Although, this simple definition is not enough to actually decided whether you want to root your Android device or not. To make a sound decision, it is important to dig deep and understand rooting and what are the benefits and risks involved in it.
What Is Rooting, Exactly?
Rooting, for those of you that don’t know, means giving yourself root permissions on your phone. It’s similar running programs as administrators in Windows, or running a command with sudo in Linux. With a rooted phone, you can run apps that require access to certain system settings, as well as flash custom ROMs to your phone, which add all sorts of extra features. If you’re on the fence about rooting, check out our top 10 reasons to root your Android phone for some motivation.
Some Rooting Terms
- 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).
Android devices have the biggest share of the market and “rooting” is a common word among Android enthusiasts. If you search for it online you will find many people saying “Simple steps to root your Android device and gain freedom” but it’s not that simple as one might think. The process itself is quite complex and benefits and risks associated with it are worth knowing.
So what would rooting phones give us?
If you will root your phone you will gain all the administrative privileges, you will be in complete control. There will be no one to stop you or tell you what to do, all (software) limits set by the phone makers or the carrier can be lifted. Sounds amazing right? Yes, but gaining administrative rights also means there will be no one to protect your phone as you have full control over it now and you will be responsible for its security.
Apart from all the risks and benefits, the process itself is quite complex. The process is different for every device and if you make one wrong move you may end up “bricking” your phone (this means making it totally unusable – dead as a brick). Rooting typically voids your warranty, and your carrier or phone maker won’t be able to help you.
Why is not not rooted by default?
By default (pre-rooting), the protectors and controllers of your phone are the carriers from where you bought the phone such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, etc… They decide which functions you can access and which you can not, and they even add applications to your phone that you can’t remove (they can be disabled, however), commonly referred as “bloatware”. It’s not unlike the PC world where computer makers pre-installed many apps.
Most users don’t have the knowledge to benefit from Rooting (or care to) or manage the device in an efficient way once given all access. There are security issues that no carrier or phone maker is prepared to deal with on a mass-scale: virus with unfeathered access, or accidental critical service deletion are possible with root access.
Now this is the main reason why carriers are not in support of rooting, some of you may be thinking “No one tells me what to do, I will do things my way!”. Yes, doing things your way is fun, but ask yourself are your grown up enough and have enough knowledge to actually do things by yourself?
No one will be there to help you fix things, no one will be responsible for your acts and no one will be there to grab your finger and guide you in the right path (a sad truth about being a grown up). In the end, rooting is all about making your device yours from every aspect and being completely responsible for it.
Rooting is an amazing thing with potentially huge benefits, you can use apps that can completely change the way your phone works. You can delete anything you don’t like and same way install anything you want.
If you are going to try it, make sure you know what you are doing and how you are going to do it, the instructions you are following must be from a reliable source and specifically for your device.
Benefits of Rooting
There are tons of benefits of rooting your phone, if you know how to utilize them properly. These benefits are also the main reason why you would root your phone. If you just want to root your phone to make some minor tweaks then it is better to stay away, it is not worth all the risks. However, if you would like to reap all of its benefits, then it is definitely worth all the risk you are taking. Here are some core benefits of rooting your phone.
1.Access to more powerful apps
If you go to Google Play Store you can access apps that are worth drooling over, but what if you could get access to even better apps? Well, this is where rooting helps. There are so many apps right on the Google Play Store that requires you to root your phone and the functions they provide are astounding.
Like you can use Undelete to recover files which you didn’t actually want to delete. There are also some apps that work with Factory-shipped device, but when you root your phone they can offer amazing new functions. For example, Tasker is an amazing application but when you root it the possibilities of its use become endless.
The best part is you can get all these apps right from the Google Play Store so at least you will have some satisfaction that the source is reliable. For now, Google is taking rooting quite easy, so you can get some good apps from this trusted source. Just stay away from other shady sources as the “bad programs” including malware and viruses can do some great damage to your phone and they can gain deeper access to a rooted phone.
2.Get Rid of Bloatware
When carriers issue a phone they add some unwanted or little-used apps (bloatware) that keep you in their circle. They just want to you to have an enriched experience, but of course they can’t fulfill everyone’s need. Like “Sprint NFL Zone”, do you really think everyone needs this app?
