Windows 11 is the first version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system to offer native support for running Android applications. The official way to do that is to install the Amazon Appstore from the Microsoft Store and use it to find Android apps and games that you want to run on your PC.
But while there are millions of Android apps, only about a thousand or so are available from the Amazon Appstore for Windows 11 PCs. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to sideload apps downloaded from other locations. Here’s how to do that.
In order to allow Android apps to run on Windows 11, Microsoft developed what it calls a Windows Subsystem for Android. Much like the Windows Subsystem for Linux that debuted with Windows 10, this is basically a complete operating system that runs in a virtual machine. But it’s set up in a way that allows Android apps to interact with Windows as if they were native apps.
That means Android apps will show up in the Start Menu and add/remove programs dialog. You pin Android apps to your Taskbar. Notifications from Android apps will show up in the Action Center. And you can resize and move Android apps across your display in split-screen or multi-window modes just like native apps.
The Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA) wasn’t quite ready to go when Microsoft released Windows 11 to the public on October 4th, 2021, but the company began rolling out support to members of the Windows Insider program on October 20th, 2021 for folks that want to beta test the feature. Only about 50 Android apps were available through the Amazon Appstore for Windows at the time.
On February 15, 2022 the Windows Subsystem for Android graduated from a Windows Insider-only feature to one that anyone running Windows 11 could use. It’s still considered a “preview” and there’s a chance that you might encounter some bugs, but Microsoft says that more than 1,000 apps are now available from the Amazon Appstore.
Not included though? Millions of apps that are available from the Google Play Store, F-Droid, or other locations. But since WSA is basically a complete Android operating system running inside Windows, it’s possible to sideload apps from other sources.
Note that some apps, like the Google Chrome web browser or Gmail app won’t function properly if you try to sideload them on their own, since they rely on other Google services that are not available. If you want to run those apps or other apps and games that rely on Google-specific features, is possible to install Google Play Store on the Windows Subsystem for Android, but doing so involves downloading and modifying the Windows Subsystem for Android installer with a pre-rooted image that has Google Apps pre-installed.
If you’re not comfortable doing those things, then you can always just sideload individual apps downloaded from the internet or other third-party app stores, following the steps below, none of which involve modifying Microsoft’s WSA software.
There are at least two ways to do this. The first option is probably going to be easier for most users, since it simply involves installing and running a single app from the Microsoft Store or GitHub. But power users who want to do things the hard way (and maybe have a bit more control over the process) can scroll down to Option 2 to find out how to sideload apps using a command line window.
Option 1: Sideload Android apps with WSATools (or a similar app)
The easiest way to sideload Android apps on a supported Windows 11 PC that has the Windows Subsystem for Android installed is to use one of several free third-party utilities. WSA-pacman is a versatile free and open source option hosted on GitHub, for example. So is APK-Installer.
But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on a free app called WSATools, which is the first Android app sideloader available from the Microsoft Store.
Developed by Simone Franco, WSATools is available as a free download from the Microsoft Store, and it basically handles all of the things described in the second option for you… no need to open a command prompt.
WSATools version 1.5.0 was released to the Microsoft Store on November 5, 2021 and it’s a little buggy – some users have reported crashes and/or files failing to install. But Franco is still working out the kinks, so the app may get more reliable over time. And if it does work for you, it’s probably the simplest method for sideloading Android apps.
Here’s what you need to do in order to use WSATools:
- Install the Windows Subsystem for Android or Amazon Appstore from the Microsoft Store (installing either one will automatically install the other).
- Open the WSA Settings app and flip the Developer Mode toggle to the on position.
- Click the Manage developer settings link and make sure that USB debugging is enabled.
- Install WSATools from the Microsoft Store.
- Either open WSATools and use it to select the APK file you want to install, or just double-click any APK file from the Windows File Explorer to start the installation process.
That’s pretty much it. Note that it’s up to you to find and download Android APK installer packages from sources you trust. And apps that you’ve sideloaded most likely will not receive automatic feature or security updates if they’re not available from the Amazon Appstore.
But using a tool like WSATools to sideload Android apps opens the door to installing many Android apps that aren’t otherwise available from Amazon or Microsoft.
If WSATools doesn’t work on your computer or you want to know how to do things manually, you can try the second option – sideloading Android apps manually using command line tools.
Option 2: Sideload Android apps via the command line
Step 1: Install Windows Subsystem for Android
The first thing you need to do is install WSA. There are two simple ways to do that:
- Install the Amazon Appstore from the Microsoft Store.
