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How to download free and open source apps with F-Droid

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How do you download apps on your Android phone? Most likely you head to the Google Play Store as it’s often pre-installed on your phone. Moreover, it gives you access to pretty much every kind of app or game you can think of. If not the Play Store, you probably use the Amazon Appstore.

What if you have a passion for open source software? Or, what if you don’t like Google serving you ads and sponsored content as part of your experience? If either of these situations sounds like you, perhaps you should consider F-Droid.

What is open source?

Open Source Software (OSS), is software whose source code (the stuff that makes up the app) is made available for anyone and everyone to view, edit, or copy. This code is often managed by the git versioning system that keeps track of changes, called “commits”. The code is then uploaded to repositories on websites such as GitHub or GitLab.

The basic makeup of Android is open source software, known as the Android Open Source Project. Similarly, the Chrome browser is based off of an open source browser called Chromium.

What is F-Droid?

F-Droid is an app store that exclusively deals in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). That is to say that he apps you download are open source and come at no cost to you. The main F-Droid repository mostly consists of apps vetted, compiled (put together from source), and signed by F-Droid. The app in itself is free of any form of tracking, which is why you’ll never see any download stats on the apps you find.

How do I get started with F-Droid?

First, head to to F-Droid.org on your phone and click the download button. Your phone will probably prompt you with a warning or notification. If that’s the case, do what it says and go into settings and allow your browser as an app source.

Upon installation, open the app up where you will see it immediately refreshing information from the repository.

When you click on an app, you’ll see the name, when it was last updated, some important links about the app, permissions the app needs, and previous versions.

If you like the app, click install. It’ll download the app, and then you have to allow F-Droid to install apps and then install the app manually.

It’s worth noting here that this means that all updates will have to be manually installed. This may change in the future because Android 12 could introduce a permission for “alternative” app stores to be able to install apps without user intervention.

F-Droid App Info Page
App Info Page

In your settings, you can do things like change how updates are handled, change your theme, add a proxy, and turn on anti-feature apps

What’s an anti-feature app?

These are apps that, for one reason or another, aren’t completely in line with the F-Droid ethos. They may contain ads or tracking, connect to a non-free network service (such as YouTube or Facebook), or rely/depend on a non-free app or service (e.g. Google Play Services).

F-Droid Settings Page
Settings Page

What if the 3,000 existing apps on F-Droid aren’t enough for me?

No problem! There are a variety of extra repositories you can add on, with some only containing one or a few specific apps. The biggest one, and a favorite of mine for those hoping to more fully replace the use of Google Play, is the IzzyOnDroid Repo. This contains apps compiled by the original developers and might include dependencies on Google Play Services. In total, IzzySoft contains around 650 apps.

How do I add a repository?

To add a repository, go to https://forum.f-droid.org/t/known-repositories/721 and copy the link to the repo you would like to add. Then go into your F-droid settings, to repositories and then click the plus sign. The link will likely populate from your clipboard, so all you have to do is click “Add” and let the app add and update the repository.

After that, you’re good to go! Enjoy your newly-freed Android experience!

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