How to Sideload Any File onto Your Android Phone or Tablet

Skye Hudson 23-05-2016

If you’ve use an Android phone or tablet for a while now, you may have come across the term “sideloading.” Sideloading is basically just moving a file (often an app) from your computer to your Android device, which sounds like a simple process, but it can be confusing for someone who’s never done it before.


So today we’re going to take a look at why you might want to sideload apps or other files to your Android device, and how exactly you can do it.

What Files Can You Sideload?

Since sideloading is just a process of moving files from one device to another, it can be done with nearly anything. The most common use case is probably apps, but lots of other file types can be moved as well.


Android apps come as APK files that end in “.apk”, similar to how installable files on Windows come as EXE files that end in “.exe”. So to get started, you’ll need to find an APK. We’ve detailed in the past why you might want to download an APK and where to find them How to Download an APK from Google Play to Bypass Restrictions Need to get your hands on the installable APK file for an app from Google Play? We got you covered. Read More , but my best advice would just be to do a quick Google search (“App name APK”) or check APKMirror.

APKMirror has basically all the free apps on the Play Store , but you won’t find paid apps since that would be piracy. Pirating apps on Android Piracy On Android: How Bad Is It Really? Android is notorious for its rampant piracy, so we investigate exactly how bad it is. Read More is not only bad for developers and the community as a whole, but it opens you up to the possibility of viruses or malware Malware on Android: The 5 Types You Really Need to Know About Malware can affect mobile as well as desktop devices. But don't be afraid: a bit of knowledge and the right precautions can protect you from threats like ransomware and sextortion scams. Read More . Because of this, you may find other sites hosting APKs, but be wary of them and exercise caution.

It’s also possible to extract your own apps from one device and move them to another Got An Older Android Device? How To Extract And Install An Android App Anyone with an older device, or an interest in the Android operating system's file structure, will want to know the manual method. Read More , which is the safest route to go if you have the means.

Music, Podcasts, eBooks, Movies, or TV shows

Nowadays, smartphones are much more than just phones. They can be eReaders, MP3 players, and TVs all wrapped into one. That means you can load virtually any kind of media onto your Android device and enjoy it on the go.


If you have DRM-free media What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More on your computer, it can be moved over and enjoyed on your Android device (or you can break the DRM on your videos Remove DRM From iTunes Videos Quickly And Easily With M4VGear M4VGear simply takes DRM videos downloaded from iTunes and makes them DRM-free Read More or even on your Kindle eBooks How To Break The DRM On Kindle eBooks So You Can Enjoy Them Anywhere When you pay Amazon some money for a Kindle eBook, you probably think it’s yours now. I mean, you paid some money, you got some content, and now you have it, just like any other... Read More ). For best results, though, you’ll need an app for consuming those things once on your device:

Custom ROMs or Mods

You’re most likely to run into the term sideloading if you’ve been tweaking or rooting your Android device What Is Rooting? What Are Custom ROMs? Learn Android Lingo Ever had a question about your Android device, but the answer had a bunch of words in it that you didn't understand? Let us break down the confusing Android lingo for you. Read More . In this case, sideloading is extremely useful for moving files onto your phone that you’ll later need to use in your custom recovery What's a Custom Recovery? Exploring CWM, TWRP, and Friends If you've ever considered tinkering with your Android device, you've probably read that you need to flash a custom recovery onto it before you can do anything serious. But, that begs some questions. Read More .

This is the method you’ll likely use for installing a custom ROM 12 Reasons to Install a Custom Android ROM Think you don't need a custom Android ROM anymore? Here are several reasons to install a custom Android ROM. Read More , or if you’re running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer, it could be the method you use for installing Xposed The 13 Best Xposed Modules for Customizing Your Android Device The Xposed Framework is one of the best reasons to root Android, and these Xposed modules add awesome functionality. Read More .

But if you have no idea what any of that means, don’t worry about it. Custom ROMs and mods are for more advanced users, but beginners can just as easily take advantage of sideloading.

Moving It onto Your Device

Now that you have your app or other file ready on your computer, the next step is actually moving it to your phone or tablet — AKA, sideloading.

For this, we recommend that you use the USB cable that came with your device, but if that one has been lost, damaged, or stolen, then you can use a third-party cable as well. If your cable isn’t working, you can test it with this app How to Test If Your Micro-USB Cable Is Charging Properly Find out exactly how fast your charger is charging your smartphone or tablet, and discover how to make it even faster. Read More .


Most of the time, this means using a micro-USB to full-size USB cable (above), but more and more phones and computers are being released with the new USB Type-C specification What Is USB Type-C? Ah, the USB plug. It is as ubiquitous now as it is notorious for never being able to be plugged in right the first time. Read More that replaces both of these.


So, if your phone has a USB Type-C port and your computer has a USB Type-C port, then you can simply use a USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable. In the meantime, though, you might come across some USB Type-C to full-size USB cables or adapters.


