If you’ve researched anything about Android on the internet, you’ve probably seen and read about “rooting” one. There was a time when many of the Android phones available didn’t live up to their potential, and root was the answer. Horrible software was the norm, applications that you would never use ran amok and wasted data and battery life, and the experience was bad all around.
Because every Android phone is running the Linux kernel and middleware very similar to a Linux distribution you would install on a computer under the hood, rooting them was the way to allow us to try and fix them our own way. Rooting is how you get complete access to everything in the operating system, and those permissions allow you to change it all. Modern Androids are quite a bit better than they used to be. Even the most inexpensive phone or tablet you can buy in 2016 will do more and perform better that the best Android phone available just a few years ago. But many of us still want to root our phones and are looking for more information.
Table of Contents
- 1 What exactly is root?
- 2 Should I root my Android?
- 3 Getting ready to root
- 4 How to root my phone?
- 5 Where to go from here?
What exactly is root?
Root, at least the way we’re talking about it here, is the superuser. Your Android phone uses Linux permissions and file-system ownership. You are a user when you sign in, and you are allowed to do certain things based on your user permissions. Apps you install are also given a type of user ID, and they all have permissions to do certain things — you see those when you install them on older versions of Android, or you are prompted to allow them on Marshmallow or higher — in certain folders with certain files. Root is also a user. The difference is the root user (superuser) has permissions to do anything to any file any place in the system. This includes things we want to do, like uninstall application forced on us by the people who built them or the people who sells them to us as well as things we don’t want to do that can put your Android in an unusable state. When you’re doing things with superuser permissions, you have the power to do anything.
When you root your Android, you’re simply adding a standard Linux function that was removed. A small file called su is placed in the system and given permissions so that another user can run it. It stands for Switch User, and if you run the file without any other parameters it switches your credentials and permissions from a normal user to that of the superuser. You are then in complete control, and can add anything, remove anything and access functions on your phone or tablet that you couldn’t reach before. This is pretty important, and something you should think about before you begin.
BACK TO THE TOP
Should I root my Android?
Yes. No. Maybe. All three answers are perfectly valid. People have different reasons to want to root their devices. Some do it just because they can — they paid for the hardware and think they should be able to do anything they like. Others want to be able to add things that aren’t there, like internet servers or be able to “fix” services that are there but don’t work the way they would like them to work. People might buy a phone because they like the hardware, but hate the software and want to change it. Mostly, people root their phones because they simply want to get rid of the extra things on it that they don’t want. Every one of these reasons — as well as any reason you might have that aren’t mentioned here — are the right reasons.
Before you do any preparation to root your phone, you need to remember that it changes everything about the inherent security from Google and the people who built it. Plenty of us don’t like it, but being able to access an account with admin permissions was not included in release versions of Android on purpose. As soon as you add this capability, you are responsible for the security and integrity of the operating system and every application on it. For some, this is more responsibility than they want or need. Rooting isn’t the answer for everyone. If you’re not sure about the ways you can break things by doing them as root, you should learn more about it before you start. It’s OK to not know things and to try and learn, but not knowing and doing them anyway can turn a very expensive Android into a paperweight. You also need to know that for many Android models, rooting means your warranty is null and void. Services (including apps as well as network access from your carrier) can be denied to you because of the security risk when you’re rooted. The risk is real, because so many users go into it all blind and let security lapse. Not doing that is your responsibility — take it seriously!
Finally, there are plenty of users who simply don’t care about this stuff. Any Android phone, no matter how restricted root access is, can do just about everything we want or need from a pocket computer. You can change the appearance, choose from over a million apps in Google Play and have complete access to the internet and most any services that live there. You can even make phone calls. It’s great if you’re happy with what you have and what it can do, and aren’t worried about trying to fix what isn’t (in your eyes) broken.
Getting ready to root
You’ll need to do a few things to prepare your phone for rooting, depending on which method you use. Many of the ways require you install the Android SDK or unlock your bootloader. This sounds like a lot of scary work, but it’s not difficult and knowing how to use these tools will help if things go wrong.
