Android is a great mobile OS, but rooting your phone can give you the opportunity to do so much more than your phone can do out of the box—whether it’s wireless tethering, speeding it up with overclocking, or customizing the look of your phone with themes. But first lets look at what rooting is…
WHAT IS ROOTING?
So we can say rooting is the process that allows users to dive deeper into a phone’s sub-system. Essentially, it’ll allow the user to access the entire operating system and customize just about anything on your Android. With root access, you can also get around any restrictions that your manufacturer or carrier may have applied. You can run more apps, you can overclock or underclock your processor, and you can replace the firmware at will.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO ROOT YOUR PHONE(ADVANTAGES)
One of the most obvious reasons to root your Android device is to rid yourself of the bloatware that’s impossible to uninstall. You’ll be able to set up wireless tethering, even if it has been disabled out of the box. Additional benefits include the ability to install special apps and flash custom ROMs or Firmwares, each of which can add extra features and streamline your phone or tablet’s performance. A lot of people are tempted by the ability to completely customize the look of their phones. You can also manually accept or deny app permissions.You won’t find a lot of amazing must-have apps when you root, but there are enough to make it worthwhile. For example, some apps allow you to automatically back up all of your apps and their data, completely block advertisements, create secure tunnels to the Internet, use your phone’s processor to its full potential , or make your device a wireless hotspot.
WHY YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO ROOT YOUR PHONE(DISADVANTAGES)
Some manufacturers or carriers will use rooting as an excuse to void your warranty. It’s worth keeping in mind that you can always unroot. If you need to send the device back for repair, simply flash the original backup ROM you made and no one will ever know that it was rooted.
Whenever you tamper too much, you run at least a small risk of bricking your device. The obvious way to avoid it happening is to follow instructions carefully. Make sure that the guide you are following works for your device and that any custom ROM you flash is designed specifically for it. If you do your research and pay attention to feedback from others, bricking should never occur.
Rooting may introduce some security risks. Depending on what services or apps you use on your device, rooting could create a security vulnerability. For example, Google refuses to support the Google Wallet service for rooted devices.
Here are some terms mostly related to rooting
As you learn more about the rooting process, you’ll probably run into a bunch of terms that can be confusing. Here are some of the most important ones and what they mean.
If there are any other terms you think we should add, let me know and I’ll put them in!
Root: Rooting means you have root access to your device—that is, it can run the sudo command, and has enhanced privileges allowing it to run apps like Wireless Tether or SetCPU. You can root either by installing the Superuser application or by flashing a custom ROM that includes root access.
ROM: A ROM is a modified version of Android. It may contain extra features, a different look, speed enhancements, or even a version of Android that hasn’t been released for your phone yet. We won’t discuss ROMs in depth here, but if you want to use one once you’re rooted, you can read more about doing that here.
Stock: “Stock” refers to a few different things, depending on the context. When we refer to “Stock Android,” we mean the Google-built version you’d find on Nexus devices, with no extra UI chances like HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz. Many ROMs are based on stock Android with some additions, like CyanogenMod, while others are based on the version that came with your phone. In other cases, “Stock” can also mean the version of Android that came with your phone—e.g., if you want to get rid of your ROM and return your phone to factory settings, you might say you’re “going back to stock.”
Kernel: A kernel is the component of your operating system that manages communications between your software and hardware. There are a lot of custom kernels out there for most phones, many of which can speed up your phone and increase your battery life, among other things. Be careful with kernels, though, as a bad one can cause serious problems with your phone and possibly even brick it.
Radio: Radios are part of your phone’s firmware. Your radio controls your cellular data, GPS, Wi-Fi, and other things like that. You can sometimes find custom radios for your phone that you can flash yourself, but beware as sometimes these can cause problems.
Flash: Flashing essentially means installing something on your device, whether it be a ROM, a kernel, or a recovery (see below) that comes in the form of a ZIP file. Sometimes the rooting process requires flashing a ZIP file, sometimes it doesn’t.
