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What is an IPA file and how can you open one?

An IPA (iOS App Store package) is an application archive file that contains an iOS app. In simple words, it is a file that can be installed on iOS devices and used as an application.

Just like an APK (Android Application Package) file can be installed on Android devices, an IPA file can be used for testing iOS applications. You can even push it to the app stores to publish your app.

You can think of an IPA file like a simple ZIP file. It is essentially a compressed folder that contains files and data that make up a typical iOS application.

A platform like AppMySite enables you to make free iOS apps without coding. In your account, you can generate and download an IPA build of your app. This build can be tested on an iOS device and submitted to the Apple App Store.

How can an IPA file be opened? What does it contain? Here’s everything you need to know about IPA files.

How to open an IPA file?

An IPA file is technically not meant to be opened. It can be used to test the application it stores or submitted directly to the Apple App Store.

You can however open an IPA file if you wish to. Use an unzip tool like Winzip or 7-Zip to decompress an IPA file and see the contents inside it. Typically, you will find an icon file for the app along with folders and data that make up the application.

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to run the application with the files you see.

If you download an app via iTunes, you can open its IPA build via third-party tools like AltStore and Diawi.

With an older version of iTunes, you can simply locate the default directory path where all download apps are stored. The default file paths for Windows and Mac are:

Windows: C:> Users > Music > iTunes > iTunes Media > Mobile Applications
Mac: ~ > Music > iTunes > iTunes Media > Mobile Applications

Once you’re able to open an IPA file, you’d be able to see what it exactly contains.

What does an IPA file contain?

IPA files have the same core structure that is recognized by Apple. You will most likely find the following files and folders in an IPA file:

  • Payload
  • Payload/Application.app/
  • iTunesArtwork
  • [email protected]
  • iTunesMetadata.plist
  • WatchKitSupport/WK
  • META-INF

The iTunes Artwork file is a PNG image that contains your app icon. The other main folder is Payload which contains all your application data.

In the .plist file, there’s information about the developer and other app info like bundle ID, copyright information, app name, release date, and so on. The META-INF folder contains meta-information about the program used to create the IPA.

How to generate an IPA file?

Generating an IPA file can be a complicated process. This brings us into app development territory.

iOS developers generally export their Xcode app development project to create an IPA file. If you don’t have a storied background in app development, this can be a tedious process.

This is where a platform like AppMySite can help. You can use the mobile app builder to create iOS apps and download readymade IPA builds. These builds can be directly submitted to the App Store for publication.

Please note that you would require an Apple developer account to create an IPA build with AppMySite. To create an IPA file, some essential certificates and files are needed that can only be created with an App Store Connect (or Apple developer) account.

How to install an IPA file on a device?

Once you have the IPA file, you can test it on your iOS device. Previewing an IPA build can enable you to see how your iOS app looks and works.

There are many tools you can use to install an IPA file on your device. The most prominent application to do this is TestFlight.

TestFlight essentially allows you to install and run an IPA build on your iOS device. You essentially need to invite users to your App Store Connect account as internal testers.

Once the user accepts the invite via email, they can note the redemption code and download the TestFlight app on their iOS device. They would then be able to install the IPA build on their device and test it thoroughly.

If you’re using AppMySite and don’t wish to go through the process of testing your app on TestFlight, there’s always the option of using the Preview section.

In the Preview section, you’ll find an iOS emulator that reflects your app completely. You can test how the app works and see if the design is coming out as intended.

Read: Mobile app testing – A complete guide to testing Android & iOS mobile apps

There are also options to switch between different device emulators. This way, you can know for sure if your iOS app works well for different Apple smartphones.

Is it possible to convert an IPA file to APK?

IPA files are structured and designed to work on devices that run iOS operating systems. It is not possible to simply convert an IPA file to an APK as both are built to work in different environments.

It would be the equivalent of trying to charge an iPhone with an Android device charger. It just cannot work.

You can technically rename the extension of an IPA file to a ZIP and see the contents inside it. However, that’s all you can do. There’s no way to extract the source code stored within an IPA build and use it for an APK.

The only way to do it would be to build both Android and iOS apps separately. Whether you choose custom development or DIY app builders, you would need different builds for Android and iOS.

In conclusion

In the process of publishing an iOS app, you will most likely come across IPA files. Like APKs and AABs can be deployed to Google Play, IPA builds can also be submitted to the Apple App Store.

It is important for app businesses to understand how IPAs are built and work. With AppMySite, you can create a mobile app and upgrade your plan to generate an iOS build. This piece covers the bare bones of IPA files. You can learn how to view the contents of a typical IPA file, how it can be opened and installed on a mobile device.

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