Externally Host Private Apps

Warning: Because externally hosted Android Packages (APKs) aren't scanned, the safety of their content can't be guaranteed. Users are informed of this when they access an externally hosted app.

Enterprise customers also have the option of hosting their private apps themselves and only using the managed Google Play infrastructure to manage app installation. Self-hosted private apps can be installed on devices running the Profile Owner mode of operation, but they aren’t compatible with legacy devices and can only be push installed to devices running the Device Owner mode of operation.

To successfully publish a self-hosted private app, an enterprise customer must first build an APK definition file that contains metadata captured from the app's manifest in JSON format. This definition file replaces the APK within Google Play and needs to be uploaded during the publishing process. The detailed guidance on how to generate an APK definition file is as follows:

Generate JSON Metadata File

To publish a self-hosted private app, a customer must first build an externally-hosted APK definition file (plain-text JSON file). This definition file replaces the APK within Google Play so the app may be hosted externally, containing only a minimal set of information rather than the entire APK itself.

Google provides a Python script you can use to generate the file yourself. To use the script, the following must be installed on your machine and available on your system's PATH:

The JSON file format of this definition file looks like this:

  "package_name" : "com.example.package.name",
  "version_name" : "0.8",
  "version_code" : 12,
  "minimum_sdk" : 1,
  “maximum_sdk” : 19,
  "application_label" : "My Package Name",
  "file_sha1_base64" : "7qiBi1Z\m8wFmghQUp3H5FwiGRg0=",
  "file_sha256_base64" : "qIiv0CDHW6esQtsAN4fZzc822szPCXsg6bwgx0ZIhP0=",
  "icon_base64" : "base64encodedicon",
  "file_size" : 14638, //bytes
  "certificate_base64" : ["BASE64ENCODEDCERTIFICATE"],
  "externally_hosted_url" : "https://www.example.com/filename.apk",

Please note that all fields save for maximum_sdk are mandatory, and will be evaluated on-device against the APK that is installed to ensure the correct APK has been provided. The JSON object may also include the following additional fields:

  "package_name" : "com.example.package.name",
  "externally_hosted_url" : "https://www.example.com/filename.apk",
  “uses-permission” : [{“name”: “android.permission.WRITE_CONTACTS”},
       “maxSdkVersion”:18} ],
  “uses-feature” : [“android.hardware.bluetooth", "android.hardware.camera”],

Please ensure that the permissions required by the app are present in the JSON file and correct, to avoid your app being unable to access the correct features when installed on the device.

Android for Work Self-Hosting Tool

This is a Google-developed tool for generating definition files from APKs. You will need aapt installed on your machine, and available on your system’s PATH. Execute using the following command, replacing where appropriate:

python externallyhosted.py --apk=<path/to/apk.apk> \

This will print the required contents of the definition file to your console.

Authenticating the download on the Enterprise Server

When the Google Play client makes a request to download the self-hosted APK from an enterprise server, the request will include a cookie which contains a JSON Web Token.

We strongly recommend that you use a standard library (which are available in many languages) to decode the JWT, in order to ensure all verification is correctly performed before accepting the authentication token (this includes ensuring the token has not expired).

The public key needed to verify the JWT is unique to the application, and available in the Google Play Developer Console in the application’s “Services and API” section, listed under “your license key for this application.” The private key is owned by Google, so the signature confirms the authenticity of the request.

Once verified and decoded, the JWT will provide the following information about the download request:

  “aud” : “https://www.example.com/test.apk”,
  “uri-query” : “url_param_1=5&url_param_2=test”, // URL query parameters
  “iss” : “https://play.google.com”,
  “exp” : “<expiry-timestamp>”
  “cid” : “user_id_token”

Optionally, the user ID token can be matched with a user via the EMM API.

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