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Rooting Android vs Jailbreaking iOS: what's the difference?

Authored by: Kris Carlon — May 7, 2012

Over the weekend a friend of mine was speaking to me about switching over from an iPhone to Android, and was asking me about some of the benefits of doing so. One of the pros I mentioned to him in regards to having an Android device is having the ability to root the phone.

iPhone 6 vs MotoX 9
What's the difference between rooting and jailbreaking? / © ANDROIDPIT

After asking me a few questions about it, his response was "ok yeah, but I can also jailbreak my iPhone, so no big difference there“. Lots of users, both Android and IOS alike, actually don't know that there is a very big difference between the IOS jailbreak and Android root access. You can't actually "jailbreak" Android or "root" IOS, and I thought I would write this article to explain a few of the differences between rooting Android and IOS jailbreak. 

root fastboot recovery galaxy nexus
Rooting your Android is not the same as jailbreaking. / © AndroidPIT

Jailbreaking iOS

Lets start with the iPhone. Some iPhone users like to "jailbreak“ their device after purchasing it, as it allows you do perform certain things on the iPhone that you can't do when it's not jailbroke. So what is jailbreaking? Jailbreaking is actually the process of removing certain restrictions and limitations put into place by Apple on devices that run the iOS operating system.

To accomplish a jailbreak, a custom kernel is used to grant root access to the device. Once an iOS user has jailbroke his device, he is then able to download apps that aren't in the App Store, use themes, and extenstions that Apple doesn't support. Users do still have access to the App Store and iTunes when a device is jailbroken, and it doesn't affect standard functionality.

iphone 6 2
Some iPhone owners like to jailbreak their phones. / © ANDROIDPIT

Basically, jailbreaking allows you to use software that Apple doesn't authorize. Now while iOS users might consider jailbreaking their iPhone the same thing as Android users rooting their Android phones, there is a huge difference. In fact, you can't even compare jailbreaking to rooting, and here's why.

Android Root

Apple's operating system is not an open source system, meaning that you cannot make changes to the actual source code. Android however, is an open source operating system, and allows you to do much more than just install 3rd party apps.

Android out of the box allows users to install third-party apps (also known as sideloading), already allows you to install themes, and even allows you to install applications directly from your SD card or internal memory of your device. Everything that iOS users hope to accomplish with jailbreaking their device is already included as basic functionality within Android.

nexus 5 homescreen live wallpaper
Want more Android power? Try rooting. / © ANDROIDPIT

So what exactly does root accomplish for Android? Well, not only does it allow you to gain privileged control of your device, overcome limitations that carriers and OEMs put on devices (skins, ect), but also allows you to completely remove and replace the entire operating system of the device. This is achievable due to the fact that Android itself was built on a Linux kernel, and allows a user to access administrative permissions on their phone or tablet.

So on an Android device, rooting basically gives you access to more or less the entire operating system. You can completely remove the OS and replace it with user made operating systems that contain tweaks and enhancements (known as ROMS), and you can even access and adjust settings such as your processor speeds.

With the help of a custom kernel, iOS devices can be jailbroken to run custom apps. With the help of a custom kernel on Android, you can overclock or underclock your actual processor speed. Pretty big difference right?

samsung galaxy s6 heart rate monitor
Rooting a phone requires patience. / © ANDROIDPIT

Additionally, root users can access the flash memory chip on their device, which is not possible with iOS devices. Rooting an Android phone grants the user what's known as "Superuser“ permissions, which allows specific applications to have root rights. The process itself normally includes exploiting a security weakness in firmware shipped from the factory.

Google in many cases will encourage rooting (shipping many devices with unlocked bootloaders to make the process very simple) while warning you that it can cause damage to the device. Apple on the other hand is dead set against jailbreaking, as they only want users using apps distributed from their App Store.

Easiest explanation to Explain root vs jailbreaking

Think of it like the Matrix: jailbreaking is comparable to what Morpheus could do. He could bend the rules of the system to overcome certain restrictions, but was still bound to its rules. Rooting is what Neo could do. Not only could he bend the rules, he could completely break them (my God that was a slick analogy).

