One of the best things about Android is how customizable and flexible it is. Android lets you use it the way you want to, whether that means changing the launcher, or setting up a host of unique automatic functions with Tasker. But for some, that isn’t enough. You can gain near full control of the OS if you root Android.
This isn’t as common as it once was, but there are still benefits to rooting Android. If you like the sounds of that, but find yourself feeling a little anxious about “hacking” your much-loved (and probably expensive) device, then read on to learn everything you need to know about rooting Android. It’s actually easier than you might think.
Editor’s note: Rooting Android devices requires a high level of tinkering and modifying your phone’s software. This can be risky, and there is a chance you’ll damage your handset. This is bad news considering rooting Android may void your warranty. Always do your research and be sure you’re confident about the steps you’re taking, as no one but you will be responsible should anything happen to your device.
What is rooting?
While it might sound scary, rooting simply refers to the act of obtaining access to commands, system files, and folder locations that are usually locked off. Rooting Android can be thought of as promoting yourself from a system user to an administrator, with the additional freedom and risks that come from more control over the deeper workings of your device. With great power comes great responsibility and all that!
More specifically, adding root to Android means becoming a superuser, which is a Linux function you may be familiar with. In many ways, then, you could view this more as restoring a function that should have been there, to begin with!
Users can install and run applications on rooted Android phones and tablets that require special privileges, bypass carrier installed software, and even remove bloatware applications (as opposed to simply disabling them). Root access is even needed if you want to install trivial things like certain custom fonts, and rooting Android can also unlock new features in certain apps and launchers.
Rooting is no longer always essential for flashing a custom ROM. However, it is advisable to root Android in some cases to make use of the most interesting features.
Handy rooting terminology:
- Bootloader: Lowest level software on your phone that starts up recoveries and then the main operating system.
- Recovery: Low-level software that can create and restore full system backups. Accessed before the main OS.
- ADB (Android Debug Bridge): A command-line tool that is part of the Android SDK, which supports communication between a computer and an Android device.
To root or not to root?
The next question is whether you should root Android or leave it as it is. That, of course, is a matter of personal preference, but there are some compelling arguments both for and against.
On the plus side, it gives you more access to several cool apps and customization options. It also lets you upgrade older phones to newer versions of Android, long after your manufacturer and carrier have stopped supporting it. As mentioned, rooting Android will let you change things that you otherwise couldn’t, and it will also let you use a host of cool apps.
Android root apps and options
Here are just a few things you can do with a rooted Android device:
- Overclock or underclock the CPU.
- Increase battery life.
- Greatly enhance the power of Tasker.
- Remove preinstalled bloatware apps.
- Make real backups.
For some people, rooting Android is also something of a statement. You paid for this device, so why shouldn’t you use it exactly as you wish? Especially if it means removing cynical and unhelpful bloatware. There’s also a certain status that comes from it, and a great sense of accomplishment when you achieve root access for the first time.
And obviously, if you’re a developer hoping to create your own root apps, you need to start somewhere!
Will you damage your device?
That said, there are also some potential downsides to rooting.
For one, even once you know how to root Android, there are some risks involved. Get this wrong, and there is a slight chance of bricking your device (it’s happened to me). It’s definitely easier and safer on some devices than others, but if you’re not overly confident with your tech wizardry, then you may prefer to leave well enough alone.
Furthermore, rooting can cause some issues with official OTA handset updates – but it is usually fine to install new software manually once you’re rooted. Updating will often 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. If your device stops booting after an attempted root exploit, you can usually restore it to factory specifications rather easily.
Warranties and legalities – is rooting legal?
This leads us nicely onto warranties, which is another grey area in the world of rooting. While carriers don’t 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. Devices with locked bootloaders, the very low-level software that starts up your phone, are designed specifically to prevent rooting, so don’t expect any sympathy from these companies.
In the US, rooting is perfectly legal.
Manufacturers and sellers can often identify root, even after you unroot, thanks to clues like Knox on Samsung. Note that there are ways to hide evidence of having rooted your device, but these won’t always work. There’s a kind of arms race going on between hackers and manufacturers, and your chances of unrooting and covering your tracks will often come down to who is winning at the time! This is why a lot of people only root older phones that are already out of warranty.
