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Android App Test File Distribution with Dropbox

This last summer a few friends and I were working on a couple of small Android applications. When it came to testing the application on various devices, some of the people we approached to help test the app were not as technologically advanced as we were. For most of the people we were working with, we had direct access to their devices to help load the compiled APK files (APK is the extension of a compiled Android application). For the few people we had little or no access to their devices, we set up Dropbox to become a simple file distribution. It was a hit and we continued to use Dropbox for everyone who tested the apps.

How Dropbox Helped

For those unfamiliar with Dropbox, it is a file storage and sharing application that lives in the cloud. You can sync certain folders or the default folder setup with your Dropbox storage online (from your computer). You can manually upload and download files via a Dropbox app for many mobile devices. The app is available for Mac, Linux, Windows, Android, and iOS, and you can get a free account with 2GB of storage here (premium account upgrades are available, including team licensing). Once you have an account, you can share your folders with others.

e team all had Dropbox accounts, so the lead developer shared a Dropbox folder with each of us and placed the compiled APK inside. The nice thing about this setup was that now all of us who were sharing that folder now had access to the APK on our mobile devices and computers. Once we had gotten to a testing point, we also shared the folder with all of our testers.

How To Set Up

To share a folder, make sure it’s synced via Dropbox and follow either of the following steps:

  • On the web interface, navigate to the folder you want to share and hover over it. On the right side there is a down arrow you can click to expose a menu. Choose ‘Invite to folder’ and fill in emails of those you want to share the folder with.
  • On your computer, navigate to the folder and right click it. A new ‘Dropbox’ menu item will appear in the right click menu. Inside that menu there is a share folder option. Clicking this will open your default web browser and bring you to the add users dialog like the previous step.

Once you have shared the folder, those you shared it with can accept the request and access the folder from any location they log in at. If you make a change, then everyone you are sharing that folder with gets that change synced to their folder. You can then place your APK file in this shared folder.

In order for you to install the APK you have compiled, a setting must be changed on the phone to allow non-market apps to install. In order to enable this option, follow these steps:

  1. Open up the settings (from the app menu or through any method your custom Android launcher has)
  2. Go to Applications
  3. Make sure there is a check mark on ‘Unknown sources’ (if not, tap it to check it)

You and your testers can then download the Dropbox app from the android market and log in. Once logged in, navigate to the shared folder and tap the APK file. The file should download and give you an install request screen. After its has been installed, you can access the app just like any app installed from the market.

Dropbox is a powerful tool, so there is a lot more you can do to sync your devices!