• Posted on January 22, 2014

What are Portable Apps

You will often times see software that is available online listed as Portable. But what is a portable app? Is it for laptops and mobile devices? Well, it can be used on those devices, but it’s main purpose is much different. To truly understand what a portable app is, you need to know some basics about how computers install software and how software stores data onto the computer.

When you install a program to your computer, a few things take place. The first thing is the application registering itself with Windows. This is so when you ever want to uninstall the program, assign it to be used with a specific file type, or have it as a default program, these can be done.

Windows stores all of this information inside of the Registry. The registry acts just like a database, but somewhat like a file system also. In a tree view of folders, you can set values and sub folders. Folders that contain subfolders can also have values assigned to them. These values can be one of the following types.

  • Strings: A character stream which can also contain numbers but in their ASCII value format.
  • Binary: A set of binary values (0/1) that can contain all sorts of characters and values that are often not allowed in other formats.
  • Other Formats: There are also other formats such as DWORD, QWORD, Multi String which are all very similar to the normal strings data type, buch these can hold unicode values instead.

Once the program installs and sets all the proper registry values, it then moves it’s required files into the Program Files folder and possibly other folders. Removing these files alone won’t uninstall the program, since the data will still remain in the registry and temporary directories on your computer. And manually deleting these files can also affect other software that may rely on them.

This is where Portable Programs are useful. Instead of having to install the program and worry about all the clutter in your registry and temporary files, the program all stays in one place and can be executed right away. The reason it doesn’t install is so you can place the program on a flash drive / thumbdrive and take it to other computers and be able to run it. That is the main reason for Portable apps, being able to use it on any computer easily.

By removing the installation process from these programs and the required access to the registry, these programs often don’t need evaluated rights from an Administrator. Because of how Portable Apps works, having the software on a flashdrive for taking to school and other places makes it an easy task to get the software that you need. When I was in school, I use to have FileZilla, GIMP, Notepad++ and various other portable apps so in my free time I could work on websites and software.

Portable Apps sometimes will store data onto the computer in the temporary directories, such as configuration or log files. A lot of them will store them in the same directory the executable file is, which is the preferred method.

Should I install Portable Apps?

If you are using a computer you own and you know you want the software on your computer to stay, install the normal version of the software. Often times, the full non-portable versions of software will integrate better with your computer, such as adding context menus, start menu icons, desktop shortcuts and more. If you don’t want any of that, then you will be fine installing a portable version of the software.

Before installing most software that I haven’t tried out before, I will first use the portable version. The portable version doesn’t require any setup, works “out of the box”, and won’t add context menus I may want gone right away if I don’t like the software.

The thing most people don’t realize is that they probably have used a Portable App on their computer. Not all programs label themselves as Portable Apps, and most of the software I create is considered “Portable” since it’s a lot simpler to make. Any program in the past that you have downloaded and the instant you clicked on the software it launched, is most likely a program that can be considered portable.

To get portable apps, the first place you should look is on the official publishers website. For instance, if I want FileZilla portable, I would first go to FileZilla’s official website. Under “Additional Downloads” you will see a zip file instead of an executable file, this is most likely a portable version of their software.

If the official site doesn’t contain any portable versions, you can also try out the PortableApps.com website. They do package a collection together, which I personally don’t recommend. I suggest you just download the single applications that you need.

Also, be careful about using other websites for portable app downloads. After looking at a few quickly, they seem unreliable and could possibly harm your computer.