App Distribution – From Ad-hoc to Enterprise

Description: Whether you want to share your app with a few colleagues, deliver it to employees within an organization, or release it to the world, there's a distribution mechanism designed to fit your needs. Familiarize yourself with each app deployment model, learn how to choose the one that's best for you, and learn about essential testing and distribution tools.


Four main distribution methods:

  • Ad Hoc
  • App Store
  • In-House
  • Custom Apps

Which distribution should we use?

Depends on who is using the app and who is buying the app.


Most often, an individual is both the customer and the user:

  • Ad Hoc: lets you distribute to a limited number of devices that you choose for testing.
  • App Store: lets you distribute apps to the general public.


School/Private businesses, for apps intended to be used privately and internally by a business.

  • In-House NS Custom Apps: As both offer private distribution

Personal use only

When we start developing a new app, we can use our own Personal Team (associated with our own Apple ID).

  • Sign into Xcode with an Apple ID
  • Free to use
  • Deploy a limited number of apps to a few devices
  • Apps expire after a few days

To launch the app into a device, the device has to trust the developer certificate (Settings > General > Profiles and device management).


  • Intended for students, teachers and getting started
  • Apps will be deployed to devices you own
  • Intended for a few apps and a few devices
  • Certain capabilities are not available with free accounts (ex: CloudKit)
  • Apps cannot be distributed on the App Store (or TestFlight)

Ad Hoc

  • Lets you distribute to a limited number of devices that you choose for testing.
  • Requires a Membership in the Apple Developer Program.
  • Requires that you register their device from the developer website.
  • Distribute your app to testers on registered devices.
  • 100 devices, per product family, per year can be registered.

To register a device we need its identifier (UDID): either from the finder's sidebar or retrieving it from Xcode, which means that you as a developer would need physical possession of their device.

Installing Ad Hoc Builds

  • Tether and install with Xcode
  • Tether and install with Apple Configurator
  • OTA Installation


  • Meant for testing apps on registered devices
  • Short term distribution solution
  • Apps expire and will eventually stop working (the provisioning profiles used to sign these apps expire yearly, so eventually the apps will stop working or need to be re-signed.)
  • Device limits reset once per year

App Store

  • Lets us test the app via TestFlight
  • 25 internal testers (no review required)
  • 10,000 testers via email or a public link
  • Builds are active for 90 days
  • Builds for external testers go through beta app review
  • Available to members of the Apple Developer Program only
  • Need to make sure the app is appropriate for the general public

Working with a Third Party Developer

  • Assigning user permissions
    • 3rd party (developer)
      • Developer Permission (to Upload builds)
      • Marketing Permission (to Provide metada, such as screenshots and app description)
    • Company that owns the app
      • Admin (for TestFlight Distribution, Pricing, App Submission, Go-Live on the App Store)


  • Apps are submitted under client accounts
  • Customer is legally responsible for the apps published under their brand
  • Limit access to powerful roles


While the Apple Developer Enterprise Program still exists, it's no longer the standard mechanism for distributing private internal apps.

  • Proprietary apps built by internal developers for their employees
  • Organization owns and maintains the source code
  • Distribution is outside of the store
  • Organization distributes the app, usually via MDM (not publicly posted)


  • Users must be employees
  • Distribution certificates should be protected (if one is revoked, all apps will stop working immediately)
  • Certificate lifecycle needs to be managed
  • DIY Beta Testing and Hosting
  • Apps require periodic access to the internet

Custom Apps

The new way forward.

Two ways to use Custom Apps Distribution:

  • The developer sells the app directly to the company by using the developer own account (B2B model)
  • The developer gives the source code to the company and the company has its own App Store account where it will distribute the app (Business to self)


  • Part of the Apple Developer Program
  • Privately offer customized apps to customers you identify or to yourself
  • Apps for partners, clients, franchisees, internal employees, and affiliates
  • Distribute licenses via MDM or Redemption codes

Benefits vs enterprise accounts:

  • One program to manage all of your apps (internal and external)
  • Apps don’t expire
  • Apps are managed individually
  • Apps can be distributed to much larger audiences
  • Easier to work with third-party software vendors
  • Additional App Store features
  • TestFlight and App Store Connect tools

How-to from the developer POV

  • Setup app store account
  • Create new app
  • Create new app record (in App Store Connect)
  • The same bundle identifier cannot be available in both the public App Store and privately as a custom app. They're totally separate apps with separate bundle
  • Upload build
  • List the app for sale as a Custom App

When submitting private apps for review, it is required to provide the targeted organization DEP ID and Organization Name. The DEP ID is a unique identifier given to the organization when they enroll in Apple Business Manager.

How-to from the Organization POV

  • Enroll in Apple Business Manager
  • Developer submits a new app/build with the org DEP ID and Organization Name
  • Organization see the app listed in their Custom Apps section in Apple Business Manager and can purchase/distribute the app.

With this Apple Business Manager program, organizations can buy App Store apps, custom apps and books in bulk, and deploy to their devices and users.

They can also do app license management.

Note that this needs to be set up in advance of you listing the app for sale as a custom app because you need that DEP ID and organization name to distribute the app to them.

Custom Apps will also be available for Apple School Manager this fall.


For the developer:

  • Make sure that Program and Paid Apps agreements are signed
  • Make sure all Banking and tax information are in place

For the organization/Customer:

  • Make sure Custom Apps are enabled (under Settings > - Enrollment Info in Apple Business Manager)
  • Wait a few minutes (the custom app availability is not instantaneous)
  • Consult App Store Connect Help


  • Customer is required to have Apple Business Manager
  • Apps have to support the countries they will be distributed in
  • Redemption codes will not be made publicly available
  • Reviewers need to access the full functionality of the app
  • Once submitted, apps can not be moved between public and private availability

Missing anything? Corrections? Contributions are welcome 😃


Written by

Federico Zanetello

Federico Zanetello

iOS Engineer with strong passion for Swift, minimalism, and design. When he’s not busy automating things, he can be found writing at FIVE STARS and/or playing with the latest shiny toys.