Brick: To brick your phone is to break it during flashing or other acts. There is always a small risk with flashing, and if your phone becomes unable to function—that is, it basically becomes a brick—you’ve bricked your phone. The risk is very small, however, and more often than not people say “brick” when they really mean “it turns on but doesn’t boot properly,” which is a very fixable problem. See the FAQ below for more information.
Bootloader: Your bootloader is the lowest level of software on your phone, running all the code that’s necessary to start your operating system. Most bootloaders come locked, meaning you can’t flash custom recoveries or ROMs. Unlocking your bootloader doesn’t root your phone directly, but it does allow you to root and/or flash custom ROMs if you so desire.
Recovery: Your recovery is the software on your phone that lets you make backups, flash ROMs, and perform other system-level tasks. The default recovery on your phone can’t do much, but you can flash a custom recovery—like ClockworkMod or TWRP—after you’ve unlocked your bootloader that will give you much more control over your device. This is often an integral part of the rooting process.
Nandroid: From most third-party recovery modules, you can make backups of your phone called nandroid backups. It’s essentially a system image of your phone: Everything exactly how it is right now. That way, if you flash something that breaks your phone, you can just flash back to your most recent nandroid backup to return everything to normal. This is different from using an app like Titanium Backup that just backs up apps and/or settings—nandroid backups backup the entire system as one image. Titanium backups are best when switching between ROMs or phones.
ADB: ADB stands for Android Debug Bridge, and it’s a command line tool for your computer that can communicate with an Android device you’ve connected to it. It’s part of the Android Software Developers Kit (SDK). Many of the root tools you’ll find use ADB, whether you’re typing the commands yourself or not. Unless the instructions call for installing the SDK and running ADB commands, you won’t need to mess with it—you’ll just need to know that it’s what most of the tools use to root your phone.
S-OFF: HTC phones use a feature called Signature Verification in HBOOT, their bootloader. By default, your phone has S-ON, which means it blocks you from flashing radio images—the code that manages your data, Wi-Fi, and GPS connections. Switching your phone to S-OFF lets you flash new radios. Rooting doesn’t require S-OFF, but many rooting tools will give you S-OFF in addition to root access, which is nice.
RUU, SBF, and OPS: ROM Upgrade Utilities (for HTC phones), System Boot Files (for Motorola phones), and OPS and PIT files (for Samsung phones) are files direct from the manufacturer that change the software on your phone. RUU and SBF files are how the manufacturers deliver your over-the-air upgrades, and modders often post leaked RUU and SBF files for flashing when the updates haven’t been released yet. They’re also handy when downgrading your phone, if a rooting method isn’t available for the newest software version yet. You can flash RUUs right from your HTC phone, but Motorola users will need a Windows program called RSD Lite to flash SBF files, and Samsung users will need a tool called Odin to flash OPS and PIT files (note there is a specific version of Odin for each device).
PLACES TO FIND BEST ROOTING METHODS AND TOOLS
Every single phone is different, and rooting methods may vary everytime that phone’s software updates. With so many Android phones out there, it’s become impossible to actually list rooting instructions here. Fortunately now that you know a little about rooting, ready for other instructions out there. So, here are a few places you’ll find guides, ROMs, and other information about rooting your specific phone.
- The XDA Developers forums are the number one place to look for information on your phone. This is where all the best hackers and tweakers gather to discuss phones, share links and guides, create rooting tools, and more. Head to the forums, find your device, and poke around the different subforums for your phone. You should find a number of threads that will direct you to information on how to root your phone, what ROMs and kernels are available, and more. And, when in doubt, ask the other users!
- The Phandroid forums (aka Android Forums) aren’t quite as popular as XDA, but they have always done a pretty good job of organizing information on rooting. This is a good place to start. Head to the forum for your device and look for the “All Things Root” subforum.
- RootzWiki may not be as popular as it once was, but there’s still good information to be had on these forums, especially pertaining to new ROMs, kernels, and other things on the development side.
Try any or all of the above sources and see what you can find. Once you’ve found the forum for your phone, search around for a rooting guide or rooting tool. Make sure it’s applicable to your current software version and try it out. If you have any questions, you can ask in the forums—but be sure to read as much as you can before doing so, since your question has probably already been answered elsewhere.