What is an Android APK, how it is installed and differences with normal apps

Have you ever wondered what is the format of the applications in Android? Like any operating system, Android has its executable files that allow applications to be installed. These files can be installed from the app store itself, or by free, through third-party pages.

This last form has always been allowed by Google, which incorporates an application installer into the system so that any APK file we download can be installed. In short, an APK is an executable file that contains the data of an application, and it would be what a .exe file is to Windows, or a .dmg file is to macOS.

APKs contain the data necessary to install and run applications

Each application requires a series of data to run on an operating system. In the case of Android, this app data is compressed within the APK file (Android Application Package). These files can be shared between Android phones (just send them in the way you want), and to open them you just need to click on them.APKs are executable files for Android. They drink the Java .jar format and allow to install packaged components in the system

In most cases, APKs contain all the data necessary to run the application. However, there are cases in which, after installing the APK, it is necessary to download even more data so that the application can work.

So, if we have an APK but for some reason we cannot download the missing data, what is the solution? Here where the XAPK files come into play . These files contain both the APK itself and an OBB file that contains the additional data. They are quite frequent in heavy games , in which the APK of the OBB files is usually downloaded separately.

How to install APK files

Installing an APK is as simple as going to the Google Play Store and downloading the application you want. Although Google does not show us the format, you are not downloading more than an installer of the application you are going to run. Therefore, the installation time depends largely on the weight of the app (among other factors, such as the type of memory you have, processor, etc.), since the APK must be decompressed on your terminal to install.

The files that we download from the Play Store have passed a lot of controls by Google (although occasionally they miss something) so, in general, If you want to check the APKs that you have downloaded on your terminal, you can make a backup of them with third-party applications

You can check which APK file has been downloaded by backing up the application. To do this, simply download an application such as APK Extractor, which will allow you to obtain a copy in APK format of the applications that are in your terminal, something quite useful.

To be able to install APK files externally it is necessary to activate the unknown origins of our phone. These are in a fairly accessible location.

  • Settings
  • Security
  • Unknown origins

Once we have activated this box, we can install applications from outside the Play Store. Of course, we recommend deactivating Google Play Protect, since this Google security system is responsible not only for analyzing the applications you download from your store but those that have been installed from outside. If Google ‘sees’ something you don’t like (like an application from your non-compatible store in your country) installed, you could delete it. Disabling Google Play Protect prevents Google from deleting your APKs without permission, although it exposes you to not knowing when an APK could be malicious

To deactivate Google Play Protect we just have to go to its settings in the Google app store, and disable the option to ‘search for security threats on device’.

As we said, to install APKs just have unknown sources activated but, in the case of XAPK files, we do need third-party package installers, such as APK Pure.

Is it dangerous to install external APK files?

No, if you do it with caution. That a file has not passed Google controls does not mean it is malicious. From Xataka Android we recommend using only reliable download sources. One of them is APKmirror, a website where we can find applications even before in the Google store, and that has been demonstrating the security of the files stored there for years. The problems with the APKs come when we download them from unreliable sources. Would you download a program for Windows or Mac on an unreliable page?

Get out of these secure directories and download APK files from pages whose reputation we don’t know, which can lead to ending up with a malicious file in your hands. However, we repeat, if we do it with caution, there is no risk downloading APKs externally, provided we are clear that we are doing it from a secure directory.