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[Guide:] The Definitive APK Modding and Theming Thread...

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By XperienceD, Senior Member on 25th May 2013, 02:21 PM
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  • First of all, you don't actually need to be a "developer" as such to be able to theme and you don't need to know or have to learn lots of code either.
  • Secondly, EVERYTHING you need to know and need to use to modify an .apk is in this thread!
The greatest thing about Android is that you can change just about every element of the U.I and it’s really easy to do too. I wrote this guide to share the experience and knowledge I've gained since joining xda to debrand my SonyEricsson XPERIA X10i that was running Gingerbread. In 2017 there are a few different ways you can theme a ROM.
  1. Apktool, which can decompile an .apk allowing you to modify your own .xmls and .9png images, which is what this thread will focus on.
  2. Substratum, RRO, Xposed essentially overlay themes or mods.
There is a variety of programs that use a GUI to do the work of Apktool for you, some good, some bad but at the end of the day they all ultimately do what you can easily do yourself in a faster, cleaner and more efficient manner in my opinion.
Overlaying doesn't cover every element so falls short of a one stop solution for being able to fully theme a ROM and is a bit more complex and/or restrictive in it's approach.

Tools you're going to need:
  • Java - Do this first if you don't have it installed already.
  • Apktool - The main tool for decompiling and recompiling apks.
  • Notepad++ - An essential program for xml editing!
  • Photoshop or Gimp - You'll need one of these for image editing.
  • 7-Zip or WinRar - Required for working with apks.
We also need the ADB files from the SDK Platform and a sign.jar but to simplify this as much as possible I've made a zip for you to download which contains Apktool and everything else you need that you haven't got from the list above.
Download to a location of your choice, preferably the C:\ drive which will give you a folder to work from. To keep the folder updated you can download the updated files from the retrospective thread/sites and simply replace them in the folder.
This thread will cover the following in an easy to follow and straight forward manner that will have you theming your own apks in no time.
  • Getting apks from a ROM
  • Deodexing
  • .apk De-compiling
  • .apk Recompiling
  • .apk Signing
  • .apk Zipaligning
  • Pushing Files to your Phone
  • .9 images
  • Vector Drawable
  • .xmls
  • +More
Quick Tips;
  • .apk files can be browsed like .zip files so set your zip program as the default for handling apks which will makes things much easier.
  • If all you want to do is edit images then you don't need to decompile, you can just drag and drop images in to an apk to replace a stock image so long as they have the same file name.
  • Restoring files if you mess up is easier and quicker with a, especially if you're modifying framework apks! Just because an apk might build with no errors doesn't mean it won't give you any when installed to the Phone.
  • Getting apks from a ROM:
Once your Apktool folder is setup you need to get the apks you want to theme out of a ROM or off of your Phone and there are a couple of ways to do this.
1. The simplest method is to extract your phones whole system from an unofficial update file from xda, whatever format that may be in depends on your device. I extract the whole system with every new update before doing anything because it gives me a backup of stock files which I can also copy and deodex to be themed.

2. Use adb commands to pull files to your computer, to do that we need to open a command prompt window (hold the shift key then right click your mouse in the Apktool folder and select "open command window here").

The command to pull your whole system is...
adb pull /system/ XC_206 can choose something other than XC_206 as your folder name but it will create that folder in your Apktool folder. Alternatively, you can just download individual folders and the commands to do that are…
adb pull /system/app/ XC_206 app
adb pull /system/priv-app/ XC_206 priv-app
adb pull /system/framework/ XC_206 framework
...or to pull individual files...
adb pull /system/framework/framework-res.apk
3. Use a root explorer on your phone to copy files to your SD and then to your PC.
Depending on your method you should now have a ApkTool_2.2.4 folder with another folder named 206_system for example in it. The only folders we need at this point are app, priv-app and framework which we need for the next step.

  • Deodexing:
“Deodexing is basically repackaging of these APKs in a certain way, such that they are reassembled into classes.dex files. By doing that, all pieces of an application package are put together back in one place, thus eliminating the worry of a modified APK conflicting with some separate odexed parts.”What Is Odex And Deodex In Android
The tool I use is this - [Tool/Utility] JoelDroid Lollipop Batch Deodexer. To save a lot of time I only deodex the apps I'm going to use because it removes the process of having to mess about with smali and baksmali, plus YOU DON'T NEED TO DEODEX YOUR WHOLE FW!, depending on the apk and/or the mod you want to make you don't even need to deodex.

So now you should have a folder named system full of deodexed apks that are ready for playing with.