Xperia Z3 Compact vs iPhone 6
So root vs jailbreaking...what's the deal? / © ANDROIDPIT

So there you are. That's a very brief and not overly technical way to describe the difference between jailbreaking and rooting. So next time you hear an iOS user saying that he can jailbreak his device the same way you root your Android device, he might actually be interested to know that there is indeed a very big difference.

Kris Carlon comes to the AndroidPIT Editorial Team via a lengthy period spent traveling and relying on technology to keep him in touch with the outside world. He joined the Android community while resurfacing in civilization back in 2010 and has never looked back, using technology to replace his actual presence in other people's lives ever since. He can usually be found juggling three phones at once and poring over G+ posts, Reddit and RSS feeds.

33 comments

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  • abaneyone 1 month ago Link to comment

    I'll root my androids any day all the time, don't want an android without root access. However I don't actually know anyone who even knows what root is, except for those I've met online. The people I know think rooting is illegal (which it's not) and are more concerned with violating their warranty or carrier plans.

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  • Hitchhiker 6 months ago Link to comment

    Sorry for my english :

    - "Apple's operating system is not an open source system, meaning that you cannot make changes to the actual source code"

    Actualy, on a jailbroken iPhone you can do a lot more than install 3rd party apps it's also possible to perform some code injection that loaded into all process and modify the entire OS without the source code.
    A custom ROM is just a "Android based" OS with a lot of extra features and improvements, so there is not a big difference between an tweaked iPhone and a custom ROM

    BTW it's possible to install a custom ROM in a iPhone too, never heard of whited00r ?

    The only thing Android can do more is to have a better acces to the hardware (Acctualy it's a really good thing, but it's possible to overclock the iPhone too ;) )

    Well, an another undocumented article about iOS jailbreaking....

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  • Victor Azzam 10 months ago Link to comment

    I understand and and support many of the points made in this article, but someone's clearly an android supporter. Android is the least safe OS meaning its usage could be tracked by hackers once their tool has been used by some fool only looking to download a custom skin or whatever the heck. Also, you can be a dumbass and still know how to work your way around jailbreaking, which is clearly more organised due to the fact that it has its own Cydia store full of themes, tweaks, mods, etc. (all of which are categorised respectively). On the lower hand, rooting exposes the heart of the OS which 90% users don't give an F about, and quite frankly don't know how to deal with. I bet you that maybe 1 in 10,000 people who have Android have any idea about custom ROMS and shit. Like honestly, one would prefer jailbreaking over rooting, considering rooting requires 1000 times the effort that jailbreaking requires to dowload a paid app for free for instance. I've said my thing. Shit's done.

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    • Reppy07 1 month ago Link to comment

      You have to be the biggest dip shit I've ever seen. Rooting takes 1000 times the effort? I've rooted maybe 5 of my Android phones altogether so far and have never spent more than 5 to 10 minutes doing so. On iPhone, I thank evasion for actually making it simple.

      Do more on a jailbroken phone? Tweaks are added over top of what you have. The more you have=the buggier the system gets. Rooting an android allows you to gut whatever you want from the software. My Galaxy s5 for example, I spent maybe 15 to 20 minutes reading what system features are okay to delete and gutted it all. No gestures, no fingerprint scan, none of that crap. Any system app I don't like? Gone. What does Cydia do? I wanted to get rid of passport and newsstand crapware. I couldn't physically remove them with iFile. I had to get tweaks to HIDE the icon.

      It's fine if you love jailbreaking, but remember people like me have spent YEARS jailbreaking long before rooting androids. I've only been rooting for maybe 2 and a half years and I will never go back to iPhone. Some things I sure do miss, such as the slider tweak and Intelliscreen X and of course bitesms which I have yet to see Android even come close. But the power of complete freedom is addictive and unsurpassed by jailbreak.

      Besides, once jailbroken, how much can you do without Cydia? Lol. Next to NOTHING. Xposed Framework is the equivalent to Cydia. Cydia is not neatly organized. It's a silly mess of continuous scrolling with barely any localized jailbreak community. I'll take XDA over whatever the jailbreaking community has which is riddled with little kids.

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      • Hitchhiker 1 month ago Link to comment

        You can physically remove passbook or newsstand. You just stupid enough to install tweak to hide them.

        "sudo rm -rf /Applications/Passbook.app" ....

