A Concise Guide to Android Rooting

on
September 25, 2011, 6:30 IST

Peter Pachal

A Concise Guide to Android Rooting

While putting together a list of the best Android apps, I asked dozens of Android devotees what were their favorites, and a few fired back a short list of apps "for root users.
 
Rooting an Android phone is kind of like jailbreaking an iPhone. In laymen's terms, it means you're cracking open the hood to access parts of the operating system that were intentionally locked to prevent you from messing them up, or doing anything to your phone that the manufacturer or carrier doesn't want you to do. A slightly more technical explanation is to say that rooting means giving yourself "root access," or greater privileges, or administrator control, to the lowest level of Android's Linux subsystem.

Warning:If you didn't pick up on the clues above, rooting isn't for everyone and can have serious repercussions. While it's perfect legal, it can void your phone's warranty (more on that below). And if you don't know what you're doing or aren't careful, you could potentially destroy your phone. Rooting also opens up more security risks because you can download apps that have access to files that would normally be hidden from them.

So, if you're perfectly happy with your Android phone as is, there is no reason to root it. If you're a tinkerer and understand the possible ramifications, then there are several reasons you might want to root.

Why Root Android?
The purpose of rooting is to make the most of the device that you own by getting around the limitations that the manufacturer or carrier has put in place—and again, many of those barriers were put in place to prevent you from accidentally destroying your own device.

Here are some examples of what a root user can do:

  • access the flash memory chip, which you need to do if you want to modify the Android OS or replace it with a customized version
  • make the apps on your phone run faster
  • remove pre-installed apps to free up space
  • turn the phone into a 3G/4G WiFi hotspot without paying an extra fee.

There are many other reasons to root, too, but the ones listed here are certainly among the most popular.

Tips for Rooting
Before you dive headlong into rooting, here are a few tips:

1. Be phone-specific. This tip comes first for a reason. It's crucial that you look up information for your phone, and not just for Android across the board. Look for tutorials that are specific to the make and model of your phone, as well as any common problems. The rooting process varies by phone, and following the wrong procedures could cause irreparable damage. Just as important, not every rooted phone will be able to do want you might have been hoping it would. For example, not every rooted device has an unlocked bootloader (necessary to flash ROMs), so make sure you understand what you are getting into and exactly what you want the outcome to be if you root your phone.

2. Read or watch the how-to beforehand. Make sure to read or watch the entire tutorial before you begin, because there are often steps that are crucial that may appear out of order. For example, sometimes you need to disable antivirus software on your computer at a certain step for the rooting process to go smoothly.

3. Learn how to un-root. Rooting is reversible on most phones—again, check whether yours is before you even begin. So before you root, make sure you know how to undo it. Just as it's important to read the complete instructions before you start rooting, it's a good idea to figure out how to reverse it before doing anything, as well. Because rooting may void your phone's warranty, you'll have to revoke the root access anytime you need to take your phone in for service.

4. Power up. Never tinker with anything less than a full battery. One of the most devastating things that can go wrong while in root mode is running out of battery midway through installing a custom OS or ROM (read-only memory, or the phone's internal memory where your apps are stored). If your Android dies before the new system is installed fully, it's extremely difficult to repair and restore the phone.

5. Stay away from extremes. Root users will be enticed to push their phones past its previous limits for maximum performance—a phone that works faster. But remember, the phone makers put limits on your phone for a reason, in this case, to prevent the phone's processor from overheating and burning out. Root users who know what they're doing bypass these limits, but should set new limits or other failsafe measures to keep the phone from overheating. If you don't know how to manage these settings, don't tempt fate by trying to turn your phone into a lightning-fast machine. It's pretty fast already.

6. When in doubt, ask for help. If at any point in rooting or unrooting you get stuck, search for help because you're likely to find it. Android root users have been known to hang around a few helpful hacker forums, such as xda-developers.com and rootzwiki.com, where you can find answers to your questions and solutions to your problems. While these online resources will be invaluable, do bear in mind the other tips outlined in this article. Remember that even the most helpful guy on a forum isn't necessarily a technical writer, and his tutorial may be out of order or not specify which specific phone model he has in hand, or take for granted some other assumption. Comb through the advice you find meticulously before you decide to take it.

With those tips in mind, if you're looking for tutorials to walk you through rooting, try Lifehacker's guide to rooting Android devices

7 Apps for Root Users
Deciding to root your phone shouldn't be a split-second decision. But ultimately, it's your phone, you own it, and you can do what you want. So if you do root your Android, here are seven starter apps you'll want to download. You'll need the first and second apps immediately in order to actually do anything with your root access, but the other apps are all optional and can be downloaded in any order.

Superuser: lets you manage superuser (root user) permissions; this is the first app a newly rooted phone needs installed on it.

Root Explorer (File Manager) ($3.80): shows you the files you can now access as a root user; this is the second app a newly rooted phone needs on it.

Titanium Backup root: backs up all your apps, removes bloatware, and otherwise helps you manage apps.

ROM Manager: lets you manage and install ROMs from your SD card, and organize and perform backups and restores.

AdFree Android: removes most ads from your browser and apps.

Wireless Tether for Root Users: turns your phone into a mobile hotspot.

SetCPU for Root Users: changes the CPU settings for overclocking (going faster than the limit) and lets you set thresholds (like a temperature) to tell it when to stop; works only on select phones.

 

Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.


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