The Different Types of Shopify Apps: Private Apps, Public Apps and Unlisted Apps

If you’re looking for a solid, smooth tech fix to improve the functionality of your Shopify store, research on apps can leave you in uncharted waters.

Hundreds of developers have created a huge selection of apps that can help you manage merchandise, content, reports, social media, customers and more — all automatically. Even if you know exactly which tasks you want an app to perform for you, how do you know what type of app is right for your store?

If you wander around the Shopify forums looking for reviews and advice, it’s easy to get tangled up in the terminology.

Knowing the definitions and differences between apps like public, private, and unlisted can help you evaluate which kinds of apps are going to integrate best with your store and give you the flexibility and performance you need.

Here’s a reference guide to the kinds of apps you’ll find on the Shopify site and how they function.

Quick note on official apps

Before we dive into definitions, it’s important to know that 100% of the apps listed in Shopify’s App store function using the same official APIs provided by Shopify. That means you don’t need to figure out if someone’s using Ruby, Python or PHP. You can focus on the features instead of the architecture.

As you’ll see later, outside of the App Store things are a bit different. They still use official Shopify APIs, but with a few differences.

App Store app

This app is the kind that most Shopify merchants recognize. These third-party Shopify apps (made by an outside developer, not Shopify) are found in Shopify’s App Store and use standard authentication methods for access.

Costs may vary, as can the frequency of billing (monthly, yearly, etc.).

These apps are also known as public apps.

Can I trust them?

When App Store apps are submitted by a developer, Shopify’s team may give them a cursory evaluation for basic functionality, but they are not 100% guaranteed for safety or security by Shopify.

Who has access to them?

Everyone. They are made to work with multiple stores, and once they’re posted to the Shopify App Store, anyone can use them.

Beta apps

Shopify allows developers to post apps that are still in the testing phase so they can get feedback on different features before they offer them to a wider audience. These are labeled as beta apps.

Can I trust them?

Beta apps are App Store apps that are going through a live testing phase. They may have great benefits, but expect them to have a few kinks that need to be worked out. You can use this to your advantage by giving specific feedback for the developer that could solve a nagging problem for you.

Who has access to them?

Shopify Beta App Message

Beta apps are available to everyone in the regular App Store, but they are marked with a button that says "Testing" to indicate that they’re still being refined.

Store owners can even sign up to hear about new beta apps that have hit the App Store, which is great for people who love seeing the newest app innovations.

Public Apps

See "App Store apps" above.

Unlisted apps

Unlisted apps are App Store apps, but don’t appear in the App Store listings. They are designed to work with all of Shopify’s APIs for several stores (unlike private apps — see below). For example, if you have a main store, but also a development store and a wholesale store, they can all share the same apps instead of having run separate ones for each store.

You won’t see unlisted apps among all of the other apps in the App Store, but they still use the official Shopify APIs. They also have a message bar that says "Unsupported", though that just means you need to contact the developer for support instead.

Can I trust them?

Unlisted apps are just as reliable as App Store apps.

Who has access to them?

You won’t find unlisted apps by browsing in the App Store, but some companies will link to their app’s Shopify page directly from their company website or as part of a larger software suite.

Partner apps

Partner apps are apps created through Shopify’s partner portal . If you want to create an app, you can sign up free of charge to become a Shopify partner. In the partner account area, there is a template for app settings that for your apps.

Note: Every public and unlisted app needs to be created through this partner app portal.

Private apps

Private apps are in a different category from public, beta, and unlisted apps. They are custom projects that are designed for one store, and one store only.

While they use the same APIs as Shopify, they use a different authentication API, which means that there’s another step in the authentication process between the private app and Shopify. That’s also why private apps can only work with one store at a time.

Private apps additionally cannot use the embedded SDK APIs, which means you can’t embed a private app into the Shopify admin area.

A private app can streamline your store’s functionality and automate processes specific to your particular needs and systems, so it’s a great idea for many stores, especially those which have multiple apps supporting your business.

Can I trust them?

Private apps are built to your specifications by a developer you choose, so if you have a quality developer you can have full faith in them.

Who has access to them?

Besides you, only the person that made them or commissioned them. These are one-of-a-kind apps, and they are connected to Shopify via your store’s Private App area in the admin panel.

Public or Private Apps – Does It Matter?

When you’re setting up an app to work with Shopify, does it make a difference whether it is a public app or a private app? The answer is yes.

Aside from the obvious differences of having a customized app (private) or an off-the-shelf app, it’s good to remember that because public apps use a different authentication API (called OAuth), authentication doesn’t happen automatically. This will impact how you setup and handle shop authentication.

Additionally, if you want to embed things into the Shopify admin panel or frontend, you cannot use a private app because they don’t support the embedded SDK.

Knowing about these differences can help you avoid becoming one of the merchants on the forum who is trying to figure out why their app isn’t communicating properly with Shopify.

Another issue is that once you make a commitment to having a private or public app, it can be difficult to switch to the other format because of the different authentication codes needed. And it’s possible that data might need to be converted in order for compatibility to be complete. It can be done, but it’s better to pick the right format in the beginning.

What do I recommend?

Unless you have a strong reason to do otherwise, I recommend working with a Shopify partner or creating a partner account and creating public or unlisted apps. Even if you only want to use it for your one store, having access to the full set of Shopify APIs including the Embedded SDK is worth the extra work.

Whether you’re a merchant trying to find the right app features for your store or a developer wanting to get a Shopify specialist for your contact, please click here to contact me to talk about supporting your business needs.

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