Depending on which phone you have, unlocking the bootloader is slightly different. The “standard” way is by using the OEM unlock command. If you’re using a Motorola, HTC or LG phone (as well as other brands like Huawei or Sony) you’ll likely need to get a token you enter during the process. You’ll find how to do that and who to get it from at each vendors developer pages. Remember that unlocking the bootloader on your Android may affect the warranty status.
- HTC bootloader unlocking
- Motorola bootloader unlocking
- LG bootloader unlocking
- Huawei bootloader unlocking
- Sony bootloader unlocking
Using commercial root apps
Using commercial rooting apps like King Root or towelroot is straightforward, and can be done with or without a computer. While these apps can’t root every phone, the people who make them are doing as best they can to keep the applications current.
While we can’t validate the theories that these applications could potentially contain malware or send your data off to a server in some unfriendly nation, plenty of folks around the web have expressed concerns and doubts. You shouldn’t ignore them. We recommend that you factory reset your Android before you download, install or run these applications to be safe. Your phone will remain rooted afterwards, and you can factory reset once again then sign in normally. Better safe than sorry.
How to root my phone?
How you root your Android is going to depend on which one you have. There are over 12,000 different Android models (and that’s only counting ones that can access Google Play) from hundreds of different manufacturers. Some of those are easy to root, while some of them aren’t. There are even models that will probably never be able to be rooted because the people who make or sell them just don’t want you to be able to do it. And that’s OK! Android means choice, and every person who wants a security-focused device that won’t likely ever be rooted like the BlackBerry Priv should be able to buy one. And people who want a device that’s easy to root (with all the tools and files needed to unlock it provided by the manufacturer) can buy one. This is something to keep in mind when you’re buying your next phone and you should support the manufacturer who shares your thoughts about rooting.
With over 12,000 different models, we can’t cover every single method to root every single device. We can point you in the right direction and help you get there, though.
Rooting your Samsung phone
Samsung used to offer “developer editions” of their popular models, but weak sales (they usually needed to be paid for in full with no type of subsidy or financing) they seem to have stopped production. We have only ourselves to blame — it’s just not worth making something that nobody is buying.
Samsung also makes very lucrative deals with carriers, and most of the time those carriers want to prevent you from rooting your phone. Recent models from AT&T or Verizon are notoriously difficult to exploit, and all the U.S. versions of the Galaxy S7 are locked up and encrypted. There might not ever be a way to root them. This isn’t true for unlocked models sold outside of North America though.
To root most Samsung phones you’ll need to use a program called Odin. It’s a low-level firmware flashing tool that can push image files to the storage and overwrite existing images. You’ll also need the correct USB drivers for Windows computers. If you’re using a Mac computer or running Linux, the software that flashes images is called Heimdall. They both work essentially the same, and carry the same risks — if you try and flash the wrong image or a bad image, your phone isn’t going to be able to start. While this is often recoverable, know that there is always a chance you can ruin your phone or tablet, and your warranty is voided as soon as you begin.
Also, many Samsung phones ship with Knox security enabled. Knox is part of Samsung’s special “Samsung Approved For Enterprise” feature where personal and work environments can be separated in a way that allows both to coexist on the same device. Knox can pose special problems when trying to root a phone that uses it, and it has a software counter that can show when device firmware has been tampered with. This means it’s very easy for Samsung to void your warranty if you start fiddling with things.
Rooting your LG phone
LG phones have several different methods to install the files needed for rooting. Some are completely bootloader unlockable and it’s trivial to push the files through a custom recovery, while some are locked up tighter and require some special tricks. As we see with Samsung phones, carriers have a lot of influence here, so many AT&T and LG models take longer to find a method to root.
The LG G5 is simple to root, and you can do it without a computer with both commercially available rooting apps as well as apps from Android enthusiasts like yourself. There are security questions any time you use software built by someone else that could potentially have full access to all the data on your phone or your computer, and you’ll need to read everything you can and decide if you want to go this route. Apps like OneClickRoot or AndroidRootPro are a few examples. There are plenty of satisfied users as well as users who question the methods. Listen to both sides and decide what you think here. An alternative is unlocking your bootloader and installing an open-source custom recovery that you can use to flash the needed files or even pre-rooted firmware. This requires a little bit of computer knowledge, but it’s not that difficult.