With a regular device you can’t delete them, and they will consume storage space and possibly computer memory. Instead, when you have root access to your phone, you are the administrator of the phone which means you decide what to keep and what to delete
You can just delete all the carrier apps which you don’t want and free some space and stop them from using your phone’s memory. However, make sure you only delete the one which your system doesn’t require or you will be in big trouble. Root access will let you delete a critical app or service!
3.Boost Speed and Battery Life
There are some apps which require rooting and that can help underclock or overclock your device. This means they can change the processor frequency to speed up pr slow down your device. The results can be drastic, you will be able to easily get your phone through the day or remove performance-pressure situations.
For example, you can just use (at your own overheating risk) an app called SetCPU which will set some specific rules to either boost your phone’s speed or slow down the CPU (main processor) speed to increase battery life.
When you delete apps from the carrier it may also boost speed and battery life. Most of the apps provided by the carriers keep working in the background that can lower battery life and performance.
4.Access to recent (unofficial) OS Updates
Getting the latest OS update to your device involves many processes and permissions. So it takes quite some time before the update is released for your device (if it is even going to be released for your device).
However, you don’t have to wait as the Android Developer Community is quite fast about it and can get updates ready for your specific device quite soon. The best part is, there will also be some added features along with the original update that are worth having. You can just search for the update specifically for your device and simply install it.
5.Access to Features Beyond your thinking
There are many features which you can’t access with your unrooted phone and these features are not to be missed. Do you want to decide who can call you and who can’t? Try Call Master.
You can have an amazing gaming experience by attaching your PlayStation controller to your phone with the help of Sixaxis Controller.
Is there any app which you can’t access due to your location or your carrier doesn’t allow it? Try Market Enabler apps that can easily let you access those apps. The possibilities are endless, you can do almost anything you can think of.
6.Take Customization to Next Level
Customization is what Android is known for and by rooting your Android phone you will be able to customize your phone in a way that you won’t even be able to identify your phone’s OS.
There are custom ROMs (firmware, or base phone Operating System) that you can use to completely change your phone’s look, it will look nothing like the regular Android OS that came with your phone.
You can control your phone using only gestures by installing GMD Gesture Control. In the notification bar you can add widgets or make it behave differently. There are Keyboard apps that could completely change the way keyboard works, like you can use Keyboard Manager to switch between keyboard types automatically.
7.Access to Amazing Backup Capabilities
There are many backup apps which you can use on your unrooted Android device to backup your music, contacts and pictures, etc. However, when you root your device you can even backup your apps.
Additionally, the data inside the apps are also backed up which means if you worked really hard on clearing those difficult Angry Bird levels and suddenly need to factory reset your phone, you will not have to start over again. The most famous app for this purpose is Titanium Backup.
Risks Associated with Rooting
Everything comes with a price and so does rooting. You can’t just have all these amazing benefits without risking anything. In actual, the risks are quite big that should be the deciding factor in your rooting decision.
1.May Keep you from (official) automatic OS updates
Rooting can lead to stopping all updates from your OEM or carrier, but it is not compulsory. There can be many critical security updates which you might never get and not to mention all the enhancements and added features.
Although, some people actually like not being bothered by all those updates and features which they don’t even want. Rooting will not stop these updates, but flashing a custom ROM will surely stop these updates.
2.Say Goodbye to the manufacturer’s Warranty
There is also an Unrooting process which can unroot your device like it was never rooted. However, as tempting it might sound, but your carrier will already know this and there is a chance they might find out
So if someone says just root your phone and unroot it when required then ask yourself, do you really want to risk your warranty just to make some tiny tweaks?
3.“Bricking” Your Phone
While rooting your phone if you make any mistake or change something in firmware there is a good chance you might end up bricking your phone. So, like I said before a bricked phone is as good as a brick. If you do end up with a bricked phone try to be creative and think of its uses as a “brick”. However, completely “bricking” your phone is quite rare, there is a chance you will be able to repair some “soft” bricking but that will require some great software and hardware expertise and your carrier will not be there to help you in that matter.
4.Vulnerability to “Bad” Programs
With an unrooted Android, the bad programs have quite limited access and also it is quite hard for them to get in. However, when you root your Android device bad programs can gain access to deeper areas of your phone, all you have to do is make a single mistake of tapping on “Allow” when a bad program requires access to deeper areas.
Yes, you do receive a notification that an app is asking for access to elevated area, but there are many users who don’t actually see it. This problem is less common with unrooted devices and you can just allow access without much worry.
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