Parsing errors on Android: “There was a problem parsing the package”

Android users have a seemingly endless choice of apps to install in the Google Play Store. There’s a helpful app for every task and hobby. But users don’t always find the app they need. That’s because not all applications made by ambitious developers make it into the Google Play Store. The reason is simple: Google only permits apps in its store which comply with its strict Developer Content Policy.

Some developers are unable or unwilling to follow the Play Store rules and therefore choose to offer their applications elsewhere. At their own risk, Android users can download and install apps not listed in the Play Store. However, parsing errors can occur when executing the information packages. These are usually accompanied by a warning: “There was a problem parsing the package.” What causes this? And how can parsing errors be fixed?

What Is parsing and how does it work?

Parsing refers to the splitting of larger data packages into machine-readable parts. Before mobile apps or computer programs can be installed, special parsers first need to take apart the respective data package into small information components in order to derive instructions for the processor. That’s because data packages themselves are completely unintelligible for operating systems. If an operating system like Android isn’t explicitly told instructions on how to handle a package, it can’t do anything with the data. After the parsers have broken down the packages into comprehensible parts, they analyze the individual pieces of information and assign them meanings. You may think of parsing as a computer’s process of understanding. Here’s a practical example:

If a computer is given the formula 31 x 53 + (2∏), it won’t have any idea how to solve it. To work out which operations need to be performed, parsing is first used to determine the individual components of the equation:

  • 3
  • 1
  • x
  • 5
  • 3
  • +
  • (
  • 2
  • )

It’s now much easier to assign meaning to the various components. The parser is thereby able to determine the structure of the equation and consequently its meaning, allowing the process to understand that “x” and “+” concern mathematical operators, for example.

The parsing processes applied by the Android operating system are similar, but much more complex when a user has downloaded a data package and wishes to install it. What exactly happens then and why might parsing errors occur?

Parsing errors with Android apps: Why do they occur?

Android apps listed in the Google Play Store are applications with a specially developed file format. Just like computer programs in the .exe format, Android apps exist in .apk format. The abbreviation stands for “Android Package File” and refers to a special Android data package. All apps that users download from the Play Store are provided in this format and are automatically installed by the operating system.

However, Android users can also download .apk files from other sources. There are countless websites online that offer useful Android applications for download. But it’s always up to the user to assess the trustworthiness of a site. And when installing these unofficially licensed apps, users sometimes encounter the parsing errors mentioned above. When this happens, Android displays the following message: “There was a problem parsing the package.” The reason for this parsing error is due to the fact that the instructions from the data package could not be broken down into meaningful pieces. Android is therefore not able to process the package.

Step-by-step guide for fixing parsing errors

Often, the cause of the warning “There was a problem parsing the package” can be found in the system settings of the Android device. To resolve the parsing error, you should try or check the following settings:

  • Is the app even compatible with the installed version of the operating system?
  • Is the .apk file damaged or was the download fully completed?
  • Do the security settings of the device permit downloading apps from unknown sources?

For all devices with Android systems up to version 8.0, you can allow the installation of files from unknown sources as follows:

  1. Open the settings.
  2. Press the “Security” button (alternatively: “Security & Privacy”).
  3. Search for the “Special App Access” section.
  4. Activate the option “Allow installation of unknown apps” or “Trust this source”.

In newer versions of Android, the settings for third-party apps are a little more difficult to find and activate. In most cases, the steps below should work:

  1. Go to the settings.
  2. Enter “unknown” into the search field and press the option “Install unknown apps”.
  3. Below the options shown, select the button “Install unknown apps” again.
  4. Now click on the browser used and then the Android file manager, and activate the option “Trust this source”.

You should then be able to manually install .apk files as desired. However, if the app is not designed for the Android operating system you use according to the developer information, all you can do is wait for an app update and then try to manually install it again. If you believe the .apk file may be damaged, you could try to download the app from a different source. If the parsing error happens again, you can assume that the app is not compatible with your system or is corrupted itself.


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