Rooting your HTC phone
Much like LG phones, many HTC models can be bootloader unlocked through the HTC Developer program. You’ll find complete instructions for doing it here, as well as warranty information you need to know if you give it a try.
The HTC 10 is easy to root, and using the HTC Developer tools to unlock the bootloader allow for sending images to the phone to enable rooting and even more. There are also commercial services like Sunshine that can root your phone through an app or provide mail-in services where they do it for you. Again, it’s up to you to decide if you feel comfortable with these services or if you would rather use the Android SDK and do things the manual way. Both methods are known to get you rooted and ready to do the things you wanted root to do.
Rooting your Lenovo (Motorola) phone
Motorola also offers a pretty liberal bootloader unlocking policy, which you’ll find at their developer site. Using the standard Android SDK tools, you can unlock your bootloader so that a custom recovery image can be flash. This allows you to flash any other system image to your phone.
If your Motorola phone isn’t covered under their bootloader unlocking policy (see the list here) — this means Verizon, of course — you might have to resort to exploits or commercial software like MOFOROOT or OneClickRoot. Once again, we have to remind you about using tools created by someone else that may have admin access on your phone or your computer, but the option is available.
We’re waiting to see if the coming generation from Motorola is as developer friendly as they have been in the past, and we’ll update accordingly.
Rooting your Nexus phone
To root your Nexus phone, you should start with learning how to install and configure the Android SDK. There are plenty of one-click scripts or toolboxes that will unlock your bootloader and get you ready to flash (or even flash it for you) a custom recovery, but there’s a great reason to learn how to do it yourself — you are able to fix most anything if it goes wrong by using the Nexus Factory Images.
Google not only supports unlocking your bootloader, they also give you full and complete instructions on how to do it, how to flash third-party images and how to go back. Unlocking the bootloader doesn’t break any warranties as Google realizes that there are many valid reasons to flash experimental on the developer/reference device for Android. Take advantage of this, and use the tools Google provides!
Once a third-party recovery image is flashed, you’re easily able to push anything you need for root or any other image to your Nexus. Because it’s the reference phone and easy to alter, you’ll find plenty of tools and resources for things you can do after you’ve rooted. We highly recommend a Nexus phone to anyone who wants to tinker with the Android software platform.
As mentioned previously, there are over 12,000 current Android models from hundreds of manufacturers. There’s no way to include each and every one on a single page.
Some of these phones come with a method (either apporved by the manufacturer or found by a third-party) to unlock the bootloader and use the custom recovery method to root them. Many of these other phones can be rooted with applications like King Root, with or without access to a computer. Phones from names you know, like Sony or Hauwei, are supported as well as phones from companies you might not have heard of like Vivo or Phicomm. You’ll find a partial list of supported phones here.
Apps like King Root work because they take advantage of an exploit (a bug or glitch) in the software. This means that many security applications will identify them as a virus, and that software updates can (and do) break compatibility with them. Not every phone can be rooted through an app that leverage an exploit, but many can. It’s certainly worth a look to see if your particular phone is supported. These services are profitable, and profitability means time and money is spent to keep them current and working on as many models as possible.
Where to go from here?
Now that you’re armed with a bit of information about what root is, why you might want to do it and where to go to find the methods, you’re able to do some legwork.
The most important part of the entire process is to read. Find every bit of information about rooting your particular phone or tablet, read up on the intricacies of the Android SDK and flashing a custom recovery for your phone, and find out how to go back before you connect any cables or install any software. Even the easiest phones to root require some general computer knowledge — your Android is a computer — so you should make sure you’re able to understand things like working with zip files or using a file manager. Remember — it’s always OK to have questions and ask for help.
A good place to start is in forums, like XDA Developers forums that can be a goldmine of information. Never overlook information that’s readily available when it comes to hacking at your expensive phone. Rooting offers a long list of possibilities for responsible and safe users, so make sure you’re informed and careful and have fun!