an IPA File?

A file with the IPA file extension is an iOS application. They function as containers (like ZIP) for holding the various pieces of data that make up an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch app; like for games, utilities, weather, social networking, news, and others.

The structure of an IPA file is the same for every app; a PNG file (sometimes a JPEG) is used as the icon for the app, and the Payload folder contains all of the app's data.

IPA files in a folder

IPA also stands for intelligent peripheral adapter and interaction process analyzer, but neither have anything to do with iOS apps. It's also short for International Phonetic Alphabet; if you're not interested in the file format but instead want to convert English to IPA symbols, use Upodn.com.

How to Open an IPA File

IPA files are used by Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. They're downloaded from the device through the built-in App Store app. Unless you're a developer, or you're testing an app that's been distributed outside the official store, you shouldn't have to deal with these files manually.

That said, if you do have an IPA file on your computer, and you're running a modern version of iTunes (12.7 or newer), you might have luck installing it to the iOS device using AltStore or Diawi.

For computers running an older version of iTunes, the IPA file can be downloaded directly through iTunes. They're saved to this location so that the device can access them the next time it syncs:

  • Windows: C:\Users\\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Mobile Applications\
  • Mac: ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Mobile Applications/

These folders are also used as a storage for apps that were downloaded from the device. They're copied from the device to the iTunes folder after syncing with the computer.

While it's true that IPA files hold the contents of an iOS app, you can't use iTunes to open the app on your computer. They're just used by the program for backup purposes and so that the device can understand which apps you've already purchased or downloaded.

More Ways to Open IPA Files

You can open the file outside of iTunes using the free iFunbox program for Windows and Mac. Look for the Install App button in the Apps tab of the My Device section.

iFunbox install app prompt

Again, this doesn't let you use the app on your computer, but instead transfers the IPA file to your iPhone or other compatible device, without using iTunes. The program supports lots of other features, too, like importing and exporting ringtones, music, videos, and photos.

Some other tools like iFunbox include Sideloadly and 3uTools.

You can also open one using a free file zip/unzip program like 7-Zip, but doing so will just decompress it to show you its contents; you can't actually use or run the app by doing this. You'll find a Payload folder in every iOS app, among many other files and subfolders.

You can't open an IPA file on an Android device because that system is functionally different from iOS, such that it requires its own format for apps—see what APK files are for a look at Android app files.

However, you can open and use the file on your computer using iOS emulation software that can trick the app into thinking it's running on an iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone. iPadian is one example, but it's not free.

How to Convert an IPA File

It's not possible to convert an IPA file to another format and have it still be usable in iTunes or on your iOS device.

For example, you can't convert IPA to APK for use on an Android device because not only are the file formats for these applications different, but Android and iOS devices run on two entirely different operating systems.

In the same way, even if an iPhone app has, say, a bunch of videos, music, or even document files, that you want to keep for yourself on your computer, you can't convert the IPA to MP3, PDF, AVI, or any other format like that. It's just an archive full of program files that the device uses as software.

You can, however, rename it to use the ZIP file extension so that it opens as an archive. Doing this merely lets you see the files inside, so most people probably won't find that useful.

Debian Software Packages (.DEB files) are archives that are normally used to store software installation files. Jailbroken or hacked iOS devices use the DEB format in the same way "normal" apps use IPA. K2DesignLab has instructions on converting IPA to DEB if that's something you want to do.

Apple's Xcode software is one way iOS apps are created. While IPA files are built out of Xcode projects, doing the reverse—converting the file to an Xcode project, isn't possible. The source code can't be extracted, even if you convert it to a ZIP file and open its contents.

Still Can't Open It?

If you've tried all of the above and they aren't working to open the file, consider that you might be misreading the file extension. This is common, especially with three-letter extensions like this one, and it leads to errors when you try using the file.

For example, IPP is a file extension that looks similar to IPA at a glance, but that suffix is reserved for source code files used by programs like Visual Studio, something very different than an iOS app. IAA is another one, but it's used by INTUS terminals as an audio file archive.

If you don't have an IPA file, then you don't have an iOS application, and you'll need to research the file extension you see after the file name for specific information on the program you need to open or convert it.

FAQ
  • How do you transfer IPA files to your iPhone?

    iTunes is the best way to transfer IPA files from a computer to an iOS device. All apps downloaded from the App Store are in IPA files that iTunes can transfer from a computer to an iOS device.

  • How do you download IPA files?

    Apple's App Store is the only official way to download IPA files (iOS apps). Whenever you download an application on an iOS device or from iTunes, you're downloading an IPA file.

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