        You can do everything without Cydia, Cydia is just a simple application for install packages...
        It's based on dpkg, Just learn how to use apt-get and it's fine!

        People like you think android is better because everyone say that.

        I'm a developper for both iOS and Android, and it's basically the same shit !
        - Android is nice because you can have an access to the hardware and it's open-source.
        - On iOS, developping applications is a real pleasure and the code base is pretty nice. I still prefer iOS for some personal reason.

        Remember we all have a computer in our procket.

        I never see haters like that on the Apple side... Learn before judge.

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  • Jerry Fang 10 months ago Link to comment

    I also look it at this way. Jailbreak iOS, the sky is the limit. Rooting Android OS, the universe is the limit. Like Uncle Ben from superman say to Peter Parker. With great power comes with great responsibilities. If you don't know what you're doing on a rooted android can damage your phone. The possibilities on root android is unlimited. A stock Android, out of the box can do everything maybe more than a jailbroken iOS. I've have an iPad mini and jailbroke it to see whats all the fuzz about jailbreaking and just disappoint me at the end seeing that I can do what a jailbroken iOS on my brother stock Samsung Galaxy Tab3. I've install springboard and every couple days, springboard crash on me. I choose Root over jailbreak anyday. I like my freedom, I like custom ROMs custom Kernels, I like my Note 2 to be different than everyone else. With iOS, everyone will look the same. So all and all, with iOS, the sky is the limit, with Android, the universe is the limit.

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  • Leah Holmes Jan 5, 2014 Link to comment

    So basically more could go rong with rooting then a jb ?? I only ask as I have just jumped from a iphone to a note 3 and I still have my ipad I've jb both my ipad and iphone befor and love haveing the freedom to customise them but I thought going to a android would eliminate the need To jb but I tried to download a screen recorder app on Google play (as I love the one on my ipad comes in handy) it downloaded fine but I tried to open it and it says it needs root access! I would root my phone but people have said there is more chance of bricking ur phone then with jailbreaking a ios device And after reading this looks like there right 😕 but if I rooted my phone just to use apps that ask for root access and don't use custom roms what r the chances of bricking it??

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  • Adam Daieh Jun 6, 2013 Link to comment

    I still prefer a jailbroken iphone over an android. It's very user friendly. Got my jailbreak and cydia guide at http://jailbreakhome.com

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  • Richard Nieves May 16, 2013 Link to comment

    As a previous owner of android I also want to add my two cents.

    As far as themes and tweaks and stuff, android doesn't "do this out of the box" as mentioned. Android does have superior customization but its not as huge of a difference comparing stock android and ios as people think. On android you can download other apps and make them "default" for certain functions. THIS is where android is strong on customizing. With this you can change the manager for home screen, lock screen and app functions. However these apps don't always work as seemless as expected. For instance, lock screens don't replace your lock screen, they turn it off and when the phone is turned back on, the app is launched. Many times the app doesn't even launch quick enough and the home screen pops first.

    Home screen apps do function much better, I used these all the time! However even if you use both the lock screen and home screen apps, these are NOT themes. Each one has their own themes. To change the actual system theme on android requires root and usually a different rom (either themed itself or with a theme manager).

    So while you can technically change the look of certain things on android, its through apps, not actually stem themes. Same with many system tweaks.

    I don't disagree with the whole matrix analogy though! Awesome reference and true, but stock android vs stock ios has one major advantage, default apps. Just like ios has stability. It basically comes down to freedom and control (android) or stability and control (ios) both are awesome in different ways :-)

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    • Leah Holmes Jan 5, 2014 Link to comment

      True but if you jailbreak a ios device they have more crashes and problems then on android and if you don't jb everything is so limited and ul be Bord of your phone within a few months! unless ur not very good with technology the are no benefits to haveing a iphone and the newer android devices like the note 3 run smoothly just like a iphone but have so much more built in (not apps) the things I can do with my phone make my old iphone look like a toy even just the camera app has loads more features That the one on the iPhone doesn't not the mention air gestures And everthing else, there not apps thats right out the box! And what people mean when they say you can do that right out the box with android is you can download themes and that straight from Google play with out doing anything but on a iphone you have to jb to be able to customise or download themes they don't mean the themes are built in!

