What is an APK? A Complete Guide to Android App Files
If you are a regular reader of sites, like ComoHow, or like to play games with your smartphone, you may have come across the term APK. But what does it mean and why is it important?
In a nutshell, Android apps are often distributed as a type of package file called an APK (short for Android Application Package).
An APK is basically the app itself, along with all of its assets and code. They are used as a way to speed up the installation of an application on your phone or tablet.
Instead of having to download the app from a random website, Google allows developers to upload their APKs directly to their development console. In this way, you can download and install it directly on your phone or tablet instead of having to go through this process every time you want to update it.
Do you still have questions? Read on to learn more.
Table of Contents:
- The APK file
- What does an APK contain?
- APK limits
The APK file
APK is a type of file, like MSI for Windows or DMG for Mac, that contains code and resources for Android applications. It’s often called an app, but it’s really more of a container for an app. In fact, it contains all the resources, permissions, and code necessary to install and run an application.
As such, it’s useful to think of it as a compressed folder whose contents you can extract and view. When you download an Android app from the Google Play Store, you are actually downloading an APK file. Once the app is installed, you can view the contents of the APK file by opening it in a file manager app or decompiling the app with an APK analyzer.
What does an APK contain?
An APK is a compressed folder that contains code, assets, etc. of the application Inside the folder you will find one or more files with other folders. Let’s look at some of these files:
- APK File – This is the actual APK file that you downloaded from the Play Store. It is an executable file that contains the application code. The application name is also included in the file name.
- AndroidManifest.xml – This is where you’ll find details about the app, including its name, version number, dependencies, features, and more. The manifest is essential to install and run the application. If this file is missing or damaged, the application will not install or work properly.
- Assets – This folder contains all the assets used by the app, including images, videos, fonts, and other files.
- lib – This folder contains the application code, which is written in Java. You may also see folders with Java package names like com, java, etc.
- res: This folder contains the application resources. These include design elements like icons, charts, and other visual elements.
There are some limitations of APK files that you should be aware of before installing apps outside of the Play Store. APK files are signed with a private key. If they are not signed with a certificate, they cannot be installed on devices that are not owned by the developer.
You also can’t install an APK on a device running a different version of Android than the one it’s intended for. This means that if you want to install an app on a device running Android 4.0, the APK of the app must have been built for Android 4.0.
Apps installed through an APK will not receive automatic updates like those installed from the Play Store. You will need to manually update the app to ensure it remains secure and functional.
Unless you’re a professional looking to install proprietary software or a developer testing a new app, we recommend most users avoid installing apps outside of Play or another big name.
Many less scrupulous sources can contain malware. In some cases, since the software may not be optimized to run on the exact version of Android you are using, it can also cause performance issues.
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