Keystore management
Last modified on Wed 18 Mar 2020

Android requires that all APKs be digitally signed with a certificate before they can be installed. You can find more details in the official docs.

Once an app signed with a certificate has been uploaded to the Play Store, all updates to that app must be signed with the same certificate.

The signing certificate is stored in a binary file known as the keystore. The keystore is protected with a password and can store multiple certificates, each one protected with another password.

So, to upload an update to the app you need:

If a malicious user obtains all of these, they can upload whatever code they want as an app update to unsuspecting users, so it's very important to restrict access to this information.

It is also very important not to lose the keystore or passwords because we then lose the ability to update the app.

To do that, we use two separate keystores for each project:

Development keystore

The development keystore should be generated using random alphanumeric passwords. You can do it via the Android Studio GUI or by using keytool:

keytool -genkey -v -keystore development.jks -alias development -keyalg RSA -keysize 2048 -validity 10000

This keystore should be used for all the build variants except the one uploaded to the Play Store.

It should be committed to the repository together with the credentials in build.gradle, as explained in the official documentation.

Production keystore

The production keystore must be protected with strong, random passwords. The keystore file must be committed to the repository, but the credentials will be saved in a password manager and downloaded as needed. The credentials must not be committed to the repository.

We use an internal tool called bombadil to make managing production keystores easier. Consult the documentation on the linked website to learn how to generate production keystores and use them. You should ask your team lead to download credentials to your local machine so that you are able to create a release app version.

App signing

App signing by Google Play is an opt-in feature and a recommended way to sign your app for distribution through Google Play. By using this feature, we add an extra layer of security to our application's release process. Also, this step is mandatory if we want to use the Android App Bundle and support dynamic delivery.

Now, we have to separate the Upload and App Signing key. The upload key is the one which developers use to sign and upload APK to Google Play. Google Play verifies the app and signs it with a new key that is used in production. Google Play is now responsible for storing the main app signing keystore. By separating the upload and the app signing key, you have the possibility to reset an upload key in case it gets lost or compromised. In case you are still using a single key for production, if you lose the key, you also lose the ability to update your app.

Signing an app with App Signing by Google Play

You should follow the steps in the official documentation to enable app signing. When switching an existing app to app signing, you need to export the current key as *.pepkfile and upload it to Google Play. In either case, make sure that we are using different upload and app signing certificates when you are switching the app or signing a new app. If you are asked to accept the terms before setting up the app signing, please contact the account owner (in Infinum's case, this is Tomislav Car) or ask your team leader or project manager for help.

When using the described app signing, you can forget about bombadil and push credentials directly to the repository. If somebody would gain access to it, they would still not be able to upload the app without Google Play access. Also, they would not be able to upload it on a third-party store as the updated version of the original app. In case we lose or leak the upload key, we will request a reset. Note that the reset action takes some time. You will have a 48-hour period before the key is reset, during which you will not be able to release a new version with an old upload key.