Read Next: How to unroot your Android device
This might also lead you to wonder whether rooting your device is even 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 copyrights. Rooting has been legal in the USA since 2013.
It’s also worth noting that some apps and features will stop working once you root. For example, banking apps will often stop working due to the perceived security risk. Even Snapchat and Pokemon Go take issue with root! That said, there are also often countermeasures to these limitations – though your mileage may vary. As you can probably tell by now, rooting typically means creating more work for yourself, but it’s really fun work!
Rooting your phone can open up your device to more dangerous pieces of malware.
The final major point to be aware of is security. With a greater level of control comes a greater level of risk, and rooting your phone can open up your device to more dangerous pieces of malware. This is where governor applications come in, which monitor and control which processes are given root permissions. You may be familiar with SuperSU or other similar 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.
Of course, if you aren’t automatically receiving the usual updates, it also falls on you to ensure you are getting all the latest security patches. In theory, with the right root apps, you could actually improve your privacy. But it’s on you. It should also be noted that SuperSU developer Chainfire hung up his root apps, so most rooters have now switched over to Magisk.
So, should you root Android?
With all that in mind then, should you root your Android device?
Ultimately, that comes down to what you intend to use your device for. Do you even need to root Android? If you have a specific use-case scenario in mind, and you understand the risks and limitations, then there’s nothing to stop you from learning how to root Android and giving yourself that extra freedom.
On the other hand, the argument for rooting isn’t quite as compelling as it once was. These days, one can do many things that were once limited to root users (adding a custom ROM, recording your screen, and so on). Not to mention that even budget phones are fast these days, so overclocking is no longer an important reason to root Android.
These days, one can do a lot of things that were once limited to root users.
Seeing as root might also mean you lose functionality, it’s no longer a straight win across the board. It’s fun, powerful, and useful, but it’s not quite as useful as it once was.
For me, the obvious answer is to only root on older devices. Keep your daily driver clean while it’s still getting new updates and patches, but root secondary gadgets that you want to tinker with. That way, you get to have your cake and eat it too.
How to root Android devices
Should you decide to go ahead, then you’ll probably be wondering how to root Android. Let’s lead you in the right direction!
The bad news is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when you root Android phones and tablets. Different brands and even software versions can make the rooting process vary. Even within handset variants, you may find that some techniques work and others don’t.
The good news is that in many cases, rooting is much easier than it once was. In fact, the easiest method is usually to use a simple root app. These apps let you root Android with a single tap, with some popular examples being KingRoot, KingoRoot, and OneClickRoot. Simply download your app of choice. The application will first check compatibility, then go ahead and root your device for you.
This is a minimum-fuss method that will work in a large number of cases. However, it’s worth noting that some come with annoying push notifications and ads. I’d advise checking reviews before settling on which one to use. Some would even say that if you can’t figure out how to root your device without one of these apps that perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all (because if you encounter problems during the process, you won’t know what to do).
The good news is that in many cases, rooting is much easier than it once was.
If a one-click solution doesn’t appeal to you, though, things get a little more complex, and you’ll need to look for specific instructions for your device. This might mean using PC software and connecting your phone via USB. It might also mean using a custom recovery, or downloading additional software like Odin for Samsung devices. The best part about these options is that you learn a lot along the way.
I recommend either Googling “root [YOUR DEVICE NAME HERE]” or heading over to XDA Developers, which is a great place to start. Many of the best root apps available today were developed by members of this community. Just be sure to use the search function first before asking noob questions! And don’t forget to thank and support the devs that make rooting possible.
Before rooting your device, it’s always a good idea to backup first. Then settle in, read a lot, triple-check the instructions, and dive in. Crossing your fingers and holding your breath would be a good idea, too, because you just took the red pill! The world of Android rooting is exciting, empowering, frustrating, and engaging – you’ll learn tons about how Android works, what your phone can do, and how awesome Android can be when you get in the driver’s seat.