IPA File | Everything You Need to Know

IPA stands for iOS Package App Store. It is used to contain application data, and you can install it on iOS devices to test the application's performance before it becomes an official app on the market.

Myra updated on Mar 16, 2024 | Home > iOS & Mac Topics

1. IPA File

1.1 What Is An IPA File?

IPA stands for iOS package App Store. A file with a .ipa extension is an application archive containing an iOS or iPadOS app, such as games, utilities, social networking, news, etc. The IPA file includes a binary, and you can only install it on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or iPod touch device. You can download IPA files from iTunes, Apple Configurator 2, and some third-party programs.

The structure of an IPA file is the same no matter what the app is: use a PNG or JPEG file as the application icon and store all the app data in the Payload folder. It is also worth pointing out that IPA files are designed specifically for iOS and can't be used on macOS(Intel), Windows, Android, or other operating systems.

ipa file

1.2 What Does IPA File Contain?

As said above, IPA is special for Apple products; that is, IPA files have a built-in structure that Apple (iTunes and App Store) recognizes. You will find the following files and folders in an IPA file:

  • /Payload/
  • /Payload/Application.app/
  • /iTunesArtwork
  • /iTunesArtwork@2x
  • /iTunesMetadata.plist
  • /WatchKitSupport/WK

The most important file is Payload, which contains all the application data. The iTunes Artwork file is an image that serves as the app icon. The .plist file contains the developer and other app info, such as app name, bundle ID, copyright information, release date, etc. The META-INF folder contains meta information about the program used to create the IPA.

1.3 What Can You Do With IPA Files?

An IPA file can be used to test an iOS application even before making it a public app. After comprehensively testing the iOS application's functionality, performance, and visual appeal on multiple iOS devices, the same software is ready to be pushed into the Apple App Store for the target market's access. There is a similar term - APK (Android Application Package), which is installed on Android devices.

2. How to Open An IPA File

It's true that IPA files hold the contents of an iOS app, but you can't use iTunes to open the app on your computer. They're just used by the program so that the device can understand which apps the user has already purchased or downloaded and also for backup purposes. In this case, the IPA files are technically not meant to be opened.

However, if you want to open the file and check the app's data, you can change the extension to .zip and unzip it to view the file content. To simplify the process, you can also use unzipping tools to view the content inside the IPA file.

iTunes or tools like AltStore and Diawi can help you access the IPA file. If your computer runs an older version of iTunes, you can locate where download apps are stored by the default file paths for Mac and Windows:

  • Mac: ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Mobile Applications/
  • Windows: C/Users/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Mobile Applications/

These folders are also used to store apps that were downloaded from the device. They're copied from the device to the iTunes folder after syncing with the computer.

3. How to Install an IPA File

You can use iTunes to install the IPA file on your iOS devices, such as iPhone and iPad, which is also the easiest way:

Then, your iOS device will locate the computer IPA files using the software you contain. If you don't have iTunes, you can use Mac Finder to install the IPA system, which is similar to iTunes. You need to do all the same steps:

  • Connect your iOS device to your Mac.
  • Find your device in Finder.
  • Move your file IPA.

Conclusion: That's All About IPA/IPA File on iOS

In conclusion, an IPA file is only for Apple devices and contains the application information. By installing the IPA file, you can test the app's performance before the app goes public on the market. Knowing this term and how to install IPA files is essential to the app business.

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