How to Use Shelter to Sandbox Apps on Android


Shelter is a handy app that lets you create a sandbox on your Android device. This means you can run cloned copies of apps, store documents, and maintain accounts separately from your main workspace. It’s like having an extra phone living inside your device!

We’ll show you how to start using Shelter and what it offers for your Android device.

Background And Downloading Shelter

Shelter is free and open source software (FOSS) app which takes Android’s built-in work profile function and gives it to everyone.

Normally, a work profile is only accessible with expensive enterprise-level software. It allows employees to use one device for both work and home, while keeping personal and business apps and data separate.

Some vendors, such as Samsung, provide similar features. However, Shelter is accessible used on many more devices.

To get started, download the app. Due to Google’s policies, the Play Store version lacks the File Shuttle feature. The full version can be downloaded from F-Droid, though.

Download: Shelter on the Google Play Store | F-Droid (Free)

Shelter: How To Set It Up

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Shelter, there are a few more steps to complete before it’s ready to use. To open it, tap on the icon, which looks like a chick hatching from an egg.

A dialog will show, warning that you shouldn’t run it on phones already using work profile software such as Secure Folder or Hidden Folders. If you’re not sure, tap Bye; otherwise tap Continue to proceed.

The next screen tells you that you’re about to set up a work profile managed and monitored by your organization. However, this is a standard screen from the Android work profile manager. The Shelter code is available for anyone to inspect and no one has found any security problems with the app. If you’re happy with this, tap Accept & Continue.

The next screen will set up your work profile. This process could take a few minutes to complete.

Once the work profile is ready, you will return to your home screen where you should find a notification waiting for you. Pull down on the notification bar and tap on the message to finish the setup. Shelter should now restart; if it doesn’t, tap on the icon to open it.

When you open Shelter, you will see two tabs: Main, which lists the apps installed on your normal profile, and Shelter, where you will find apps that were cloned or installed into the sandbox.

You can install apps in Shelter using three methods:

  1. From Shelter, you can clone any app that already exists on your phone. The cloned app will be a fresh install and won’t copy over any of your settings or data.
  2. You can clone the Google Play Store or F-Droid app and install apps directly into the work profile. This is useful if you don’t want two copies of an app taking up space.
  3. You can use the Install APK into Shelter function from the three-dot menu on the top-right of the app. This will open a file browser to let you locate the APK.

Shelter: How To Clone Your Apps


To clone your first app, simply tap on its name in the Main tab. When you tap on the app name, a box will appear telling you what operations are available. The options are Clone to Shelter (Work Profile) or Uninstall. Tap on Clone to Shelter.

A prompt will tell you that your phone is not allowed to install unknown apps from Shelter for security reasons. This is an Android safety feature to prevent people installing apps from third-party sources. If you’re happy to continue, tap on Settings.How to Manually Install or Sideload Apps on Android

Want to sideload apps on your Android phone? Installing APKs manually on Android opens up a whole new world of apps, and it’s easy to do.

You will see a screen with a warning and a toggle marked Allow from this source. Tap on the toggle to give Shelter permission to install software, then tap on the back arrow at the top-left to return.

You will now see a screen asking if you want to install the application. Tap on Install to continue. Once the app has installed, you will see it listed in the Shelter tab. Tap on the icon to get a menu of options.

Then, select Launch to open the app or Create Unfreeze and/or Launch Shortcut to place an icon on your home screen for easy access. Sheltered app icons on the home screen are marked with a little blue briefcase in a white circle, helping you tell them apart from normal apps.

Once you open the app, you can start to use it in the normal way—except it will be safely isolated from the rest of your device.

How Shelter Makes Your Mobile Life Easier

Shelter is a powerful tool, so let’s take a look at the different ways you can make it work for you.

Isolate Apps

There are millions of apps available on the Google Play Store, and not all of them are what they seem. Google has systems in place to identify the worst offenders and often pulls malware from the store.

However, even many mainstream apps are not necessarily benevolent; it’s difficult to know just what any particular app is doing with your data. Developers often load their software with trackers to learn about you and how you use your device.

Many apps also come with excessive permissions requests. There are flashlight apps, for example, that want access to your location, microphone, contacts, and other functions unnecessary for their core purpose. You can use Shelter as a quarantine area where you can safely install these obnoxious apps.

Apps running inside Shelter can only access the data of other apps in the sandbox. One drawback to be aware of is that Shelter currently does not allow you to manage permissions for your cloned apps.

If this is a deal-breaker for you, try working with the opposite scenario. You can install apps you trust or wish to keep private inside Shelter and isolate them from the rest of your phone.

Shelter Lets You Freeze Hyper-Active Apps


Some apps seem to run permanently in the background, taking up valuable memory and processing power and constantly sending and receiving data for unknown purposes. You can install these resource-hoggers into Shelter and freeze them. This function puts the apps into a state of suspended animation until you actually need to use them.

It’s also useful for apps that you seldom use but need to have installed on your phone just in case. To freeze an app, find it in the Shelter tab and tap on its name to bring up the list of operations, then tap on Freeze.

You can access frozen apps from within Shelter at any time; they appear at the bottom of the list with a colored background. You can also use the list of operations to create an Unfreeze and launch shortcut (accessible from your home screen) to quickly bring them back to life.

Shelter Lets You Run Two Accounts From One Device

To manage your complicated digital life and separate work from personal, you likely use more than one account for certain services. Perhaps you have a Facebook account for personal use and a different one for professional use, or maybe you want to access your own Twitter account while you manage another for your company.

By cloning apps into Shelter, you can use both accounts from the same phone.

Shelter Allows You To Completely Disconnect From Work

Our phones can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s great that you can take care of important tasks wherever you are, it also means the boundaries between private and professional life are blurry. This means it’s easy to find work responsibilities eating into your personal life.

If you set up all your work-related apps and accounts inside Shelter, you can turn them all off with one tap. Simply pull down the notification bar and tap the work profile icon (a little white briefcase in a blue circle).

This will disable your Sheltered apps, meaning that they won’t run in the background, sync, or disturb you with notifications until you re-enable them. Do this by tapping on the briefcase again or opening an app.

This also acts as a security feature; to re-enable your work apps, you need to enter your lock screen pattern, PIN, or password. It’s not only a useful function for when you want to share your phone, but also keeps important data such as bank or medical apps private.

Shelter: An Essential Android Privacy Tool Whether you want to separate your work and personal life, hide sensitive information, or protect yourself from rogue apps, this lightweight Android tool offers many possibilities. Exactly how you use it is up to you. Just keep in mind that Shelter’s developer does not recommend installing it if your phone already uses a work profile-based solution, such as Samsung Secure Folder or Hidden Folders for Xiaomi devices.

How to Use Shelter to Sandbox Apps on Android | MakeUseOf

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