  • Decompiling:
Decompiling is the process of deconstructing an apk which gives us workable source code so to speak and we need to do this to be able to edit xmls in Notepad++ or .9 images in an image editor. As said above if you don't want or need to decompile because you just want to change an image here or there you can just drag and drop your res folder out of the apk, find the image I wanted to replace or modify, drag and drop it back in to the apk and push it back to your phone.

Before proceeding you need to install your framework-res.apk and depending on your FW possibly another apk if there is one in the framework folder, which will put one (or two) apks at C:\Users\your-pc-name\AppData\Local\apktool\framework The two commands to install your apks are...
apktool if framework-res.apk
apktool if SemcGenericUxpRes.apk
The command for decompiling always begins the same, apktool d then simply change it for the name of the next apk you want to modify. To decompile the framework-res.apk the command is...
apktool d framework-res.apk
...this will create a folder named framework-res and it’s at this stage that you can now begin to modify .9 images and xmls to create the desired look or mod you’re after. In this folder you'll find a couple of folders but the one we want is the res folder. First glance of a decompiled res folder can be overwhelming, 1541 folders in my framework but we only need to focus on a handful and it's generally the same in every apk...
  • drawable
  • drawable-xhdpi-v4 (depending on your device)
  • layout
  • values may need to delve into others sometimes but it's very rare that I've had to.
Quick Tip;
  • Once you've entered a few commands so long as you leave the cmd window open you can quickly scroll back through them using your arrow keys.
  • Recompiling:
Once you've finished making your mods you need to recompile your apk using the following command...
apktool b framework-res
...notice you only use the folder name here. If you get any errors here due to a bad edit apktool will usually tell you, in a roundabout way, you just need to read the code it throws up then retrace your steps, correct any bad edit and try again. If all goes smoothly you'll now have a new folder called dist, which contains your newly modified apk, but you can't use that just yet.

  • Signing:
To sign stock system .apks we need to extract from the original apk the Android.Manifest.xml and META-INF folder, into the dist folder, then from the new apk extract the resources.arsc also into the dist folder, then drag and drop all three files back into the new apk, but NOTE, it's important that you choose store as the compression method, any other will break the apk, and if you replace a broken framework-res.apk you will BOOTLOOP!. And signing is as simple as that.

For 3rd party apps you can use the following command...
java -jar signapk.jar testkey.x509.pem testkey.pk8 Chrome.apk ChromeS.apk
...notice the extra "S", the output name has to differ from the input name otherwise it will give an error, if done right it will create a new apk called ChromeS.apk, just remember to rename it back to the original before using it on your Phone.
[TOOL] pySignare - Quickly Sign APKs [Windows]
Signing For The Play Store

If you plan on Publishing a Theme or any other app/apk to the Play Store then using the above method to sign your apks just wont work because you need to give it an individual signature that is unique to you, thankfully @AndroidGraphix has written a great guide that will show you how, it's a bit more fidgety than the above method but simple enough to follow...
Originally Posted by AndroidGraphix

What you'll need to sign an APK.

- Noobs guide to signing an APK with a Private Key
  • Zipaligning:
DISADVANTAGES OF UNALIGNED APKs; Quite understandably, situation would be reserved for unaligned application packages. Resource reading would be slow and memory usage would be on the higher end of the spectrum. It would also depend on how many unaligned applications are present. For example, if less number of applications with an unaligned home application, you’d see slower application launch times. This is the best case scenario. For a worst case scenario, having a number of unaligned applications will result in the system repeatedly starting and killing processes, struggling with lags and huge battery drain. - SOURCE
Move your new signed apk into your APKTool folder, you can overwrite your original if you want, and use the following command...
zipalign -f -v 4 framework-res.apk ZAframework-res.apk
...notice the ZA, zipaligning creates a new apk which has to be named different from the original, but use what you want, it'll need renaming back to the original again before you use it.

  • Pushing Files to your Phone:
So now we need to transfer your apk back to your Phone, you can do it by copying to your SD, then to your system, change permissions, then copy to the right folder, but that's not only time consuming but highly tedious too, so a simpler method is to use adb using the push command as this allows us to push to the SD Card then install it to the system overwriting the original with the correct permissions too. If you do this with the framework-res or SystemUI apks you will need to reboot but generally all other apps will just refresh with the changes applied. The command to push to the SD Card is...
adb push SystemUI.apk /sdcard/SystemUI.apk
...then we need to mount the system before we can install our modified apk and the commands for that are...
adb shell
The prefix will then change to the $ sign
mount -o rw,remount /system
...then to install your apk...
dd if=/sdcard/SystemUI.apk of=/system/priv-app/SystemUI/SystemUI.apk
If any of that fails you could try an unsecure kernel and/or Chainfires adbd Insecure app. Try the app first but if you still can't mount and push files read this thread - [HOW TO]Make your favorite kernel adbd insecure to run ADB as root on /system and try again.

