If you’ve been around the world of Android long enough, you’re almost certain to have come across the term rooting. It’s one of those nerdy sounding technical terms that can be tough to get into, but even relatively casual smartphone users can get into and might find something about it that can benefit their smartphone or tablet.
Are you looking into truly unlocking your Android device’s full potential? Maybe you are not sure. In this post we explain the pros, cons, and necessary details for you to make your decision and get started on the road to rooting.
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 for the user. Rooting could be thought of as moving from being a system user to becoming an 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 bloat-ware applications added by manufacturers and carriers. Root access is even needed if you want to install trivial things like certain custom fonts, and can unlock new features in certain apps and launchers.
The actual method required to root your phone will vary from model to model, so we can’t possibly cover them all. Unfortunately, these can also be patched out by manufacturers and even upgrading your software can cause root exploits and permissions to be lost. But before we get into some of the finer details, let’s go through a few of the key knowledge points.
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 copyrights. In Europe, the Copyright Directive includes exceptions which work as above, as do India’s copyright laws.
The US is more complicated, as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes rooting illegal unless there’s an exception. At last check, the US Copyright Office granted an exception to smartphones. In practise, no-one has even been brought up on charges for rooting their devices, but it might be best to check your national laws if you are unsure.
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 relatively 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 use.
Rooting key words:
- 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 support communication between a computer and an Android device.
Furthermore, rooting can cause some issues with official handset updates, but it is usually fine to install new software manually if you really want to. 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 you’re device stops booting after an attempted root exploit, you can usually restore it to factory specifications rather easily.
This leads us nicely onto warranties, which is 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. 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 manufacturers.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to remove root and/or set your phone back to its stock state, should you need to send your phone in for repairs. That is, as long as the phone is in working order and you can actually modify it to its stock state. If you’ve rooted your device but decided that the benefits aren’t worth it, you can always unroot your device rather easily. Although this often involves returning your phone to stock software or performing a factory reset, causing a loss of data.
The final major point to be aware of is that of 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.
If you avoid suspicious APKs, apps and stores, there’s little additional security risk posed to a rooted handset.
So should you bother with rooting?
As you can see, there’s quite a lot to consider before taking up your rooting tools. While having greater controls over your device is certainly tempting, these days many users can find that the trade-offs aren’t worth the extra options that are opened up by root access. It certainly isn’t an essential thing to do to get the most out of Android, it really depends on your needs. To help you decide, here is a small list of pros and cons.
5 reasons to root:
- Easy to removing carrier bloatware
- Access to real backups and custom recovery options
- Additional apps, software features, and enhanced customization
- Overclocking and underclocking
- The starting path towards the big wide world of custom ROMs
5 reasons not to:
- Lack of compatibility with official software updates
- Locked out of some apps, particularly banking apps
- Process can be trickier on devices with locked bootloaders
- Most manufacturers won’t cover rooting under warranty
- Extra care needs to be taken regarding device security
How to root Android:
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 and even software versions can vary quite widely. Even within handset variants you may find that some techniques work and others don’t.
We couldn’t possible cover all of the options to tell you how to root your specific model in this article. But to point you in the right direction, here are some links to the most commonly used resources for rooting.
- XDA forums. Have a search for your handset and you’ll quickly find the best available root methods for your phone, along with guides and pages dedicated to custom ROMs.
- CyanogenMod Wiki. Even if you’re not planning on installing CyanogenMod, one of the most popular custom ROMs, you’ll often be able to find rooting advice and guides on popular device pages.
As always, read the instructions very carefully, check compatibility with your model, and take the necessary steps to back up all of your data before going through with this. We’re certainly not responsible if anything goes awry. Good luck.