App distribution has changed over the years and the change is mostly attributed to mobile platforms. Mobile apps are generally downloaded from an official app store and for good reason. An app store has its benefits which is why desktop platforms have official app stores as well. Apps for Windows are distributed as EXE files but also as packages in the Microsoft Store. The apps that are in the Microsoft Store install automatically. You cannot just download an app and install it later, and you can’t save it as a back-up copy from the Microsoft Store app. What you can do is download an APPX file from the Microsoft store.
An APPX file is the file extension used by Microsoft Store app packages. Think of it as the Microsoft Store app’s equivalent of an EXE file. It’s fairly easy to download an APPX file from the Microsoft Store and sideload it.
In order to download an APPX file from the Microsoft Store you need;
- A free app called Fiddler
- Any browser or a download manager
Download An APPX File
Download Fiddler and install it. Run the app and go to File>Capture Traffic and uncheck the option. Fiddler records every single network request that is sent from your system. We will use it to get the download link that the Microsoft Store app uses to download a file. Before you start though, it’s a good idea to disable capturing traffic until you’re ready to download a file. This will make it easier for you to browse the traffic that is captured.
Next, click the WinConfig button. This will open the AppContainer Loopback Exemption Utility.
On the AppContainer Loopback Exemption Utility window, select Microsoft Store, and click Save Changes.
Now, open the Microsoft Store app and navigate to the app you want to download an APPX file for. Don’t click the Install button. First, head back to Fiddler and go to File>Capture Traffic to start capturing network traffic. Now return to the Microsoft Store app and click the Install button. Wait until the app starts downloading. Once it does, you can cancel the download.
Return to Fiddler and again turn off traffic capture. Next, click the Find button. In the Find field, enter appx.
This will highlight the network request for the APPX file that was sent. There will be quite a few matches but we’re only concerned with the very first one.
Right-click it and select Copy>Just Url.
Open your browser or your preferred download manage. Paste the link that you copied and tap the Enter key. When the save file prompt appears, select where you want to save the APPX file.
That’s all you need to do to download an APPX file from the Microsoft Store.
Install APPX File
Now that you have the APPX file, you probably need to know how you can install it. Open PowerShell with admin rights. Paste the following command to install the APPX file.
add-appxpackage -path <path to appx>
add-appxpackage -path C:\Users\fatiw\Desktop\Microsoft.FreshPaint_3.1.10383.0_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe.Appx
This method has the following exceptions;
- You cannot download previous versions of an app
- You cannot pirate apps or get paid apps for free
- Some apps cannot be downloaded through this method e.g. Microsoft Whiteboard (beta) app
This is a great way to back up an app in case it’s removed from the store later, or discontinued by the developer.