Pwn Your Phone

I've owned two different Android phones since they first were released, and I eventually rooted both of them. My Droid (original) was such a popular phone that rooting it was very simple. I used my rooted Droid until it wore out and rebooted every time I slid open the keyboard. My second Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy S2, is the phone I have right now. It actually was quite a bit more challenging to root, but in the end, I couldn't resist the lure of total control. Sadly, no amount of rooting can supply a hardware keyboard for my S2, but at least I can run whatever ROM I want on it now. Before I go into how to root an Android device, it's important to discuss why you might want to do so, or why you might not.

One of the most common questions I get via e-mail or Twitter is how to root an Android phone. As you can see by the size of the following article, that's not a question easily answered in 140 characters. So, in this article, I talk about rooting an Android device and then describe the process for installing a custom ROM. It's complex, sometimes frustrating, and it can be dangerous if you don't do your homework in advance. If that doesn't scare you off, read on.

What Is Rooting?

Rooting your phone simply means gaining access to the underlying Linux (Android) operating system with root privileges. It's basically the same thing as having sudo access to a Linux desktop. By default, your phone will give you only user-level privileges, which means you can't run programs requiring superuser access to the underlying system.

There is some confusion regarding what rooting actually gives you. If you root your phone, you'll still be running the same firmware. Your phone won't look any different, apart from a new app called "superuser", which will allow you to give certain applications elevated privileges. From a functionality standpoint, rooting your phone gives you the ability to run applications that wouldn't otherwise work, but it won't completely transform your phone like a custom ROM would do (more on that in a bit).

Rooting Your Phone, the Pros:

  • Some useful apps, like backup apps, will work only with root access.
  • Some apps, like Tasker, work with unrooted phones, but they do much more if your phone is rooted.
  • Rooting is the first step toward installing new ROMs.
  • Overclocking and underclocking are possible only with root access.
  • Having a rooted phone implies some geek street cred.

Rooting Your Phone, the Cons:

  • Rooting most likely will void your warranty.
  • Some apps (Amazon video streaming, for example) will not work on a rooted phone.
  • Rooting is the first step toward potentially bricking your device.
  • Using some root-requiring apps (Wi-Fi tethering, for example) may cause fees from your wireless carrier.

I Want Root!!!

Unlike Apple's iPhone, the Android world is full of multiple vendors, multiple devices and multiple procedures for rooting. Heck, even my Samsung Galaxy S2 comes in different models for different carriers, all with slightly different ways to do things. There just isn't a single "way" to root an Android device. To add more frustration to the mix, the methods and even the feasibility of rooting often depend not only on the hardware, but also on the specific version of the Android OS installed on the hardware. For example, I upgraded my Galaxy S2 to the official AT&T version of Ice Cream Sandwich. For quite a while after that official upgrade was released, rooting wasn't possible for folks who upgraded using official channels. This means that before attempting to root your phone, it's important to research your exact model phone and the exact version of Android you're currently running.

Luckily for Android users, there is a large and active community of users for almost every device available. A quick trip to http://androidforums.com usually will turn up a thread dedicated to rooting a particular phone or tablet. Be careful with generic Google searches, because it seems there are unending blog posts and forum entries claiming to have the newest and best rooting methods. Unfortunately, those well-meaning blog posts aren't always updated when a less-dangerous or more-reliable method is developed. Sticking to sites like http://androidforums.com or http://forum.xda-developers.com is a good way to keep up on the latest developments with regard to the world of hacking and rooting.

But My Phone Looks the Same!

The superuser app is all well and good, but apart from opening up the possibility for root-requiring apps, rooting a phone doesn't change the way it looks. For that, you need a new ROM. Unfortunately, installing a custom ROM is a complex endeavor for some devices, and not all devices even support custom ROMs. What is a ROM, you ask? Basically, in the Android world, the terms "ROM" and "firmware" often are interchangeable. The actual Linux operating system with all its applications and sometimes kernel usually are packaged together in a downloadable ROM file for a particular phone or tablet. One of my favorite custom ROMs is the open-source CyanogenMod (Figure 1). Because hardware is so different across devices, it's important to get a ROM file specifically created for your exact model. This is one instance where buying a particularly popular phone is a boon, because those devices usually are supported first.

Figure 1. Even the boot screen of CyanogenMod is cool.

Major Warning:

Rooting your phone will void your warranty and possibly cause other unforeseen problems. Once you go down the path of custom ROMs, like I discuss here, the likelihood of a bricked phone increases. A truly ruined phone or tablet is pretty uncommon anymore, but it's easy to get your device into a completely unusable state that takes hours and hours to try to undo. I'm a pretty tech-savvy guy, but getting CyanogenMod on my Galaxy S2 took several hours, and there were several times when I did something wrong and my phone was temporarily "bricked". Before you try to flash a custom ROM, make sure you understand the process!

______________________

Shawn Powers is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal. You might find him chatting on the IRC channel, or Twitter

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Pick up an affordable cell phone for you

Anonymous's picture

Android cell phones are hot items right now, and everyone from business executives to toddlers want one. Because no one objects to saving a bit of money, there are surprisingly good cell phone available for under $200.

Thanks for your posts,i just

Mark John's picture

Thanks for your posts,i just find the site and i have ta say that is very interesting,great structure and content guys.
accident management
road accident claim

What does the EPA's

Tony lincle's picture

What does the EPA's heavy-duty diagnostics (HD OBD) ruling actually cover? How did this ruling come about? What impact will it have on fleet operations? The following answers and questions can help truck fleet managers as they prepare to phase in new medium-duty trucks this year. http://www.dieselscan.com/scania-multi-2011-parts-and-service-informatio...