  • .9 pngs:
I hope after reading this explanation you're not still left wondering what all the fuss is about as it really is quite simple. I'll use the following two images, btn_default_pressed_holo.9 & status_bar_close_off.9 to illustrate the basic point of the borders...

Decompiled .9pngs:
Recompiled .9pngs:
Those borders control which part of the image is stretched (Left & Top) and where on the image content will be displayed (Right & Bottom). We'll use Draw 9-patch which is for editing the borders of decompiled .9pngs and lets you see how the image, when stretched, will be displayed on the Phone. Notice that the borders are different sizes, well that's because I only want/need a certain part of the image to stretch to get the desired look on the Phone. the image below the left side shows the stretched image and desired effect should look on the Phone and the right side shows how it would look if I had edited the borders incorrectly or used none at all...
You can get away by not using a border but you would need to edit your image to specific dimensions to accommodate for the stretching, for example it might look fine for a simple OK button but it might not look right if you used the same .9png for a screen press which stretches the whole length of the screen, so you're better off just using them to begin with, plus you'll more than likely get errors down the line while decompiling or recompiling your apk.

The use of the border is made even more clear when you add text to an image. For my status_bar_close_off.9 I've filled all four sides of the image (except for an empty pixel in all four corners as that is the max amount of border you can use) as I need it to stretch the image just how I've edited it...
...but if I used the same sized left side border as the btn_default_pressed_holo.9 then this is how it would look on the Phone...
...which is obviously not the look I'm trying to achieve, as the left side border is causing the image to stretch incorrectly.

So that's basically it, depending on the image you're editing you can usually leave the borders alone but if you create one from scratch then you might need to play about with them if your images doesn't look quite right when used on the Phone. Here's a few links that will assist you further, especially the batch editing...

  • Vector Drawable:
A VectorDrawable is a vector graphic defined in an XML file as a set of points, lines, and curves along with its associated color information. The major advantage of using a vector drawable is image scalability. It can be scaled without loss of display quality, which means the same file is resized for different screen densities without loss of image quality. This results in smaller APK files and less developer maintenance. You can also use vector images for animation by using multiple XML files instead of multiple images for each display resolution.

Vector drawables obviously serve a purpose but are a pita imo for themers as they are a lot more difficult to edit and achieve the look you want.

Using my power menu to illustrate the issue, Power off, Restart and Take screenshot icons are vector drawables but the Record screen icon is a png... you can see the Record screen icon is significantly bigger and ruins the look of my power menu, to over come this I have two options.

1. Learn how to edit vector drawables and create a new icon.
2. Replace the vector drawables and use pngs.

The latter to me is preferable because I already have images that I've been using for the last few years and want to continue using, to do so I need to replace the code in the relevant xmls to point at images...


Vector drawable code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<vector android:tint="?colorControlNormal" android:height="24.0dip" android:width="24.0dip" android:viewportWidth="24.0" android:viewportHeight="24.0"
    <path android:fillColor="#ff000000" android:pathData="M13.0,3.0l-2.0,0.0l0.0,10.0l2.0,0.0L13.0,3.0zm4.83,2.17l-1.42,1.42C17.99,7.86 19.0,9.81 19.0,12.0c0.0,3.87 -3.13,7.0 -7.0,7.0s-7.0,-3.13 -7.0,-7.0c0.0,-2.19 1.01,-4.14 2.58,-5.42L6.17,5.17C4.23,6.82 3.0,9.26 3.0,12.0c0.0,4.97 4.03,9.0 9.0,9.0s9.0,-4.03 9.0,-9.0c0.0,-2.74 -1.23,-5.18 -3.17,-6.83z" />
My edited code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<bitmap android:src="@drawable/ic_lock_power_off_alpha"
  xmlns:android="" />

