.IPA File Extension
What is an IPA file?
An IPA file is an iOS application meant to be installed on an Apple iOS device, such as an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, or M1 Mac. It contains the app's data, compressed using Zip compression. You can install IPA files on an iOS device using iTunes, Apple Configurator 2, or third-party programs. You can install IPA files on M1 Macs by double-clicking them.
In most cases, iOS device users never see the IPA files used to install apps on their devices. Instead, when a user chooses to install an iOS app, the iOS App Store automatically retrieves and installs the related IPA file.
However, app developers sometimes choose to distribute iOS apps outside the App Store as IPA files. For example, developers who are testing an app and have not yet submitted it to the App Store may save and manually distribute a prototype version of their app as an IPA file. This allows other users to manually install and test the app on their iOS devices or M1 Mac.
How to view an IPA file's contents
While IPA files are meant to be installed as iOS apps, you can also decompress them to view the app data they contain. To do so, rename your IPA file to use the .zip extension, and then decompress it using any Zip-decompression utility. After you do, you'll be able to view the app's icon (saved as a .PNG or .JPEG file) and Payload folder. The Payload folder contains the app's data.
How to create an IPA file in Apple Xcode
Developers who are developing an iOS app in Apple Xcode eventually need to package that app as an IPA file, either for testing purposes or to upload the app to the App Store. To package an Xcode app as an IPA file:
- Open your iOS app development project in Xcode.
- In Xcode's sidebar, select your app's .XCODEPROJ file.
- From Xcode's menu bar, select Product → Destination → Generic iOS Device.
- Select Product → Archive.
- When the archiving dialog appears, select Export.... Select your desired export method, and then finish creating your IPA file.
How to open an IPA file
IPA files are not meant to be opened. Instead, they are meant to be installed on iOS devices or Macs that use an M1 chip. Installing an IPA file allows a user to run the iOS application the file contains.
How to install an IPA file on an iOS device
Those who still have access to Apple iTunes (Windows, Mac) can use iTunes to install IPA files on their iOS devices. To do so:
- Connect your iOS device to your computer.
- Open iTunes and, in the Devices section of the program's sidebar, locate your iOS device.
- Drag your IPA file to your device's listing in iTunes.
Your iOS device will then install the app your IPA file contains.
Those who do not have access to iTunes can use Apple Finder (Mac), Apple Configurator 2 (Mac), Cydia Impactor (multiplatform), 3uTools (Windows), Sideloadly! (Windows and Mac), or AltStore (iOS) to install the app an IPA file contains. The workflow for installing IPA files via Finder is similar to the workflow for installing them via iTunes (connect your iOS device to your Mac, locate your device in Finder, drag and drop your IPA file on your device's listing). The other applications all use unique workflows to install IPA files on iOS devices.
How to install an IPA file on an M1 Mac
On a Mac that uses an M1 chip, you can install the app an IPA file contains by double-clicking the file. The app will then appear in your Mac's Applications folder.