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A significant benefit of owning a Chromebook is that you can use all kinds of apps on it, including Linux apps, Android apps, and standard web apps. Most Android apps, in particular, can be downloaded via the Google Play Store, but what if you want to use a specific Android app that's not listed? Well, you can sideload that app.

Just know that doing so isn't exactly easy since you'll need to switch your Chromebook to developer mode or use ADB Debugging. But both of these methods come with risks of their own, but if you're up for the task, you can follow the steps below.

There's no need to sideload a Linux app to your Chromebook. As we explained in our guide to Linux apps, you can install almost any Linux app on your ChromeOS device as long as you know its terminal command. Also, ChromeOS web apps, which are just websites, don't need to be sideloaded.

How to sideload apps to a Chromebook with developer mode

For most people, the easiest way to side-load an Android app is to first put it into developer mode. This is typically meant for developers who want to install and test their apps, and using developer mode can void the warranty on your Chromebook since it's not an officially supported state.

You'll have to press Ctrl + D every time you turn on your Chromebook when in developer mode. Switching to developer mode will also erase your Chromebook and any information stored on it, so be sure to back up your files first before proceeding.

Once you've done all that, follow these steps to start sideloading apps:

  1. Power on your Chromebook.
  2. Press the Esc, Refresh, and Power button simultaneously
  3. A message saying "ChromeOS is missing or damaged. Please insert USB stick" will pop up.
    A message about ChromeOS being missing
  4. Press and hold Ctrl + D.
  5. Press Enter when you're prompted to do so.
  6. Wait for the device to restart and go through the Chromebook setup process.
  7. You'll get a screen saying that OS verification is off. You'll now see this screen every time you boot up.
    ChromeOS verification off message
  8. Press Ctrl + D to restart.
  9. You'll now be in developer mode and can proceed with sideloading your app.
  10. Open Chrome and download the APK file for the Android app you want to install. APKMirror is a website that lists many APK files.
  11. Go to Files on your Chromebook.
  12. Find the APK file you downloaded, right-click it, and choose Package Installer.
    The ChomeOS package installer as seen in the Files app
  13. Follow the on-screen prompts.
    Prompts as seen in the ChromeOS package installer
  14. Once the app is installed, you'll see it listed in your launcher.

How to sideload apps to a Chromebook via ADB

If you don't want to put your Chromebook into developer mode, you can try using the Android Debugging Bridge, known as ADB. This is a technical tool for app developers, but it also can be used to install Android apps from an APK file. As part of this process, you're going to need to enable Linux, too. This is a multistep process, and we've divided it up for you here.

Enable Linux in ChromeOS settings

  1. Open the ChromeOS settings app.
  2. Choose Advanced.
  3. Choose Developers.
    Enabling Android apps on ChromeOS
  4. Enable the switch for Linux Development Environment and follow the steps on your screen.

Enable Android App development

  1. Go back to the Settings app, and in the search box look for Develop Android Apps. Pick the top result.
  2. Choose Enable ADB debugging then Restart and Continue.
  3. Choose Confirm.
  4. Once your Chromebook restarts, go to the launcher search for Terminal, and choose the top result.
  5. Click Penguin and launch it.
  6. Type the following command: sudo apt install adb then hit Y then Enter.
    Linux command for installing an Android app on ChromeOS
  7. Type adb connect arc and press Enter.
  8. Click the checkbox next to Always allow from this computer, then click OK

Install your application

  1. Download the APK file for the app you want.
  2. Copy the File, or move it to the Linux files folder by dragging and dropping it there.
    Moving a Android apps to Linux files in ChromeOS
  3. Open the Terminal app again.
  4. Type the following command: adb -s emulator-5554 install [app name].apk
  5. Press Enter and restart your Chromebook.

As a reminder, installing APK files from unknown sources can compromise the security of your Chromebook. We highly suggest not sideloading apps unless you absolutely trust the source of said apps. Otherwise, it's safer to stick to official apps from the Google Play Store instead.