A Guide To Understand 'Over The Air' iOS App Release And Distribution

Gokulkrishnan Sivasubramaniam

 Over the Air (OTA) is a method of wirelessly distributing an application and/or its updates to end- users. While the concept of updating an already installed app over the air is typical, releasing a new app for installation, especially for custom apps, is infrequent given its many advantages. This blog aims to be a primer about the little-known concept.

Initiating an OTA Application Release
Installing via an OTA update is a simple one step process of tapping open an OTA link. iOS will present you with the name of application which is bundled with provided link. On approval, application will be automatically installed or it will be updated if it is already installed.


Typical OTA links will start with 'itms-services'
E.g.: itms-services://?action=download-manifest&url=https://www.impigertech.com/iSOL.plist
It'is possible that OTA link is not detected as actual itms-services link when received via Skype or any other communication platform and it will simply redirect you to a 'https' page. In such cases, you may need to copy paste entire URL in a browser window.
Although, what is mentioned above is the straightforward approach, it is advisable to create a QR code for the link.
When you attempt to open an enterprise app (OTA installed) you will be presented with 'Untrusted Enterprise Developer' notification. In such case, you need to follow below steps to Trust the Developer certificate allowing all future apps from the Enterprise developer to be installed. This can be done by tracing the menu as follows: Settings'>General'>Device Management'>Enterprise Apps'>Trust Developer.



Creating OTA release link for iOS
Over the Air install links for iOS can be created with help of a HTTPS server. One must follow below mentioned steps to generate OTA link for any iOS app.

  1. Generate installable or .ipa for the application
  2. Upload installable .ipa file to https server
  3. Get uploaded '.ipa' file's publicly accessible direct url
  4. Ensure the publicly accessible https link must allow anyone to download the file
  5. Create new manifest plist with this'metadata'content (PDF)
  6. Update url parameter value in manifest with url obtained in step-3
  7. Update bundle-identifier, bundle-version, title with app specific details
  8. Upload updated manifest.plist to https server
  9. Get uploaded manifest's publically accessible direct url
  10. Create itms link by prefixing "itms-services://?action=download-manifest&url=" to the manifest url obtained in step 9
  11. Generated itms link can be used to download and install the ipa over the air

It is recommended to share the OTA URL generated in step-10 by creating a QR code or a short link using available resources.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions about over the air iOS app release and we'll answer them. To learn more about custom iOS app development services, please click here.