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  • LBD Apr 18, 2013 Link to comment

    Great answer! Made it so easy to explain to the little iphone addict who thought that I was wrong for saying the two were different.

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  • Barry Wombleton Mar 17, 2013 Link to comment

    Late to the party, but nonetheless well worth the read. Good analogy using the Matrix! It's refreshing to read an article that has comments that don't get into a "this is better than that" argument where the trolls start coming out. It was a fair, neutral and quite insightful article. Thanks for sticking to the truths.

    I own a Nexus 4 and love the thing. I haven't rooted nor do I think I will. My wife owns the iPhone 5 and she is constantly using it. I would love to jailbreak it and add features to it, but I fear I will end up in the dog house or worse if I do.

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  • Dvoraak Sep 5, 2012 Link to comment

    LOL well I haven't rooted an Android but I'll probably try with the Note 2. Honestly though, I've seen some shell themes that blew me away (spb is freakin' amazing) so I wonder whether to root or use a shell (or can you do both?).
    Jailbreaking is a project and not necessarily for the faint hearted unless they just want access to free app stores. Of course, those users are way more likely to jack their phone up in the process. Pirated apps aren't much better than pirated pc software and just as dangerous far as I'm concerned.
    I'm guessing rooting is the same way. I just hope the learning curve isn't too steep.

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    • Leah Holmes Jan 5, 2014 Link to comment

      Your right I never use cracked apps I always pay from my tweaks on cydia as it helps the developers out as they work hard makeing them for us and I don't wanna wreck My ipad lol I've been jb for a long time and I have just moved to a android phone and am nervous about rooting as i have not done it befor I may buy a cheap android to practice on first lol

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  • Eric McBride Sep 5, 2012 Link to comment

    Glad you enjoyed it Dvoraak, and thank you for sharing more insights! I am yet to jailbreak an iPhone, but I would like to just to see what I can get away with :-D

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  • Dvoraak Sep 5, 2012 Link to comment

    This is a good article Eric and I thought a comment from a jailbreaker might add a little more insight.
    While jailbreaking iOS doesn't give full access to the OS, that's a plus to anyone with an Apple mindset. There's a reason that only the very latest and greatest Android devices (with the latest and greatest hardware) are faster than an iPhone with half the specs (and even those don't beat a 4S by much), iOS is an incredibly efficient system that uses resources grudgingly. With jailbreaking you'll get 90% of Android's abilities while still preserving iOS and it's nearly flawless performance.
    If, like me, you think that Apple's UI is brilliant and intuitive you can add Winterboard and have access to some beautiful themes while preserving the basics of an iPhone's homescreen.... or if you want to imagine a completely different way of using the phone you can add Dreamboard and those themes where the sky's the limit and iOS isn't even recognizable anymore. Again, all while getting the same great performance from the hardware and iOS.
    That's not to say you can't change your phone for the worse (memory leaks, shortened battery life) but if you do a little research before downloading everything in sight you can keep everything that really is good about iOS while gaining freedom from it.

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    • Leah Holmes Jan 5, 2014 Link to comment

      I disagree I jb both my iPhone and ipad for yrs and jb makes ios devises a lot more buggy and crash more frequently my note 3 is not only faster even with a theme and different apps it dose not crash so yes ios is reliable and runs smoothly but not when ur jailbrokan and have a themes on so you don't keep both things if ur gonna jb mint as well move to a android ul get a much better performance with a lot more features Right out the box ! Plus apple are makeing it harder for the avaders to make new jb with every new ios it's predicted there will come a time when jb will be impossible and that's the day appel really will be finished

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  • red May 9, 2012 Link to comment

    @Eric: I have a samsung galaxy s 4G (t mobile) and I would love to have help. I have been trying to educate myself by taking notes about the partitions, essential apps, different methods, etc., so I am not total ignorant. Just very overwhelmed atm.

    If you're game, I am. How should I hear from you?

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  • Eric McBride May 8, 2012 Link to comment

    @DaBartonator...that is a BRILLIANT idea! But maybe Google wouldn't allow it? Maybe a company could come to an agreement with them on this.

    @Nick - I couldnt agree more. That to me clearly shows the different directions that the operating systems go. Android =freedom + control of your own device. IOS =control as well, but from Apples standard of control. That control works great, but I prefer the freedom with the control :-D

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