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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, but my best advice would just be to do a quick Google search (“App name APK”) or check APKMirror.
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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 is not only bad for developers and the community as a whole, but it opens you up to the possibility of viruses or malware. 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, 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 on your computer, it can be moved over and enjoyed on your Android device (or you can break the DRM on your videos or even on your Kindle eBooks). For best results, though, you’ll need an app for consuming those things once on your device:
- Music: We recommend Google Play Music or any of these gorgeous music players.
- Podcasts: check out the 8 best podcast players for Android.
- eBooks: try Google Play Books or any of these Kindle alternatives.
- Movies or TV shows: definitely download VLC or an alternative.
Custom ROMs or Mods
You’re most likely to run into the term sideloading if you’ve been tweaking or rooting your Android device. In this case, sideloading is extremely useful for moving files onto your phone that you’ll later need to use in your custom recovery.
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.
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 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, 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, 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.
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 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. 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, SD cards, cloud storage, and FTP — 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.
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.
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, 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.