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Home Guide What is an apk file

What is an apk file

By Kitakabee, Community Contributor -

APK is an extension for the Android Package files used to distribute applications on Android OS. Like .exe files in Windows OS, the APK files contain important application data but are saved in the ZIP format.

And that’s not it. 

Let’s dive deep into understanding its use cases and how to create, install, open, and test APK files.

What is an APK File?

Android Package, Android Package Kit, or Android Application Package – APK has multiple names. It’s a file format used by Android to install and distribute apps across its ecosystem.

It contains all the elements that an Android device uses to install an application. A .apk file is an archive file containing multiple files and metadata about the application.

Multiple files are combined to save space and make the APK files more portable. You can develop, test, and launch your desired Android application by creating the required APK file.

An APK file has multiple use cases which may not be significant for the end users but are important for an Android developer and tester. 

What are APK Files Used For?

One core use of APK files is allowing users to install apps on their Android phones. Like APPX files in Windows 10 or package files on other platforms, APK files contain instructions to install the application and information about the package.

When a user installs an application from Google Play Store, the platform automatically installs the APK and acts as a package manager.

But because of the open nature of the ecosystem, developers also upload APKs on multiple other platforms, such as APKPure and APKMirror. The user can also download the APK version and manually install the application using the package installer available on the Android device. 

How to Create an APK File?

An Android app is created using Android Studio, which is the official development tool for Android. Once the code is finalized, the development team can use Android Studio to compile the developed application and put it into a container called APK.

Based on the type of APK file required, the generation process may differ. Here are the two methods to generate APK files for an application:

  • Generating a debug APK file

These APK files are generated for testing purposes and can’t be uploaded to the Google Play Store for the public. ​​

Once you build an application, you can import it into an APK file by selecting Build > Build Bundle(s)/APK(s) > Build APK(s) in the Android Studio dashboard. Refer to the image below to better understand the process. 

Generating a debug APK file

  • Generating a signed APK file

A signed APK file is necessary when you have tested your application and want to upload it to the Google Play Store for public release. The APK is secured with KeyStore credentials generated by the development team, and it also has password security. Akeystore contains cryptographic keys stored in a container. A Keystore makes it difficult to extract cryptographic keys from the device.

To create a signed APK file, select the Build option and then click Generate Signed Bundle / APK.

Generating a debug APK file 1

You must create a new KeyStore credential for the application. Add a new password and other securiy details to finalize the release version of the APK.

The APK will be created in your desired destination and ready to be uploaded to the Google Play Store for your application launch.

You can open an APK file using simple steps to access the application information. 

How to Open APK Files?

You can open an APK file once you uncompress it by changing the extension to .zip and unzipping. You can also use a unzip tool to extract the files and folders compressed inside an APK file.

Once you open the APK file, you can view all its contents. All Android files have the same core structure. Here are the common files and folders in an APK file: 

  1. AndroidManifest.xml 
  2. META-INF/
  3. classes.dex
  4. res/
  5. lib/ 
  6. assets/ 
  7. resources.arsc 

Apart from opening an APK file, installing an APK file is also simple depending on the Android version of your device.

How to Install APK Files?

Installing an APK file on an Android device can help you test your application in a real ecosystem and analyze the flaws or glitches before you can push it to the Google Play Store. 

If you choose to install an Android application using Google Play Store, the platform handles the APK installation in the background. But if you install APK files outside the Google Play Store, you must initiate the installation once you manually download the APK file. 

Note: There is a default security block on installing apps outside the Google Play Store. So you might also need to allow the installation process from unknown sources for the package installer to perform its action.

How to Test an APK File?

Testing is the most important aspect before you publish your Android application in the public domain. There are multiple methods to test your APK files, but two primary processes are using an:

Let’s discuss both scenarios and help you choose the best one for your APK testing. 

Using Android Studio Emulator

Android Studio Emulator allows you to run and view test results from your IDE. You can run tests for different methods or classes across different devices. Here, Android Studio emulates the devices and allows you to test it.

Android studio emulator

However, using Android Studio for testing comes with its own set of limitations (source).

  • Consumes too much RAM. For the best experience, you would need at least 16GB RAM.
  • Emulators are generally slow.
  • They are not 100% accurate.
  • Cannot emulate hardware performance.
  • Has issues with debugging

To overcome these challenges it is always best to test your app on a real device. But, setting up and maintaining an internal device lab is also costly. That’s when real device cloud comes into the picture. Real device cloud are real devices hosted on a cloud. By using a real device cloud, you are actually testing on a real device.

BrowserStack comes with 3000+ different combinations of real devices, browsers, and operating systems. You can easily test your .apk file in just a matter of a few minutes. 

Test your .apk file on real devices now

If you would still like to test your app using Android Studio follow the below steps:

Step 1: Select Profile or debug APK on the welcome screen to start the debugging process. You can also click File > Profile or Debug APK if you have an open project in Android Studio.

Step 2: Import the APK into Android Studio and select OK.

Step 3: You can view the unpacked APK files.

Using Android Studio

Step 4: Now you can use the Android profiler to kick-start the performance testing of your application. 

If your application is completely developed, it’s mandatory to test APK files in real user conditions. It can help you spot and resolve important bugs and glitches that must be fixed before public release.

Let us now see how to get this done using BrowserStack.

Using BrowserStack 

BrowserStack allows you to quickly load your dev and production apps into real Android devices to test them for performance, functionality, and user experience test. 

What is an apk file

The cloud based testing platform provides you access to real Android devices without investing in the testing infrastructure. 

Here’s how simple it is to install and run your APK files on BrowserStack.

Step 1: Sign up for a free trial or purchase a tailored plan for BrowserStack App-Live.

Step 2: Access the App-Live dashboard and click on the Upload your Apps section.

App Live dashboard

Step 3: Upload the .apk file you want to test or enter the URL to retrieve the file from a public location For testing production apps, you can select the Install via Play Store option.

Step 4: Once the APK file is uploaded, you can choose the desired Android device to test the app on. It will initiate a new App-Live session and connect you to a real mobile device from the BrowserStack cloud.

App live dashboard 2 1

Step 5: Once the session begins, the .apk file gets installed on your chosen device for testing.

Step 6: You can then test your Andriod application on the selected devices and check its user experience, functionality, etc. 

APK file testing

Minimize the hassles of testing APK files using BrowserStack and get access to the best real device cloud ecosystem instead of choosing slow and complex simulators and emulators.

While testing, you can also record the session, debug using our powerful dev tools, log bugs directly in your bug-tracking tools, and so much more.

How to test APK files on a PC?

QAs and developers can leverage BrowserStack to test APK files on a web browser. 

Following the steps listed above article, testing teams can create the most agile and accurate real device testing ecosystem remotely. 

The features available on the floating toolbar can make the APK file testing process easy. 

APK files testing on a PC

You can:

To ensure your Android application stands out in the Google Play Store marketplace, you must upload a bug-free, smooth, and effective app. 

By choosing mobile app testing platforms like BrowserStack, you can perform in-depth tests to analyze the performance, functionality, and user experience for better testing results. You can also increase your testing speed and bypass the complexities involved with emulators or creating testing labs.

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