Vector drawable code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<vector android:tint="?colorControlNormal" android:height="24.0dip" android:width="24.0dip" android:viewportWidth="24.0" android:viewportHeight="24.0"
    <path android:fillColor="#ff000000" android:pathData="M12.0,4.0L12.0,1.0L8.0,5.0l4.0,4.0L12.0,6.0c3.9,0.0 7.0,3.1 7.0,7.0c0.0,3.9 -3.1,7.0 -7.0,7.0l0.0,2.0c5.0,0.0 9.0,-4.0 9.0,-9.0C21.0,8.0 17.0,4.0 12.0,4.0z" />
    <path android:fillColor="#ff000000" android:pathData="M5.0,12.9C5.0,11.0 5.8,9.2 7.2,7.9L5.8,6.4C4.0,8.1 3.0,10.5 3.0,12.9c0.0,4.0 2.7,7.6 6.5,8.7l0.5,-1.9C7.1,18.8 5.0,16.1 5.0,12.9z" />
My edited code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<bitmap android:src="@drawable/ic_lock_restart"
  xmlns:android="" />

Vector drawable code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<vector android:height="24.0dip" android:width="24.0dip" android:viewportWidth="24.0" android:viewportHeight="24.0"
    <path android:fillColor="#8a000000" android:pathData="M5,5l4,0l0,-2l-4,0l-2,0l0,2l0,4l2,0l0,-4z" />
    <path android:fillColor="#8a000000" android:pathData="M19,3l-4,0l0,2l4,0l0,4l2,0l0,-4l0,-2l-2,0z" />
    <path android:fillColor="#8a000000" android:pathData="M5,15l-2,0l0,4l0,2l2,0l4,0l0,-2l-4,0l0,-4z" />
    <path android:fillColor="#8a000000" android:pathData="M19,19l-4,0l0,2l4,0l2,0l0,-2l0,-4l-2,0l0,4z" />
    <path android:fillColor="#8a000000" android:pathData="M16,13l0,-2l-3,0l0,-3l-2,0l0,3l-3,0l0,2l3,0l0,3l2,0l0,-3l3,0z" />
My edited code...
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<bitmap android:src="@drawable/semc_ic_dialog_screenshot"
  xmlns:android="" />
...and the result as you can see here provides a much more unified look...
...and finally my desired end result...
  • .xmls:
Modifying .xmls is easy and pretty simply to understand, a massive clue in finding the ones you need to edit is the file names. You're not going to find a better guide than the one by Ticklefish so I'll just post a snippet here and you can head over and give the main thread a read and and a thanks.

Originally Posted by Ticklefish

XML 101 - XML Modding Made Easy!

If you're modding Android, eventually you're going to have to edit some XML.
Want to center the clock in your statusbar? Rearrange the icons in your navbar? Change the layout of your notification screen? Get rid of a carrier label? Change the colour of some text?
Then you need to edit some XML files.
And you might not have any idea how...
Well, don't worry. The purpose of this thread is to show you just easy XML-editing can be. Once you've read it, you'll be one step closer to being an XML expert!
This guide is meant for noobs, experienced modders and everyone in between. Hopefully everybody can learn something..

Here's what this thread has to offer so far:

- Introduction (This Post)

- How To Delete A Line (Yes, Really)
- Some Useful Codes To Know
- How To Change The Colour Of The Status Bar Clock
- How To Put An Invisible Softkey In The Status Bar
- How To Center The Clock In The Status Bar...Part 1
- How To Center The Clock In The Status Bar...Part 2
- Centering The Clock In Xperia KitKat
- android:layout_gravity, android:gravity AND android:layout_weight
- Do NOT Edit "public.xml"!!
I also encourage others to post guides as well:

- How To Remove "am/pm" From The Clock On Pre-4.2 Roms (by @KronicSkillz)
- How To Swap The Notification And Status Bar Icons (by @Anmol0022)
- How To Hide A Centered Status Bar Clock When A Lollipop Device Is Locked (by @S0bes)

Use Linux or a Mac? See the following threads for more information on using apktool on other Operating Systems...
The following programs are some of the better programs you can use to automate Apktool for you......there are many others but these are a couple of what I've tried, still use or are popular on xda.
Quick Tip; Use VTS to edit certain xmls because it gives you a preview of any hex colour code and has a built in editor too which makes finding and changing colours a breeze.

And that's pretty much it, the only way you're really going to learn is by reading then putting into practice what you've read and picking stuff up along the way. I've posted a few links to different tutorials in the next post that you can use as a reference to theme your own phone, while the versions of Android change the methods and code are pretty consistent but you will have to adapt from time to time, but that's how you learn, refine your skills and become able to pass on your knowledge back to the xda community in the form of guides themes and mods.

