How to manually sideload or install applications on Android

If you’ve only installed applications from the Google Play Store on your Android device, then you’re missing out on a whole world of new applications. Unlike iOS, Android allows you to install applications from anywhere, which is called sideloading.

Whether you’re an Android beginner or a seasoned user, sideloading can be useful. We’ll guide you through the process of finding third-party applications, how to sideload those applications, and some security considerations you should be aware of.

What is sideloading?

Sideloading is the process of installing files on your Android device from sources outside the Google Play Store.

This article specifically covers how to sideload applications, but you can also sideload other media on Android. Sideloading applications involves downloading APK files (Android’s installation package format) and manually running them.

The openness of Android means you can often install applications for free from wherever you deem appropriate. If you don’t like Google Play, you can install alternative Android app stores like Apkpure or the Amazon Appstore. However, since Google doesn’t allow these app stores to be downloaded from Google Play, you’ll need to download them from elsewhere.

Why would I want to sideload applications?

One of the main reasons for sideloading is to access applications that are not available on Google Play. Most of these applications are not hosted there due to violations of the Play Store’s terms of service.

For example, the Amazon Appstore and Humble Bundle are not available because they are app stores just like Google Play. Others, like the YouTube alternative client NewPipe, add new features to YouTube that Google doesn’t like. But these applications are still safe and offer benefits to you.

Alternatively, you might want a phone that doesn’t rely on Google. Part of the reason is to avoid using Google Play, so you can sideload your applications.

Whatever the reason, sideloading is a key feature of Android that you should know how to do.

How to enable sideloading on Android

Before actually sideloading files, you need to enable the feature. For security reasons, Android blocks you from installing applications from sources other than Google Play. This prevents you from inadvertently installing malicious files, but you can override it.

The process for doing this varies slightly depending on your Android version. If you don’t plan on sideloading frequently, for security reasons, we recommend turning this setting off after installing your application.

Enabling sideloading on Android 7.x Nougat and earlier

In older versions of Android, sideloading is an all-or-nothing switch. You simply toggle a switch to allow installations from anywhere.

To do this, go to Settings > Security. You’ll see an entry on this page labeled Unknown Sources. Open this option, and your phone will display a warning that your device is more vulnerable to attacks when this setting is enabled. We’ll discuss this issue shortly; tap OK to temporarily accept it.

Enabling sideloading on Android 8.x Oreo and newer

In newer versions of Android, Google made changes to sideloading to improve security. Now, you have to toggle the Unknown Sources installation option from each application instead of a global option. This allows you to install from certain applications you trust while blocking others.

To toggle this feature on Android 8 to 11, open Settings > Apps & notifications. Expand the advanced section at the bottom, then click Special app access. On the menu that appears, scroll down and select Install unknown apps. On Android 12, you can find this setting under Apps > Special app access; there is no advanced heading.

In this menu, you will see a list of applications on your device that are capable of installing other applications. Select the service through which you want to install the application, such as a browser, cloud storage service, or file manager. Then enable the “Allow from this source” toggle.

Sideloading can be risky: Security concerns

Before we proceed, it’s important to discuss some security concerns regarding sideloading.

Installing applications on your device from sources other than Google Play can pose problems when it comes to device security. While Android malware isn’t a major issue, the easiest way to introduce malicious software is by installing suspicious and/or dangerous applications.

Thanks to Google Play Protect, all applications on Google Play are (in theory) safe. The same cannot be said when you download APKs from the internet. For safety purposes, you should only download from trusted sources.

APP NotifyLater is a secure site where you can download APKs. You can also download APKs from Google Play. However, we do not recommend obtaining applications from random APK sites as their security cannot be guaranteed.

You should also avoid installing “cracked” applications (paid applications illegally distributed for free). The likelihood of infection through them is much higher.

How to Sideload Applications on Android

The actual process of sideloading applications is straightforward. We’ll outline three of the most popular methods below.

Note that applications installed from sources outside of Google Play will not receive automatic updates (except for apps from APP NotifyLater). You’ll need to check for updates from the third-party app store or manually download them.

Method 1: Install APK Directly on Android

You can sideload applications directly from the browser on your Android device. Simply open a page that provides the APK and download it. You’ll see a warning that the APK may harm your device; tap OK to proceed.

After the download, you’ll see a small banner with a shortcut to open it. Tap Open to install the application. If you missed it, you can tap on the download notification or open your Downloads app to access it.

Once installed, simply open it like any other application.

Method 2: Install APK on Android via Cloud Storage

If you find the browser on your phone inconvenient for this task, the next best method is to use cloud storage. This allows you to download the APKs on your PC and then install them onto your phone from one place.

We recommend creating a dedicated folder for APKs in Dropbox, Google Drive, or any other storage service you use. Whenever you come across these files on your PC, place them in that folder. Then, on your phone, open the respective app and navigate to that folder.

Click on an APK file, and you’ll see the same installation prompt. If you’re using Android 8 Oreo or higher, ensure that you have granted the cloud storage app permission to install applications.

Method 3: Install APK on Android via USB Transfer

This is the least convenient method, but it still works if you prefer not to use the above methods for any reason.

Download the APK you want to install onto your computer. Then, connect your phone to the computer using a USB data cable. You may need to tap on the notification on your device and change the connection type to “Transfer files” if your computer doesn’t detect it.

Open “This PC” and transfer the APK file onto your device. It’s a good idea to create a new folder to keep them all in one place. Transfer them, and then you can disconnect the cable. (Alternatively, you can also connect your phone to the PC via Bluetooth and transfer the files that way if you prefer.)

To install your applications, open your Android file manager and navigate to the folder containing the APKs. Click on each one to install them, which will bring up a screen similar to installing from the browser.

You are now ready to sideload applications on Android.

Now that you have a basic understanding of downloading and installing APKs on Android devices, enabling it and installing applications is easy—just remember to do so safely. Only install applications from trusted sources.

Speaking of security, you might also want to check out some Android applications that can help protect your security and privacy.

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