Use ROM Mangler?! Really??

epidenimus's picture

I appreciate your efforts to educate folks about what rooting is and how it may be done. I have rooted, recoveried, and ROM'd several devices and always look for an article to explain the basics to my friends before hooking them up.

However, I take issue with a few parts of what you are putting forth with this article.

1. Recovery is an alternative boot option that allows the user/admin to modify unmounted partitions of the device and Android while they are not in use. It is much more analogous to a live USB/disc, or even "safe mode" than it is to BIOS.

2. ROM Manager is one of the quickest ways to brick your phone in many cases. In spite of its undeserved ranking in Play and its claim of universal compatibility ("for any Android device"), it is a very poor and unsupported piece of s*** software. It has poor device detection and will often install incompatible recoveries and ROMs on your device. It may work well for some devices, but it is an automated bricking tool on more than a few devices. The developer is highly ignorant of the extensive feedback from users, hackers, and developers and refuses to either provide a compatibility list or restrict purchases on incompatible devices. Most of us are recommending that folks avoid this crapfest altogether. I am quite surprised that you both recommend it and integrate it into your guide. If you are going to do that, please support the portion of your reader base that will have their devices hosed while using it so that contributors at Android Central, Android Forums and XDA don't have to deal with a rash of panicked first posters.

3. No mention of goo.im, TWRP, or Open Recovery Script?? This is a much more open environment that works with the developers and the community to provide indexed ROM, recovery and Gapps repositories and software to use them. It has much better hardware detection and automated tools. It is completely free to install and use.

ROM Mangler?! Really??

epidenimus's picture

I appreciate your efforts to educate folks about what rooting is and how it may be done. I have rooted, recoveried, and ROM'd several devices and always look for an article to explain the basics to my friends before hooking them up.

However, I take issue with a few parts of what you are putting forth with this article.

1. Recovery is an alternative boot option that allows the user/admin to modify unmounted partitions of the device and Android while they are not in use. It is much more analogous to a live USB/disc, or even "safe mode" than it is to BIOS.

2. ROM Manager is one of the quickest ways to brick your phone in many cases. In spite of its undeserved ranking in Play and its claim of universal compatibility ("for any Android device"), it is a very poor and unsupported piece of s*** software. It has poor device detection and will often install incompatible recoveries and ROMs on your device. It may work well for some devices, but it is an automated bricking tool on more than a few devices. The developer is highly ignorant of the extensive feedback from users, hackers, and developers and refuses to either provide a compatibility list or restrict purchases on incompatible devices. Most of us are recommending that folks avoid this crapfest altogether. I am quite surprised that you both recommend it and integrate it into your guide. If you are going to do that, please support the portion of your reader base that will have their devices hosed while using it so that contributors at Android Central, Android Forums and XDA don't have to deal with a rash of panicked first posters.

3. No mention of goo.im, TWRP, or Open Recovery Script?? This is a much more open environment that works with the developers and the community to provide indexed ROM, recovery and Gapps repositories and software to use them. It has much better hardware detection and automated tools. It is completely free to install and use.

I can relate to you... and

Dzak's picture

I can relate to you... and thats when i started fall in love with android mobiles. My first android mobile was a cheap one and when i began rooting and flashing Roms there was nothing more that i would want.
So after 2 years and 3 mobiles i can say now why i am still in love. It's just simple i can do whatever i want in my mobile and as i like it. Android gives you the power to be an admin on your own cell phone.
If you are just a simple user and you want a simple mobile dont go there, just buy iphone or windows mobile!
By the way good one article, it give some answers to people that are starters in android...

I want to get a new phone as

Mark james's picture

I want to get a new phone as well. thanks for teaching rooting to us :)
thanks

Sony

Anonymous's picture

If you have an Xperia and Sony will even support you with unlocking the bootloader and flashing custom ROMs through tools and articles on their developer blog

Rooting and unlocking the

Anonymous's picture

Rooting and unlocking the bootloader are not the same thing. Because most carriers encrypt the bootloader you have to root before you can unlock it. On Nexus devices and some other select devices you can unlock the bootloader without rooting which allows you to flash custom roms without rooting. You can even load clockworkmod or any other recovery into memory from your pc without actually having to flash the recovery to the device.

The rooting process itself is

Anonymous's picture

The rooting process itself is incapable of causing bricking, right?

Rooting a phone should not

AC's picture

Rooting a phone should not cause issues with your droid booting up and functioning normally...

With that being said; giving programs root access randomly without paying attention may cause issues. Only give root access to apps that need them, and you are sure that you know what the app does. Running normal programs as root can cause huge issues; memory leeks, CPU usage issues, storage issues, random reboots, ect... If you didn't need root access for a program before rooting it, it should not need it after rooting the droid.

Rooting a phone is different for every device, normally it does not affect normal function, but you must be careful and read all the instructions, and understand what you are doing.

Rooting a device should not

AC's picture

Rooting a device should not cause bricking of the of firmware loading...
With that being said giving root access to programs randomly may make your droid unstable to a point where it will crash, or reboot, this is rare but can happen. If an app starts popping up with superuser, that should not be running as root, don't let it, best to uninstall the app.

If your SG2 is SHG-i777 from

Anonymous's picture

If your SG2 is SHG-i777 from AT&T, ROM Manager is not recommended at least according to those at XDA-Developers (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1824419).

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