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On my beloved Rooted Nook Simple Touch I have a serious problem. It doesn’t have Play Store access and Titanium Backup isn’t entirely functional. I also need older copies of my apps to work with Android 2.1. This forces me to use a manual app extraction and backup method. But anyone with an older device, or an interest in the Android operating system’s file structure, will want to know the manual method.

Extraction is known as “pulling”, which is the opposite of “sideloading”, copying a file to an Android device. Manually backing up apps requires that you pull the installable file out of a Play Store enabled device and sideload (transfer) it onto your Play Store-less device. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. But the process itself doesn’t require much effort.

While apps such as Titanium Backup or the Amazon Market can help acquire apps, it doesn’t give you a feel for interacting with the Android file structure. Furthermore, if something goes wrong with Titanium Backup, understanding how app extraction works will aid any troubleshooting efforts.

Extracting and installing an Android installable file (also known as an APK) requires the following items:

Pulling Your Apps

Getting your apps onto an unsupported device requires that you first locate and then extract the app. After that, you must transfer the app onto your other Android device.

Locate Your Apps Directory

After installing your favorite file manager, fire it up. Most Android systems keep their installable files in two locations. The most important of these is data/app.

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Navigate to the data/app directory. It’s important to stress that without root access you won’t be able to access the apps in either your system or data directories. If you need root access, it may only require a simple app. On many devices, unfortunately, acquiring root can be somewhat of a pain. Our guide on rooting, fortunately, can help in this regard.

Once you attempt to enter the data directory, you will be prompted to enabled root access for the browser. You must grant this.

root browser data

I prefer using a dual-pane manager, such as Ghost Explorer. Dual-pane file management, particularly for pulling apps, is more intuitive than using a single-pane file manager. Read my guide on dual-pane file managers The Best Way to Manage Your Files in Android: Dual-Pane File Managers The Best Way to Manage Your Files in Android: Dual-Pane File Managers Do you occasionally need to move and organize files in Android? For this purpose, Android's conventional methods of organizing files sucks. Don't get me wrong – ES File Explorer provides one of the best file... Read More . However, for this tutorial I will use perennial favorite file manager, Root Browser.

Extract the APK File

After locating your app directory, enter it using Root Browser. Then it’s a simple matter of finding the app you desire and copying it to either an SD card or your desktop. For example, I’ve highlighted the K9 email app (read our guide and introduction to K9 K-9 Mail - The Best Alternative Email Management Solution For Your Android [1.5+] K-9 Mail - The Best Alternative Email Management Solution For Your Android [1.5+] The great thing about Android is that there usually are alternatives to be found that address the shortcomings of one program. Google Play gave me the rather un-mail like name of K-9 Mail. But from... Read More ) below.

app directory

Long-pressing on it will bring up a context menu. You will choose the “copy” option. You must then pick a target directory. Ideally, you want to place this extracted file someplace recognizable, not just into a random folder. For best results, try copying to your SD card, or in some devices, the emulated SD card.

Sideloading and Pulling

For manually installing apps to your devices, also known as sideloading How to Manually Install or Side Load Apps on Android How to Manually Install or Side Load Apps on Android Sideloading a file onto your Android device is easy, and we can show you how to do it. Read More , I suggest using Dropbox. Dropbox offers support on a very wide number of devices (I haven’t even seen a device yet that was incompatible with it). Just enter the app, select “Upload here” and find the APK that you extracted. It will then upload into the cloud and you can install it on any device that has Dropbox on it.

dropbox

Conclusion

This method works for backing up your apps as well as getting apps onto devices without the Play Store or that won’t install the apps through the Store. Although it won’t work on all devices, it will work on more than what’s officially supported. If you’ve run out of options, it’s a good backup plan.

However, if you haven’t yet tried Titanium Backup, give it a go before you use these methods. We’ve covered how Titanium Backup works How To Complete A Full Backup Of Your Android Phone [1.6+] How To Complete A Full Backup Of Your Android Phone [1.6+] I've been using Titanium Backup ever since I got my first Android device. I love backup applications (for PC and otherwise), and Titanium is as good as it gets. In this short introduction I’d like... Read More before and it’s among our list of best Android apps.

Image Credit: Phone via PlaceIt

  1. foofoofoo
    March 30, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Navanski - you only need root on the device you are GETTING the APK from, eg, the one that already has play store access. Once you obtain the APK, you can sideload it onto other device(s) without needing root access on those devices.

  2. Frank
    January 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    you should use Bluetooth file transfer, does the same except for system apks.

  3. Doc
    January 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    "Exraction is known as..." Missing "T" there.

    "Extracting and installing an Android executable (also known as an APK)..." An APK is not an executable; it's an installer package in ZIP format. Native ARM executables don't have an extension, and Dalvik (Java) apps have a .DEX extension; an APK file will often have one or both inside, as well as other files (libraries, assets such as sounds, art, etc). (You will still need the .APK file to install the app on the other Android device).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APK_%28file_format%29

    • Kannon Y
      January 4, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      Thanks for the correction Doc! From my brief experience with compiling APKs, I knew the internal composition, but struggled to find a good way of quickly explaining what an APK is. Your definition is a lot better. Thanks!

  4. Jon
    January 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I've tried this method with a rooted stock phone and the app did not work on the phone I copied it to (also rooted). I suspect it was because the app was odexed. It seems like this method will work only with deodexed apps. Any comments?

  5. Navanski
    January 3, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Seems an awful lot of bother. Given that you've already rooted the device then the next logical step would be to load a custom rom.

    Sideloading or pulling apks might be your only alternative if you have an old device where a custom rom is not available.

  6. mike
    January 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Don't forget you can use the web interface of AirDroid to download APK files for devices without root.

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