- Find an Android or Amazon app from the Microsoft Store and install it.
That’s pretty much it. Once you install the Amazon Appstore (or an Android app), Microsoft will also bring up a pop-up that asks you to download the components required to “get your PC ready for the Amazon Appstore,” which installs WSA. Just follow the on-screen prompts to continue.
Toward the end of the process you’ll be asked to launch the Amazon Appstore, and the first time you do this, the Windows Subsystem for Android will be installed and run.
At this point you can sign into the Amazon Appstore with your Amazon account (or create a new one) to start browsing for available apps and games. But you do not need to to this to sideload Android apps.
Step 2: Download Android Platform Tools and set them up to work with WSA
In this section we’re going to walk through the trickiest parts of sideloading apps. In a nutshell, we’ll be setting up Google’s Android SDK Platform Tools so we can sideload apps using a command line utility.
First, download Google’s Android Platform Tools and unzip it to a folder on your Windows 11 PC. Among other things, this gives you the adb (Android Debug Bridge) utility that allows you to send commands to install and uninstall Android apps.
Next (and this step is optional, but makes life a little easier), we’re going to add that folder to the PATH Variable. This allows you to run adb commands from any folder without the need to make sure that the app you want to install is in the same folder as the adb utility itself.
- Open the Start menu and search for “advanced system settings,” then open that app.
- Click the “Environmental Variables…” box at the bottom of the System Properties box that you just opened.
- Highlight the section labeled “Path” and then press “Edit.”
- Click the box that says “New.”
- Copy and paste the location of the folder you’ve unzipped the Android Platform Tools to. For example, my platform tools are in the C:\adb\platform-tools directory, so that’s what I put in this box.
- Click “Ok.”
Finally we need to let adb know how to find the Windows Subsystem for Android.
- Open the Start Menu and find Windows Subsystem for Android.
- Launch the app to open up the WSA settings utility.
- Find the section marked “Developer mode” and slide the toggle from the off to on position.
- Click the “Copy” button next to the IP address.
- Open a command prompt (or PowerShell, or Windows Terminal).
- Type “adb connect <IP Address>” where <IP Address> is the number you copied in step 4. For example, on my computer it was 172.26.41.111, so I typed “adb connect 172.26.41.111” without the quotation marks and hit enter.
- Type “adb devices” and hit enter to confirm that adb is connected to WSA (you should see a list of devices attached with the IP address you copied in step 4 shown).
Note that this IP Address you find will likely change every time you launch Windows Subsystem for Android, which is one of the reasons I recommend installing a third party app store (see below for more details).
Step 3: Installing Android apps via adb
For this next step, you just need to find an app that you want to install, download it, and then open a command prompt and run a simple command to install it.
For example, say you want to install the Firefox web browser for Android for some reason. Here’s how to grab it from APK Mirror:
- Search APK Mirror for “Firefox,” find the version you want to install and click the link.
- Scroll down on the following page until you see the “See available downloads” option and click it.
- Find a version that should be compatible with your device. If you’re using a computer with an Intel or AMD processor, choose an option that says x86_64 if available. If you have a Windows 11 PC with an ARM processor, choose an option that says arm64-v8a.
- Click the download icon.
- Click the Download APK icon (the one that shows a file size, typically listed in MB).
A few things to note. First, some apps will also offer universal options, and the Windows Subsystem for Android actually includes ARM to x86 emulation, so if you grab the wrong link it’s not the end of the world, but performance will be best if you get the version appropriate for your computer’s processor.
Second, APKMirror is a pretty reliable source of Android apps, but it’s also a pretty ad-ridden website, so make sure you’re clicking the appropriate download link in step 5 above and not an ad.
Now it’s time to actually install the application.
- Open a command prompt (or PowerShell or Windows Terminal) if it’s not already open.
- Navigate to the directory where you saved the APK file you just downloaded.
- Type “adb install <name of APK file>” and hit enter (where <name of APK file> is, you know, the name of the APK file.
For example, if I want to install the Firefox Beta 94 APK I downloaded using the steps above, I would type:
adb install org.mozilla.firefox_beta_94.0.0-beta.4-2015840415_minAPI21(x86_64)(nodpi)_apkmirror.com
Those file names can get pretty long, so this is where the Tab key comes in handy. I was able to install Firefox by typing “adb install org.moz” and just hitting Tab to have the Windows 11 Command Prompt fill in the rest for me. Then I hit enter, and the app was installed.
