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The official Fire TV apps are great, but wouldn’t it be cool if you had access to a virtually unlimited supply of additional apps? Well, you can, and the process is easier than you think.
You may have seen articles on “how to jailbreak firesticks” and been concerned because the process sounded complicated or dangerous. Fortunately, this is one of those cases where the popular term is scarier than the real thing. Sideloading, or “jailbreaking,” your Fire TV is safe, legal, and easy enough for any cord-cutter to do.
In this article, we’ll explain what a “jailbroken firestick” is, how to “jailbreak a firestick” to sideload Fire TV apps, and why we keep putting those words in quotation marks.
Before we get to the Fire TV, let’s take a look at what “jailbreaking” means.
“Jailbreaking” was first used with iPhones and other iOS devices, and that’s still the most common use of the term. Apple is very particular about how their devices are used. Rather than giving iPhone owners full control of their devices, Apple introduces limitations that are intended to safeguard users from themselves.
Regular iPhones also don’t let you fully customize your home screen, download apps from outside of Apple’s own App Store, or add new features. These limitations are typically referred to as the “walled garden” or “jail.” The process for breaking free of Apple’s restrictions and unlocking the full potential of your device is called jailbreaking.
The Fire TV ecosystem isn’t quite as restricted as iOS, but still has its limitations. When Fire TV users found a way around Fire TV’s restrictions, the technique borrowed its name from the world of Apple, and also became known as jailbreaking.
We have to admit that “jailbreaking” Fire TV is a catchier term than sideloading. That’s probably why it’s spread beyond iOS devices and is now used to describe a range of techniques for installing unapproved apps or loosening restrictions on any of several platforms or devices.
However, it’s still not an accurate way of describing what we’re doing with the Fire TV.
Jailbreaking an iPhone is a complicated process that can break the device or introduce security vulnerabilities if you’re not careful. But searches for “firestick jailbreaks” can lead you to a very different process that is easy to accomplish and — with the appropriate caution — largely safe.
Of course, you always need to be cautious when installing unapproved apps. The difference, though, is that jailbreaking an iPhone permanently opens up new ways for hackers to get into your phone. If you were truly “jailbreaking a firestick,” you’d have to worry about that, too.
Instead, we’ll be using a much safer method known as sideloading. Sideloading just means enabling “developer mode” on Android – a feature designed to allow developers to test their apps while they're working on them (at which point, of course, they aren't in the approved app store yet). You don't need to be a developer to use the developer feature, either — anyone can sideload an app.
This is the main method for adding unapproved apps to Android, and it's a relatively safe and simple process. The process itself is also 100 percent legal. Just be careful about where you get your apps from, as apps from unreliable sources can include malware or access to illegal content.
Rooting is a more extreme step than jailbreaking or sideloading, and we won’t be using it here. We’ll briefly describe it here, though, just in case you are interested.
There's no way to merely “jailbreak” an Android device (like Fire TV, which runs on a modified version of Android), and there's really no reason to wish for one. That's because the main perk of jailbreaking an iOS device – the ability to add unapproved apps – is available on Android devices without jailbreaking.
Rooting is another popular process for bypassing system restrictions, especially on Android. This process gives Android users access to the source code of their device, letting them do things as extreme as removing the operating system itself and replacing it with a different version. Rooted Android devices allow users to do things like tweak the appearance of their device and add new customization options.
iOS jailbreaking does not actually allow users to change the source code on their devices, so these two processes are very different – but that hasn't stopped people from using the terms interchangeably.
Before we proceed, I want to elaborate on why we keep putting “jailbroken firestick” in quotation marks. The process we are using isn’t actually going to “jailbreak” a Fire TV. These instructions will actually show you how to sideload Fire TV apps — because that’s what “jailbreaking” a Fire TV Stick means!
Since we’re just sideloading, these instructions are much safer than any guide to jailbreaking. Sideloading also works on any Fire TV device, including the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Fire TV Cube.
The goal of “jailbreaking” or sideloading is the same: We want access to unofficial Fire TV apps. Fire TV devices have their own app store with lots of official apps, but sideloading gives you a way to install any Android app. However, keep in mind that whatever apps you install will still be running on a Fire TV, so apps that require a touch screen, for example, are largely useless here.
But we’ll continue to use that correct word (sideloading) alongside the less accurate (but more popular) “jailbreaking a firestick” term. After all, your friends will probably use the more popular term. Now, you can understand them and still explain why the process is a lot less scary than “jailbreaking” and useful for more than just a “firestick.”
Ready to find out how easy this process is? Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it, letting you know about any potential complications or security concerns along the way. In fact, we’ll show you four different ways to sideload apps on Fire TV.
Each of these methods will work for any app, so you might be wondering why we're giving you four options. Well, some of the methods require equipment that not everyone has, like an Android phone. Other methods might require extra equipment for some Fire TV models (especially the Fire TV Stick). In each method, we’ll tell you any limitations, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding at least one that works for you.
