Rooting your Android – Everything you need to know!

by: Rob TriggsOctober 16, 2013

Best Root Apps for Android

If you’ve been around Android for a while, you’ve probably heard “rooting” or “root permission” crop up more than once. If you’re new to the whole topic, or just looking for some handy resources, then this article is for you.

What is rooting?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, rooting simply refers to the act of obtaining access to commands, system files and folder locations that are usually locked off from the user. Rooting could be thought of moving from a user to administrator, with the additional freedom and risks that come from more control over the deeper workings of your device.

Once rooted, users can install and run applications that require special privileges, bypass carrier installed software, and even remove bloatware applications added in by manufacturers and carriers from their device. Root access is even needed you want to install trivial things like custom fonts on some devices. And perhaps most importantly of all, apps can modify system files and users can install custom recoveries and different versions of Android (ROMs).

There are various root methods out there, some of which may or may not apply to your handset. The method available to you will depend on which exploits have been patched by your manufacturer and whether the boot-loader (the first piece of code executed when you turn on your phone) is locked or unlocked. Most are locked. Regardless of the method, the aim is to find a way to run code at a privileged level, which can be used to install a copy of su, a linux privilege escalation program, permanently on the system, so we can give any app root permission at will.

Things every rooter should know

We’ll starting with the big question – is rooting legal?

This is tough to answer as it depends on your own country’s laws. Many countries allow for the bypassing of digital rights management and locks, providing that this is not used for other illegal purposes, such as circumventing copyright. In Europe, the Copyright Directive includes exceptions which work as above, as do India’s copyright laws. The US has a more complicated history, with laws implemented and then exceptions made. Currently, an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows for unlocking and rooting of mobile phone products, but this may expire after 2015. If in doubt, check your own country’s laws on digital rights.

Related: Best Apps for Rooted Android phones.

For what it’s worth, rooting and these laws have not been testing in court and no-one has been prosecuted for rooting their Android phone or tablet.

While we’re looking at the more questionable aspects of rooting, I should include the obligatory statement about the potential risks. The risk of rendering your device unusable by rooting is very low, but it in rare cases something may prevent it from booting properly. Many “one-click” methods will perform a compatibility check before processing, but always read instructions carefully and do your own background checks on the method you intend to you.

Nexus 9 HP Chromebook USB ADB logcat

There are many ways to root an Android device, from simple one-click apps to pushing commands over a USB connection.

Furthermore, rooting can cause some issues with official handset updates, but it is usually fine to update if you really want to. However, updating will cause root permissions to be lost, in which case the procedure will need to be performed again. Occasionally an update will block old root methods and sometimes rooted devices will fail to install updates.

This leads us nicely onto warranties, another grey area in the world of rooting. While carriers don’t much like you tampering with their hardware and software, some manufacturers have become kinder to rooters and even those who install third party software. However, few have a clear stance on what software tweaks will void your warranty and you certainly can’t count on having your rooted handset fixed if something goes wrong. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to remove root and/or set your phone back to stock, should you need to send your phone in for repairs. Modern root methods should not trip Samsung’s Knox security, although installing a custom recovery can, so there’s often no-way of a company knowing if root permissions have been obtained and then removed.

SuperSU options

As well as setting app permissions, SuperSU contains a log and extra features to help monitor root apps.

Finally, more control and access to the system level on your phone exposes it to additional security risks. You don’t want a malicious application burrowing deep down in your system, but this is the trade-off. This is where governor applications come in, which monitor and control which processes are given root permissions. You may be familiar with SuperSU or the now abandoned SuperUser apps. These are very straightforward to use and simply display a pop-up whenever an app or process wants root access, which you can either deny or allow and save your preference if you trust the app.

If you avoid suspicious APKs, apps and stores, there’s little additional security risk posed to a rooted handset.

5 reasons to root

If you’re still with me and all of the above hasn’t put you off, here are some awesome things that the world of rooting opens up to you.

  1. Removing carrier bloatware. Although Google has made it easier to disable and hide pesky apps, the only way to permanently delete this garbage is to root your phone and delete the files by hand. This isn’t without its risks of course, as you might delete something important, but apps like Titanium Backup can help you weed out the squatters.
  2. Root only apps. Believe it or not, there are still a selection of apps that require additional permissions to run properly, usually because their functionality exceeds the basic permissions granted by Android. Examples include, various backup apps, Greenify and Tasker.
  3. A huge range of customization choices. If you’re looking to add a little style or simply want to change your default emoji set, rooting gives you the key. Don’t forget the hugely popular Xposed Framework, which opens up a world of tweaks a new features without the need to install a custom ROM.
  4. Superior recovery options. All smartphones comes with a built in recovery option of some sort, but usually you’ll have to connect up to a PC to make full system backups. Not only does root allow you to use better backup apps, but you can also replace your phone’s default recovery with a third party option like TeamWin Recovery Project (TWRP) or ClockworkMod Recovery (CWM). These sport improved UIs and features over stock recovery and open the door to installing tweaked Android operating systems.
  5. The big wide world of custom ROMs. Rooting already opens up a range of new possibilities, but if you’re looking to break away from OEM Android, fancy a more stock-like experience, or want to see what custom projects like CyanogenMod or Paranoid Android are all about, then rooting is your first step into an even bigger world of custom ROMS.


Android Xposed framework - overview-3

Xposed Framework opens up a huge range of new features and customization options to your Android device, without the need to install a custom ROM.

Unfortunately there isn’t a one size fits all solution for rooting your handset, most devices require slightly different methods and tools than one another, and different brands can vary widely. Even within handset variants you may find that some techniques work and others don’t.

Your best bet for finding working root methods for a particular handset is to consult the relevant XDA Forum, a hub for active developers. Another source worth checking out is Framaroot, which supports a huge range of older and more obscure handsets.

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