If everything goes according to plan, Firefox Beta 94 for Android should now show up in the Windows 11 Start Menu.
You can now run the app by clicking on it. Like any Windows app, it can be maximized, minimized, resized, or positioned on the screen using Windows 11 Snap Layouts.
Optional Step: Uninstalling sideloaded apps
Any sideloaded app that shows up in the Start Menu can be uninstalled just like an ordinary Windows app. That means you have two easy options:
- Right-click the Start Menu entry and choose the Uninstall option.
- Open the Windows 11 Apps & features menu, search for the app in the App list, click the 3 dots on the right side of the entry, and choose the Uninstall option.
But some Android applications you install may not show up in the Start Menu. If that’s the case, you have two options for uninstalling them. One is nuclear, and the other surgical.
The nuclear option involves simply uninstalling the Windows Subsystem for Android and/or the Amazon Appstore, which will also remove the Windows Subsystem for Android and all Android apps along with it.
The surgical strike involves our old friend adb.
If you know the full name of the package you want to remove, you can open a command prompt, make sure adb is connected to your device (see step 2), and type:
adb shell pm uninstall --user -0 <package name>
Fore example, if you want to uninstall Firefox Beta, you would type:
adb shell pm uninstall --user -0 org.mozilla.firefox_beta
This will remove Firefox (which is an app you could have removed the easy way, but this is an example, OK)?
Don’t know the name of the package you want to uninstall? You can try this:
- Type adb shell into a command prompt and hit return.
- Type pm list packages -s
This will bring up a list of all installed Android packages. Scroll through the list and you’ll likely find what you’re looking for. In the example above, “mozilla” and “firefox” were keywords to look for.
Once you find the app you want to uninstall, you can either
- Type uninstall –user 0 <package name> and hit enter to remove it while you’re still in the adb shell.
- Type exit and hit enter to return to the main Command Prompt and then run the command listed above (adb shell pm uninstall –user 0 <package name>).
Optional Step: Installing third-party app stores
Don’t want to jump through all the hoops above every time you want to install an app that’s not available in the Amazon Appstore? Then just install a third-party app store that lets you do things the easy way from here on out.
Here are a few app stores I’ve tested which all work properly with Windows Subsystem for Android:
- F-Droid – Repository of free and open source Android applications
- Aurora Store – Open source, third-party frontend for the Google Play Store
- Aptoide – Third party app store
For example, in order to install F-Droid, just download the latest APK installer file from the F-Droid homepage, install it with adb using the instructions from Step 2, and from now on you can largely ignore adb and instead use F-Droid to search for, download, and install apps.
You can even use it to install the Aurora Store for a more complete list of available Android applications, since the Aurora Store grants you access to most of the apps available from Google’s Play Store.
Here’s how to use F-Droid to install an app like the Aurora Store:
- Launch F-Droid from the Windows 11 Start Menu.
- Wait a moment for the app to download the latest repository (list of available apps).
- Click the search icon.
- Type the name of the app you want to install.
- Click the app.
- F-Droid will download and begin to install the app.
- If this is your first time installing an app using F-Droid, a menu will ask you to open the Android Settings utility to allow installation of “unknown apps” from F-Droid.”
- Click Settings, then slide the toggle to the “allow” position.
- Click back.
- Now you’ll see a “Do you want to install the application?” screen. Select “Install.”
Now you can either launch the app from within F-Droid or from the Windows 11 Start Menu. You can also uninstall the app from F-Droid or the Start Menu.
If you do choose to use the Aurora Store as a Google Play alternative, here are a few things to keep in mind:
First, You’ll need to grant permission for Aurora to access and manage external storage and to install apps. There’s a series of buttons to press during first run that walk you through this.
Second, the final step of setting up Aurora involves logging in. You can either use a Google account or go “Anonymous.” The advantage of using a Google account is that you can access any free or paid apps, games, and media associated with your Google account. The down side is that not only are you using a third-party app to login to Google, but Google reserves the right to terminate accounts of folks who are doing things that are technically against the rules… like using a third-party app to access Google Play.
So I’d recommend either using an anonymous account or creating a new Google ID that you wouldn’t be too upset about losing.
Also keep in mind that some apps may not run properly if you don’t have the Google Services Framework installed. You may be able to get around that by installing microG, a free and open source implementation of Google’s services.
This article was originally published October 21, 2022 and most recently updated February 16, 2022.