On Windows How to Transfer Files From Android to PC: 7 Methods Want to learn how to transfer Android files to a PC or vice-versa? Here are several easy methods for moving data between devices. Read More , the process should be as simple as plugging in your device and opening it up to view its contents just like you would a USB thumbdrive. You can then copy and paste your desired files from your computer onto the Android device — just remember where you put them!

On Mac How to Transfer Files Between Android and Mac: 7 Easy Methods Need to transfer files between your Android phone and Mac computer? Here are simple ways to move data between those platforms. Read More , you’ll need to download something called Android File Transfer to facilitate the moving of files, but after that, it displays a very simple interface for transferring files from OS X to Android.

Alternative Methods

While downloading files to your computer and then transferring them to your phone over USB has a certain simplicity and organization to it, it’s not the only way of getting the job done.

My go-to, usually, is simply to download any files I want directly to my Android device. If I find an APK or other file I want to download on my computer, I simply open that same tab on my Android device (using Chrome’s built-in cross-device syncing The Ultimate Chrome Sync Hacks For Swapping Between Desktops Are you the type of person that needs unfettered mobility of their browsing data? With these Chrome hacks, you never have to worry about leaving your webpages, tabs and even clipboard data behind. Read More feature) and download it directly (ensuring, of course, that I’m connected to Wi-Fi first).

A more advanced route (if you’re going to be playing around with custom ROMs or other mods) is to use ADB, otherwise known as the Android Debug Bridge Android Won't Connect to Windows Over ADB? Fix It in 3 Easy Steps Is ADB not detecting your device? When Android is unable to connect to ADB, here's how to fix it and get connected again. Read More . Using ADB can be daunting for folks who are new to the game, but thankfully, there’s a great service called ADB Helper that simplifies the whole thing.

Obviously, there are a lot of possibilities for transferring files between your computer and mobile device, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi direct The Differences Between Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct You Need To Know If you take a peek into the future, it's hard not to envision an always-on society that features a multitude of connected devices that work in unison to make your life more convenient. Read More , SD cards, cloud storage, and FTP FTP Transfer: 3 Popular File Managers for Android With FTP Software FTP may sound intimidating, but it's not! We can help you learn how to quickly and easily share files between your devices with these handy Android apps. Read More  — and you can use whichever you like best, but for simplicity’s sake, I’d say stick to direct downloading, sideloading, or ADB.

Accessing Your Files

Now your files are finally on your mobile device, but how do you access them? Some versions of Android come with a file explorer pre-installed, but on others, you’ll need to download one yourself. Personally, I use OI File Manager, but there are several great file explorers out there The 7 Best Free File Explorers for Android There are a bunch of file management and file exploring apps out there for Android, but these are the best. Read More .


Once you have one installed, just browse through it and find your files wherever you placed them while sideloading. Once you tap the file, you’ll need to decide what app you want to open it with. If it doesn’t prompt you for this, you may have already set a default app for that file type, but don’t worry, that’s easy to change How to Remove, Change, and Set Default Apps in Android Here's everything you should know about setting and adjusting default apps on Android, including changing how links open. Read More .

Installing Sideloaded Apps

For APKs that you’ve moved over, the process is a little bit more complex because Android has safeguards in place to ensure you’re not installing malware on your device. As long as you’re sure that the file you’re installing came from a safe source, follow these steps:

  • Go to Settings > Security > Device administration and toggle on the Unknown Sources option. These steps may vary slightly depending on your version of Android.

You can then go and tap on the APK file, and it should be as simple as tapping Install, and then Done or Open.


For extra security, Google may prompt you during this process to allow it to regularly check your device for harmful apps (Google calls this app verification). We recommend saying yes to this. If you’re not prompted and you want to ensure that it’s activated, follow these steps:

  • On Android 6.0 or later: Go to Settings > Google > Security > Verify apps.
  • On Android 5.1 or earlier: Open the Google Settings app, then go to Security > Verify apps.

Here, you should see two toggles: Scan device for security threats and Improve harmful app detection. If you’re going to be regularly installing APKs from outside the Google Play Store 10 Best Android Apps Not in the Play Store The Play Store isn't the end-all-be-all of Android apps. If you've never ventured outside of it, you're really missing out. Read More , you’re best off keeping both of these on.

What Will You Sideload?

Hopefully, that explained how you can sideload various files from your computer to your Android device. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments.

When you do sideload apps, be sure to download APKs from safe sources The 5 Best Sites for Safe Android APK Downloads Need to download an APK to your Android device without the Google Play Store? Check out the best safe APK download sites. Read More .

Explore more about: Android Tips, File Management.

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  1. Michael Proulx
    May 24, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Well I have a Nexus 6 and am not receiving security patches , last one was January 5 , so I have to learn to side load .

  2. Difrint Drumr
    February 23, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Excellent read, thanks mucho!!!