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Android customization - how to transfer files using ADB push and pull commands

ADB push and ADB pull are solid file transfer techniques for your Android customization experience, even if there are easier ways to get files between your Android device and a PC.
April 16, 2015

The last couple of weeks on our Android customization series has been a brief look into the world of using the Android developer tool called ADB. We started by using it to identify apps and services that might be eating your battery, then we dove into the exciting ability to make screen recordings of your device.

This week, we pick up right where we left off, assuming you’ve got a screen recording on your device that you would like to transfer to your connected PC.

Before we begin

Once again, there are no app requirements needed to follow along today, but you will need to have the Android SDK and ADB up and running on your computer. From there, you’ll need to connect your Android device to your PC using an appropriate USB cable.

Be sure to hit our previous posts on ADB to get details on how to get everything up and running.

ADB screenrecord Moto G on Chromebook

File transfers using ADB

There are many ways to transfer files between your Android device and a PC, many of which do not require wires. In fact, there are so many great ways to transfer files that using ADB may not even be the tool for you. However, when all else fails, or you just took a screen recording and are all connected up anyway, ADB file transfer is here for you.

Using a command line interface is usually reserved for the more adventurist of computer users, but that does not mean it is difficult to use. In fact, once you have a basic understanding, the command line is rather simple. This all remains true for ADB for Android as well. Let’s get started.

Connect your Android device to your PC, get ADB up and running in a command or Terminal window, then enter adb devices and hit enter.

Nexus 9 HP Chromebook USB cable

As a refresher, we recorded a screen recording last week and stored it on our device at the location /sdcard/video.mp4. Let’s transfer that file to our computer.

Pull a file from your Android device

ADB Pull

The format of the pull request is simple, you start with the command adb pull, then add the file you are pulling and the location you want it to go. I’ll dump mine on my desktop for now, which would look like the following on a Windows machine.

adb pull /sdcard/video.mp4 C:\Users\Jonathan\Desktop

You may choose to omit the local save location, to look like adb pull /sdcard/video.mp4, which will save the file in the same location as your adb.exe.

Hit enter, your file should now be transferring to your PC. Now, let’s upload a file.

Push a file to your Android device

ADB Push

I’ll keep the steps pretty simple here, if you were comfortable with the steps to pull, push is a no-brainer.

The format starts with the command adb push, then adds the local location of the file and the location on device you want to save to. To keep it absolutely simple, let’s just put that video file back on the device.

adb push C:\Users\Jonathan\Desktop\video.mp4 /sdcard/

Hit enter, of course, and watch your files fly.

And there you have it, files successfully transferred between your Android device and your PC.

What’s next

Remember that the above examples are just that, examples. Please adjust the commands to suite your file location needs. I admit that it can be cumbersome to have to type out the full file location start and end points for each individual file transfer, but it is a bullet proof tool, if you ever need it.

I’ll keep it really short today, there is so very little that you can do with a file push or pull to your Android device. Be sure to hit the Android Debug Bridge developer page to see a full list of the available commands and tweaks.

Android Wear ADB developer options

Next week

Let’s do just one more ADB piece on the Android customization series before we step away for a bit, next week we will show you how to use ADB to install apps on your device. It is rare that we feed you links to an Android .apk file, and it is easy enough to transfer that file to your device and just open it to install the application, but ADB can do it right from your computer, if you are interested.

What do you say, I know you’ve found easier and better file transfer tools and techniques, but has ADB Push or ADB Pull ever come in handy for you?