What is side loading and what are the risks?


Sideloading is the act of installing software on a device without using the app store or trusted software distribution channel. Some devices allow this without modification and others must be “jailbroken” to make sideloading possible. Either way, should you?

Why download apps?

The main reason why someone would want to download an app on their device is that the official channels simply don’t offer the software that the user needs. This is only part of the story, as there are many different reasons why a given app is not in your device’s official app store.

For example, the application may not comply with the requirements of the App Store in question or the developers may not want to pay the App Store commission. For example, you won’t find any video game emulator or torrent apps in the Apple App Store because they are against their rules.

It may also be that a specific app is not available in your region, so the only way to install it is to download it. This can happen when you want to use a VPN to watch geo-restricted content, but it’s not offered by your regional store, like on an Android TV device.

Then, unfortunately, a notable motivation for sideloading is piracy. Illegal copies of apps are hosted on various sites on the web and users download them to avoid paying. However, there are far more legitimate reasons to load apps onto a device than the legally dubious ones.

Side loading varies by platform

Hand placing a CD in the disk drive of a laptop computer

Each device capable of loading applications from a software channel will have its own specific way of loading applications. Android devices can download apps with minimal effort. All you have to do is enable installs from external sources and then run a downloaded Android package (APK) to install the app.

On Apple devices, things are not so simple. These devices are manufacturer locked and there is no official way to download software. This is where the idea of ​​”jailbreaking” a device comes from. Whether or not jailbreaking is legal depends on the consumer and copyright laws of where you live, but it’s something the device manufacturer obviously doesn’t want users to do.

When it comes to desktop computers such as Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux systems, the concept of “sideloading” doesn’t really make sense. Since they are open systems, anyone can write software for them. However, all modern iterations of these operating systems have their own built-in app stores.

Sideloading can pose malware risks

One of the benefits of only using software from official app stores is that it has to go through some form of quality control before it can be listed. This includes making sure they don’t have malware or violate good privacy practices.

This is of particular concern when you download copies of apps that are otherwise only available through the App Store for your device. These apps might have been modified by the person who made the copy to contain malware, spyware or something else.

As with any software you download from the Internet, the risk of malware is low to non-existent when you download apps from trusted sources, such as the developer themselves. For example, Fortnite from Epic Games can no longer be found on the Google Play Store, but you can download the Fortnite installer package directly from them, which is safe as long as the app is exactly what the developer intended it to be and contains no exterior. coded.

For devices that need to be jailbroken, there are also special risks such as reduced device security or malware introduced by the jailbreak software itself.

Sideloading may require a manual update

When you download an app from the official app store for a device, you get automated maintenance of those apps by the store. So when a new update is released for an app, it will automatically clean up in the background.

When you sideload an app, you will most likely need to manually download the latest version whenever a newer version is released. You can of course postpone updates for as long as you want or until the app stops working properly. It’s not a big deal if you only have one or two apps downloaded, but if you have a lot of them, it can become a huge task to keep up with all the updates.

This does not apply to alternative app stores, which are a separate concept from sideloading. Here, the third-party app store still performs the maintenance of the apps it is responsible for.

Should you load sideways?

Most users never need to download apps unless the app they want is not really available any other way. Sideloading isn’t inherently risky unless you have to compromise the security of your device to do so. Using a good antivirus app or being careful with where you get your software makes it reasonably safe, although we can’t recommend sideloading where jailbreaking is needed unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

RELATED: Jailbreaking Explained: What You Need to Know About Jailbreaking iPhones and iPads

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