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Home / Tips and Tricks / What is a "portable" app and why is that important?

What is a "portable" app and why is that important?


Portable applications offer some distinct advantages over traditional applications. They are lightweight and allow you to switch between computers while taking your apps and settings with them. Here's why they differ and why they are sometimes ̵

1; but not always – a good choice.

How are regular apps installed?

RELATED: What is the ProgramData folder in Windows?

To understand What makes an app portable, it might be helpful to first take a quick look at how traditional apps are installed in Windows. When you install an app on Windows, the installation files are stored in different locations. Most of the app files are usually copied to a single folder in the C: Program Files folder. Files with settings that apply to all users of the app may be created in the ProgramData folder.


Settings specific to different user accounts on the PC are stored in files created in the AppData hidden folder. User folders for each account. Most apps create entries in the Windows registry that may also contain different configuration settings. Many apps use shared code libraries installed with the .NET Framework and Visual C ++ Redistributables.

This separation of functions offers clear advantages. Multiple apps can share information in registry entries or shared code libraries to avoid unnecessary duplication. By storing user-specific settings in one location and system-wide settings in a different location, apps can make better use of many different Windows features that have been developed for a multi-user system. To begin with, anyone can rely on their own settings being loaded when they launch the app just because they're signed in with their own Windows account. Functions such as file and share permissions are based on this structure. If you save all program settings in defined areas, the security of your system is increased.

What is a portable app and why should I use one?


A portable app is simply one that does not use an installer. All the files required to run the app are in a single folder that you can place anywhere on the system. If you move the folder, the app will still work. Instead of installing a portable app, usually download it as a ZIP file, extract that ZIP file to a folder, and run the executable for the app. If the app allows you to save settings, these settings are stored in files directly in the same folder.

The most important advantage of using portable apps is obvious: they are portable. For example, if you put it on a USB drive, you can transport it from computer to computer. They leave no trace on the PCs you run them on. Everything, including the settings you have saved, is stored directly in the folder of the portable app on the USB drive. It's very similar to the times of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Portable apps can be helpful, even if you do not switch between computers. For one, they leave a smaller footprint on your PC. They are usually lighter than most installable apps because they do not need to be installed. You can sync them (along with their settings) to your other PCs using Dropbox. Or you can only use an app once, without having to worry about Cruft remaining on your system.

Sure, there are always apps you need to install. Either too big or too sophisticated to run as a portable app, or they need to take advantage of Windows's multi-user or security features. However, many apps are available in both versions, so you can choose between an installer and a ZIP file to download.

RELATED: Understanding User Account Control in Windows 7

Of course, there are some disadvantages of using portable apps. Windows User Account Control (UAC) does not work for portable apps as it does for installed apps, so they are more likely to be subject to non-administrative processes. You might think of it as both an upward and a downward pillar. The benefit is that you can probably run a portable app even if you're on a network-for example, at work-where you can not install a regular app. The disadvantage is that the IT department and the security protocols they set up may be less effective.

Another disadvantage of portable apps is that they are typically not designed for multiple users. This is probably not a big deal, as you are likely to create a portable drive that you can only take for yourself. However, if multiple users need to use an app, they must all use the same settings, or you must have multiple copies of the app folder on your portable drive.

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When you're running portable apps from a USB drive, you should pay close attention to ejecting the drive properly instead of just pulling it out. Otherwise, you may damage the apps or not save settings properly. This issue even occurs on PCs that can not handle USB drives well when they enter sleep or hibernate mode. It's less of a problem on modern PCs than in the past, but there are still PCs that do not handle sleep well.

However, the benefits of portable apps usually outweigh the disadvantages – especially if you are traveling

What types of portable apps are available?

CONNECTED: The Best Free Portable Apps for Your Flash Drive Toolkit

If you think of portable apps mainly as technical support for system utilities to carry around people, you might be surprised that there are all sorts of portable apps gives. You can read some of them in our guide to the best free portable apps for your flash drive toolkit. Of course you will find system utilities as well as apps for almost all your requirements – productivity, communication, graphics and image viewing and much more.

In addition to all of these standalone apps, you can also download apps to application suites that you can install on a USB drive. These suites usually offer a start menu for accessing the apps and some also coordinate the app settings for you. Many of these suites have hundreds of free portable apps to choose from, essentially allowing you to create a complete, portable workspace. PortableApps, CodySafe and LiberKey are some of the most popular suites.

If you are interested, take a look at the various portable suites. In some cases, portable apps are only available through a software suite like this. For example, PortableApps.com provides access to hundreds of portable apps that you can download and install on your PortableApps hard drive. Many of these apps can only be installed on the PortableApps suite and do not have a portable version that you can use without the suite. The advantage of using PortableApps is that you can choose exactly which apps you want to include. In other suites, all portable apps are included in the main download. But each suite may have specific tools that you will not find for other suites. Therefore, look at the available apps for each suite before making a decision.


You'll Find It If we recommend third-party tools in many of our articles, we often use portable apps instead of installable ones.

Can I make regular installable apps portable?

RELATED: Convert applications to portable applications only

It's often possible to make a normal app portable, but it can be a bit fussy and usually requires a bit of work. If the app is very simple – for example, a utility that obviously does not need to be an installable app – it is sometimes possible to extract these files from the installer and use these instructions to turn them into a portable app. This is by no means a guaranteed method, but it may be worth trying it out.

RELATED: Use Portable VirtualBox to take virtual machines everywhere

Another option for portable installable app portability is to virtualize the app. This usually requires a good deal more setup. In essence, however, you must create a portable virtual machine that can run the required operating system and app (s) and then load that virtual machine on any portable media. Portable VirtualBox is the most commonly used tool, and we have great instructions on how to take virtual machines with you wherever you go. VirtualBox itself is a free offer for Oracle virtual machines that runs on virtually any desktop operating system. Portable VirtualBox is a wrapper for VirtualBox that creates a portable application that you can install on a USB flash drive or external hard drive.

RELATED: Creating Portable Versions of Windows 8.1 Applications with Cameyo [19659006] Cameyo is another interesting virtualization option. Instead of running an entire virtual machine from your portable drive, create a virtual machine on your desktop system. Next, use Cameyo to record the installation of an app on this virtual machine. Then Cameyo creates a single executable file that you can drag onto your portable drive and run wherever you want. Cameyo is also free for home users or small businesses. If you are interested, we also have instructions for using Cameyo to create portable apps.

Regardless of the method chosen, you should familiarize yourself with the offerings of portable apps. There's nothing like a sense of freedom and flexibility when you know that you can use the keychain-mounted USB drive to perform all critical aspects of your computer life.

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