One of the great features of having an Android device is the ability to install applications without using the official app marketplace. The Google Play store has thousands upon thousands of applications available to download at any time, however, there may be an occasion or two where an app is no longer available for a variety of reasons. This is where installing an application from the web (or what is often referred to as “sideloading”) can come in handy.
Getting your device ready
Before you can install an application downloaded from the web onto an Android device, there are a few things you need to set up to be ready. I will include screenshots from my Sony smartphone with Android version 5.1 and the basic directions on how to properly set up your device and install a downloaded application. Please note that your device and current OS version may differ slightly from these examples.
In order to be able to sideload an application onto your Android phone or tablet, you must first go into your settings and enable applications to be installed from unknown sources. On my Sony smartphone I have to select ‘Settings’ then ‘Security’ and then scroll down to select the ‘Unknown sources’ slider to enable the setting. On some other devices and OS versions, the option may be elsewhere so be sure to look around within your settings if you don’t see it at first glance.
Finding and setting up an application
Now that your device is set to properly receive an application from a different source, you need to download the application from the web. There are two different ways you can do this. If you have a desktop or laptop computer you can use a standard browser to download the ‘Android application package’ or APK file. The other option is to download the APK file through a web browser on the Android device you are using. Each one will return the same results, but getting there will vary just a little.
If you download the APK from the web onto a computer, take note of where the file is saved, then connect your phone through a USB cable to transfer the file. Once the file is transferred to your device you can use a file manager program on the device to find and select the APK for installation.
If you download the file directly from your device’s web browser you should see a notification in the menu bar that will allow you to select for installation. This route is generally much easier, however, take caution with either route as files downloaded over the internet are much more susceptible to viruses than a program that is installed directly from the Google Play store.
After the file is loaded and installed, the application should work just as any program would if it was installed from the Google Play store. To enhance security after installation it would be beneficial to return to your settings and turn off the ability to install from unknown sources. This isn’t necessary at this point, especially if you are comfortable using Android, but does add security by eliminating the possibility of an accidental installation over the web.
There are only a handful of situations where you may want to sideload an application. With the higher risks associated with sideloading it is rarely the recommended way to install an application, but will work when required. On occasion, you may find that your device is not fully supported to download an application or that Google has removed an app from the app store. Having the ability to download an APK from the web whether it’s directly through your device or through another computer–can be extremely handy and a great alternative to the official store.