Introduction

Building Standalone Apps

Not everybody wants to tell their customers or friends to download Expo to use their app; You want to be able to have the app on its own from the App Store and Play Store. We call these “shell apps” or “standalone apps”. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through creating a standalone version of your Expo app for iOS and Android.

An Apple Developer account is needed to build the iOS standalone app, but a Google Play Developer account is not needed to build the Android standalone app. If you’d like to submit to either app store, you will of course need a developer account on that store.

Warning: Standalone apps are currently in beta! While the Android version has been heavily tested with li.st, the iOS version and our automated build pipeline for both are brand new so you may run into some issues. Be sure to reach out to us on Slack or Twitter if you do and we’ll put them on our roadmap, much appreciated!

1. Install exp

XDE currently doesn’t include an option for building a standalone app, so we’ll need exp for this. Run npm install -g exp to get it.

If you haven’t used exp before, the first thing you’ll need to do is login with your Expo account using exp login.

2. Configure exp.json

The following fields are required in your app’s exp.json, so open it up and add any that are missing.

 {
   name: "Playground",
   icon: "https://s3.amazonaws.com/exp-us-standard/rnplay/app-icon.png",
   version: "2.0.0",
   slug: "rnplay",
   sdkVersion: "8.0.0",
   ios: {
     bundleIdentifier: "org.rnplay.exp",
   },
   android: {
     package: "org.rnplay.exp",
   }
 }

The iOS bundleIdentifier and Android package fields use reverse DNS notation, but don’t have to be related to a domain. In this case I chose org.rnplay.exp because the app’s website is rnplay.org and this is the Expo version of the app. Yours might be com.yourcompany.appname.

You’re probably not surprised that name, iconUrl and version are required, but if you haven’t used Expo much you might be confused by slug and sdkVersion. slug is the url name that your app’s JavaScript is published to, for example exp.host/@notbrent/rnplay, where notbrent is my username and rnplay is the slug. The sdkVersion tells Expo what Expo runtime version to use, which corresponds to a React Native version.

There are other options you might want to add to exp.json. We have only covered what is required. See Configuration with exp.json for the full spec.

3. Start the build

  • Run exp start in your app directory to boot up the Expo packager. This is necessary because during the build process your app will be republished to ensure it is the latest version.

  • Once the app has started, run exp build:android or exp build:ios.

If you choose to build for Android

The first time you build the project you will be asked whether you’d like to upload a keystore or have us handle it for you. If you don’t know what a keystore is, just leave it to us. Otherwise, feel free to upload your own.

[exp] No currently active or previous builds for this project.

Would you like to upload a keystore or have us generate one for you?
If you don't know what this means, let us handle it! :)

  1) Let Expo handle the process!
  2) I want to upload my own keystore!

If you choose to build for iOS

The first time you build the project You will be prompted for your Apple ID and password for your developer account, and your Apple Team ID. This is needed to manage to manage certificates and provisioning profiles, so we can build and send off push notifications.

[exp] No currently active or previous builds for this project.

We need your Apple ID/password to manage certificates and provisioning
profiles from your Apple Developer account.

What's your Apple ID? example@gmail.com
Password? ******************
What is your Apple Team ID (you can find that on this page:
https://developer.apple.com/account/#/membership)? XY1234567

Note: We currently don’t support Apple’s two-factor authentication, so you’ll have to temporarily turn off 2FA on your Apple ID account to use exp build. The GitHub issue for 2FA support is #17.

Next we will ask you if you’d like us to handle your distribution certificate or use your own. Similar to the Android keystore, if you don’t know what a distribution certificate is, just let us handle it for you.

4. Wait for it to finish building

This will take a few minutes, you can check up on it by running exp build:status. When it’s done, you’ll see the url of a .apk (Android) or .ipa (iOS) file — this is your app. Copy and paste it into your browser address bar to download — it won’t work with curl or wget unless you happen to know the correct incantation to download a gzipped file from S3. We will fix this.

Note: We enable bitcode for iOS, so the .ipa files for iOS are much larger than the eventual App Store download available to your users. For more information, see App Thinning.

5. Test it on your device or simulator

  • You can drag and drop the .apk into your Android emulator. This is the easiest way to test out that the build was successful. But it’s not the most satisfying.

  • To run it on your Android device, make sure you have the Android platform tools installed along with adb, then just run adb install app-filename.apk with your device plugged in.

  • To run it on your iOS device, you will need to put in a bit more work :( We are working on producing simulator builds to make it easier to test, but for now you will need to use Apple TestFlight. Go to iTunes connect and create a new app and pick your bundle identifier. After that, I recommend using pilot to upload the build and add testers.

6. Submit it to the appropriate store

We don’t automate this step (yet), but at this point you should be able to follow the Apple and Google documentation to submit your standalone binary to each respective store.

If you plan to submit to the Apple App Store, your app will be subject to normal Apple review guidelines. A plain Expo build will have no issues with this, but your app’s particular behavior, content, and metadata are all under your control. Some of these resources are worth reading:

Note: When submitting to the iTunes Store, you’ll be asked whether your app uses the advertising identifier (IDFA). Because Expo depends on Segment Analytics, the answer is yes, and you’ll need to check a couple boxes on the Apple submission form. See Segment’s Guide for which specific boxes to fill in.

7. Update your app

When you want to update your app you can simply publish through XDE or exp! As long as you don’t change the sdkVersion version in exp.json your standalone app will get the new code next time users open the app. If you want to change the icon or the app name you’ll need to resubmit your app to each store.

If you run into problems during this process, we’re more than happy to help out! Join our Slack and let us know if you have any questions.

Note: Are you curious how this works? We embed the Expo runtime into a new app and make it always point to the published URL of your app.

We mentioned a few of the required properties here, but you’re free to configure everything from the push notification icon to the deep-linking url scheme (see the guide on exp.json for more information), and we take care of building it for you so you never have to open Xcode or Android Studio.


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