We’re going to use Kodi as an example in these instructions. A bit later, we’ll explain what Kodi is and why it's one of the best sideload apps for Fire TV. For now, though, the most important thing to remember is that these instructions will work for any app, not just Kodi.
Before we begin, here’s a general warning: Some of these methods will turn on a feature called ADB debugging on your Fire TV. This needs to be activated each time you want to install new apps, so you might be tempted to just leave it on permanently.
Don’t do it!
Leaving ADB debugging on for too long poses a significant security risk. By default, the Fire TV is fairly safe from hackers, but ADB debugging opens up a vulnerability that the hacking community is well aware of. This is safe for short periods, but ADB debugging shouldn’t be left on for longer than necessary and never for more than a few hours. Please, don’t ignore the cleanup step.
Android Debugging Bridge (ADB) is the utility that connects to Android devices from computers. This method uses adbLink, an easy-to-use interface for ADB that is available on Windows, Macs, and PCs.
A quick note: You can do this method with ADB itself instead of adbLink if you prefer. However, ADB will require that you rely on the command prompt (Windows) or Terminal (Mac, Linux). That process is not as novice-friendly, so we won’t be discussing it further here.
A computer and an Android Package (APK) file. We'll talk more about APK files in Step 4. For now, think of it as an installation package, like a .exe or .app file.
What's an APK file? It's the app! Android apps have the file type .apk. You can often download APK files directly on the publisher’s website, but you may need to use an APK downloader or an APK mirror in some cases.
Note that the Fire TV has an ARM processor, so you'll want the APK files that say they work with that one (not the x86). If there are both 32-bit and 64-bit ARM APKs, always go with the 32-bit version.
Download and install the latest version of adbLink for your chosen operating system.
On your Fire TV, navigate to the Settings menu, which is accessed through the gear icon at the right end of the main menu bar. Then, go to “My Fire TV”>“Developer Options” and turn ADB debugging ON. In the same menu, set Apps from Unknown Sources to ON.
Note: If you have an older version of the Fire TV OS, your menu could look different and some of the settings may be in a different submenu. All of these settings are present in all versions of the Fire TV OS, though, it just might take an extra minute to find them.
For this step, you’ll need your Fire TV’s IP address, which you can find on the device’s Settings menu under “My Fire TV”>About>Network.
Open adbLink, enter your Fire TV IP address in the “Ad Hoc IP” field, and click “Connect.” Your Fire TV will prompt you to accept the connection. Go ahead and do so.
If the connection worked, you’ll see your Fire TV IP show up in the “Connected devices” list on adbLink. Don’t worry about the numbers after the IP; those are just the port numbers your computer is connecting through.
Download your chosen APK file. For this example, we’re using the Kodi APK file found on Kodi’s download page. Remember, it’s the 32-bit ARM file.
In adbLink, click “Install APK” and navigate to your APK file.
Click “Yes” on the pop-up prompt. You’ll see the installation process appear under the “Running jobs” list in adbLink.
Once the install is complete, another prompt will appear. Click “OK” on that prompt.
Time to clean up! Click “Disconnect” in adbLink.
Then go back into your Fire TV’s “Developer Options” menu from Step 2 and turn off ADB debugging.
There are a few Android apps that allow you to transfer Android apps to your Fire TV. This method is the most versatile of the methods we’ll cover since you won't need a URL or an APK file on your computer.
Of course, this is only an option for those with Android phones and tablets.The other drawback? Some of these apps work better than others, but all of them have their flaws. Check reviews to see if there are any issues specific to your device.
An Android tablet or phone and a sideloading app. We're using Fire Installer in this demonstration because we like it and it's free.
On your Fire TV, navigate to the Settings menu “My Fire TV”>“Developer Options” and turn ADB debugging ON. In the same menu, set Apps from Unknown Sources to ON.
We're using Fire Installer. It's in the app store. Easy!
You’re going to need your Fire TV’s IP address, which you can get from the device’s Settings menu under “My Fire TV”>About>Network. Pretty much all of the Fire TV sideload apps either prompt you for the IP or have it in their “Settings” section (for Fire Installer, it's the latter).
Fire Installer has a list of apps on the first screen you see, but all of them will have you choose your apps somewhere along the line. You'll be able to add any app that's installed on your Android device, and many apps also support APK file installations. Just pick the one you want to push over to your Fire TV!
In our app, this is a button right below the app list. It'll be hard to miss no matter what app you use.
That's it! Now you just have to wait – installation can take a while when you use this method.
It’s time to put our shields up again. Go back to your Fire TV’s “Developer Options” menu from Step 1 and turn off ADB debugging.