Notable credits and thanks to @iBotPeaches, @Brut.all, @jairomeo, @manup456, @armyranger251, @Stericson, @brandenk, @beagz
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25th May 2013, 02:21 PM |#2  
  • ClockworkMod Recovery:
ClockworkMod Recovery zips are used for flashing individual files to whole ROMS and can be a life saver if you push a badly edited apk to your Phone that results in a bootloop. There's also a few programs that can assist you with that too, but if all you're doing is replacing a few files all you really need is a template, then it's just a matter of creating the Phones folder setup in the zip which is simply creating folders: system\app - system\media\audio etc then dragging and dropping your files into it. A basic understanding of the updater script is essential, a will more than likely wipe your Phone whereas a may just replace files but it might delete some also.
In the is my which is set up so you can add your own files to the framework and apps folders in the main system location, but you can easily add other folders to it if you want to add things like fonts, tones or anything else, just remember to add folders within folders if that's where the files you want to include are such as tones, media\audio\alarms for example. When adding files to your zip add them using Normal as the Compression Method and remember to remove any example files I've added otherwise they will be flashed to your phone too.

  • Links:
The following liks are what I've bookmarked over the years and posted them here for you to use as a reference, some of these may not apply for your device directly but that doesn't mean you can't learn from or adapt them to.
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25th May 2013, 02:22 PM |#3  
  • Substratum:

What is Substratum?

  • Substratum is an application, downloadable from the Play Store, that utilizes all of Sony's Overlay Manager Service (OMS), found on the official AOSP code review. This is similar to Layers in terms of stability and customization as it runs off an upgraded version of the Resource Runtime Overlay system, with the added benefit of running up-to-date Sony code on a customized ROM.

What is Interfacer?
  • Theme Interfacer is, simply, a helper app, that gets prebuilt by Substratum supported ROMs, allowing Substratum to alleviate OMS tasks in the background without refreshing any assets. In technical terms, Interfacer is a service that loads OMS commands into the system directly, and while OMS itself refreshes resources and assets on runtime, it will refresh the caller's window, asking it to refresh resources and assets each time an overlay is loaded/unloaded from the system.

- Substratum
  • Xposed:


No need to modify any APKs. This means:

  • No need to decompile, change things in smali, compile, sign, ...
  • It will work for odexed and deodexed ROMs.
  • Your mod is not bound to a specific version of the ROM. Unless there is a major change in the methods called for a certain functionality, your mod will continue to work even when you upgrade your ROM. Many modules work for a wide range of ROMs from different vendors.
  • Multiple mods can be installed at the same time, even if they modify the same app. So you can use these battery icons and those quick toggles. Even hooking the same method twice is possible. Of course, this only works properly if the mods are not trying to do incompatible things.

- Xposed
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25th May 2013, 04:31 PM |#4  
jacknb1ack's Avatar
Flag Yogyakarta
Thanks Meter: 72
hello XperienceD,

first i want to say thank you, finally i can make some modifiaction of my rom, i am managed to get 3-wa-power on my stock rom, show full option in developer setting, change color and icon, etc (still far from my target though).

for now im trying to make my phone running holo dark themes (default is light), at first it looks fine, background change from light to dark, text black to white.

but now i found some color problem, can you help me locate color setting for this :

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and for setting color, i want to change text color to holo_blue

for now, i am doing bruteforce, line per line, hope can fix this tonight, but if anyone know the where should i change the color setting, i am more than happy to accept it

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26th May 2013, 08:46 AM |#5  
Originally Posted by jacknb1ack

but now i found some color problem, can you help me locate color setting for this :

Check the links above "where to find colors" and "changing system text".
26th May 2013, 03:01 PM |#6  
jacknb1ack's Avatar
Flag Yogyakarta
Thanks Meter: 72
great, i think i've clicked all the link in ur post ... but looks like i've missde some link xD ...

thanks again.
18th June 2013, 11:08 PM |#7  
Originally Posted by jacknb1ack

great, i think i've clicked all the link in ur post ... but looks like i've missde some link xD

Did you find it in the end?
19th June 2013, 05:50 AM |#8  
Junior Member
Flag North Sulawesi
Thanks Meter: 1
Thumbs up
nice tutorial
20th June 2013, 11:27 AM |#9  
jacknb1ack's Avatar
Flag Yogyakarta
Thanks Meter: 72
Originally Posted by XperienceD

Did you find it in the end?

yes .. thanks to you and all developers and themer here, i can finish my own customizing rom xD

and lately i've found that its need to resign all system apps to do better in what i want, and here is my last work xD
20th June 2013, 05:17 PM |#10  
Originally Posted by jacknb1ack

yes .. thanks to you and all developers and themer here, i can finish my own customizing rom xD

Nice 1.

Originally Posted by jacknb1ack

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