This method uses a computer to put the APK file (app) onto a USB stick and then uses the Fire TV's USB port to load the APK file onto the Fire TV. It's a useful method for sideloading several apps at once, but it's excessive if you're sideloading just one or two.
Most Fire TV models have a regular USB port, so you can directly attach a USB drive. However, Fire TV Stick users will need a USB On-The-Go (OTG) cable since the Fire TV Stick only has a micro USB port.
The Total Commander Fire TV app, a USB storage device, a computer, and an APK file.
Unlike the previous methods, this one doesn’t require ADB debugging, but you still need to allow apps from unknown sources. On your Fire TV, navigate to the Settings menu “My Fire TV”>“Developer Options” and set Apps from Unknown Sources to ON.
Note that your USB drive must be formatted in FAT32.
Your Fire TV will take a few seconds to mount the device.
Total Commander is a file manager app that will let us access the files on our USB drive while it’s attached to the Fire TV.
You can install Total Commander just as you would any Fire TV app. In the main menu bar on the Fire TV home screen, go to “Find” and then select “Search” from the menu below.
Then, just type in the first few letters of “Total Commander” until you see it appear in the list. Go ahead and click on it.
Click on the icon, and select “Download” to install the app.
Stay on the install page and wait for the “Download” button text to change to “Open.” Then, click to open the Downloader app.
Start by clicking on your USB drive to see its contents.
This directory will look the same as on your computer, so just navigate through until you find your APK file.
Select install and then do it again to let Total Commander know that you're super-sure. Wait for the installation to complete, and you should be all set!
This sideloading method works by using a file downloader to access the APK file on the web. It's a really simple way to add an app, but you'll need a direct download URL for the APK file for it to work.
The Downloader app and a download URL for your desired APK file.
Just like the USB method, this one doesn’t require ADB debugging, but we’ll still be allowing apps from unknown sources. On your Fire TV, navigate to the Settings menu “My Fire TV”>“Developer Options” and turn Apps from Unknown Sources to ON.
Downloader does exactly what the name suggests: It downloads apps to your Fire TV. It also has a built-in web browser, which we’ll be taking advantage of here.
You can install Downloader just like any official Fire TV app. In the main menu bar on the Fire TV home screen, select “Find” and then click “Search” in the menu below.
Then, just type the first few letters of “Downloader” until it appears in the list, then select it.
On the left-hand menu of the Downloader app, navigate to “Browser.” You’ll see a blank browser window with a URL bar.
Note: If you have the URL of the APK file itself, you can enter that on the Downloader home screen instead of using the browser. However, APK URLs tend to be long and difficult to type using the Fire TV remote. That’s why the browser is usually your easiest option.
Type the URL into the box at the top of the screen, just like you would on your computer’s web browser. We’ll be going to “http://kodi.tv/download/” in this example.
Use the web browser to select the appropriate download link by selecting “Android.”
The APK we want is the one for 32-bit ARM. Click that file link and the download will start automatically.
Now just wait for the download to complete. Depending on the size of your APK, the server speed, and your internet speed, this could take a while.
Once the download completes, click “Install” at the prompt.
This installation shouldn’t take long, so just wait for it to complete.
After the install, you’ll be given two options to click on: “Done” and “Open.” Go ahead and click “Done.”
That will open a dialog asking whether you want to delete the APK. Leftover APK files waste precious space, which can cause slowdown if your Fire TV is almost full. So go ahead and hit “Delete” and confirm in the next prompt.
If you selected “Open” instead, you won’t be prompted to delete the file. However, you can still go back into Downloader afterward, open the “Files” sidebar item, and delete the APK file in that menu.
At first glance, the Kodi media center application appears to do a lot of the same things that your Fire TV operating system does. So why did we bother installing Kodi at all? While we covered all of its features in more detail in our hands-on Kodi review, here we’ll focus on its most exciting feature for Fire TV users: streaming your own media files.
There are lots of things you can do using official Fire TV apps, but there isn’t a good way to use those apps to play your own media files on the Fire TV unless you are already serving them from a Plex server. Kodi is the best alternative, allowing you to import your movies and TV shows, manage your media library, and play them all right on your Fire TV.
Kodi is highly customizable, and sideloading Kodi gives you the ability to install Kodi add-ons, each of which is like its own sideloaded Fire TV app. These add-ons can improve your streaming experience, provide access to new streaming services, and more. Best of all, the official Kodi add-ons are all safe, legal, and easy to install.
Now you know how to sideload Fire TV apps (or “jailbreak a Firestick” if you still like that term). Once you’ve done it, sideloading new apps should be even easier. After all, you already have all the tools you need. And if you installed Kodi, you can install dozens of the best Kodi add-ons in minutes!
Keep in mind that while sideloading is legal and safe, there are illegal and unsafe APKs on the internet. Only trust APKs from known sources, and follow safe cord-cutting practices like using a Fire TV VPN.