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How to root Android: the ultimate guide

Authored by: Kris Carlon — 5 months ago

In the land of Android, rooting is the national sport. It brings people together, is sometimes challenging but always rewarding. If you're yet to be initiated into the world of Android root, sit back while we explain the pros and cons of rooting an Android device, how to do it for each smartphone manufacturer and how to tell whether your phone is rooted.

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AndroidPIT Galaxy S6 Ping Pong Root
Gaining root access is easier on some devices than others. / © ANDROIDPIT

What is root?

The term "root" comes from the Linux world. The root operation in Android is much the same as it is there: it gets you superuser rights and full access to the entire file system. This allows you to make profound adjustments and changes to the software.

But for novice users, it also provides a great danger because very important system files can be just as easily be deleted as unimportant ones. This is one of the main reasons why Android smartphones are not rooted by default: to save the unwitting from unnecessary Android rooting nightmares.

Root access is often made by a script that you install in Android's download mode, which automatically executes itself, granting root access in the process. This script often uses a vulnerability in the operating system kernel by performing a so-called "privilege escalation".

AndroidPIT root apps SuperSU
SuperSU is one of the best apps for managing root access on Android. / © ANDROIDPIT
SuperSU Install on Google Play

As we said above, root privileges turn you from a regular user to a superuser with access to the full Android system. The simplest way to grant that superuser permission to apps as well is with an app called SuperSU.

You can do this on a case-by-case basis, for specific situations or for the long-term, to allow these apps to help you take complete control over your Android all the time. You can withdraw superuser permissions at any time too.

If you find any of the terminology confusing, we've outlined the most important terms in root and custom ROMs in the article at the link.

pac rom
Once you're rooted, you can flash a custom ROM on your Android. / © ANDROIDPIT

Will I lose my warranty if I root my Android?

We know many of you are concerned with the prospect of losing your warranty or guarantee if you root your smartphone. This a very real concern that those in our line of business tend to overlook because we can break phones and get new ones reasonably easily.

Generally speaking, rooting your Android will void your warranty, but it's not always so clear cut. Some devices, such as those in the Nexus line from Google, are pretty much designed to be rooted and modified by Android developers in order to push the platform ahead, so you can't expect the same level of concern from all OEMs. 

AndroidPIT Nexus5 CyanogenMod Boot
Some phones were designed to be unlocked and rooted easily. / © ANDROIDPIT

Manufacturer positions vs carrier positions

HTC is the only manufacturer we contacted that was absolutely accommodating when it comes to rooted phones. As you may recall, HTC famously decided to provide all HTC devices with an unlockable bootloader that would not affect the warranty. 

Unfortunately, even though HTC is happy to have you root your phone, carriers are not, and networks including AT&T and Verizon refuse to honor HTC's pledge by generally not stocking retail devices with bootloaders capable of being unlocked, preferring instead to offer Developer Edition devices instead that can only be bought outright, off-contract and unsubsidized.

HTC has a list of HTC devices with unlockable bootloaders but notes that there are some carrier restrictions and that if modifying the system software of your phone is deemed to be the cause of any problem for which you return the device, your repairs may not be covered under warranty.

HTC One M8 Screen
HTC is the only manufacturer to wholeheartedly support system modifications. / © ANDROIDPIT

So unlocking your bootloader or rooting your phone will not necessarily void your warranty, but if you flash a sketchy ROM that breaks something then you could be out of luck. All in all, this sounds fair enough to me. As HTC told us: “If a defect is proven to be attributable to a changed software environment with regards to root, then the warranty claim will be void.”

LG, on the other hand, won't stand rooting at all. The company was very clear that rooting an LG phone immediately voids the warranty. Sony is less hard-line: “We look at these cases individually. If a modification [like root] is detected in the workshop that is not related to the defect being claimed, we tend to side with the customer.”

Samsung was less accommodating in its response though: “Since rooting modifies the device in ways that aren't allowed, Samsung won't grant any guarantees in these cases. As for the warranty agreement between the customer and the retailer, legal regulations apply, independently of Samsung's guarantee regulations.”

samsung galaxy s6 edge download mode
Samsung devices conveniently have a download mode for installing new firmware, even if the company doesn't exactly support using it. / © ANDROIDPIT

Is rooting Android legal?

That depends entirely on where you live. In the US, the modification of digital things like the software of mobile devices is covered by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Critically, some exemptions to that law exist courtesy of the US Copyright Office and they include things like rooting.

So while rooting in the US is technically illegal under the DMCA, one such exemption to the DMCA makes rooting Android devices legal “at least through 2015”. While this was a big win for fans of digital freedom back in 2012, it may not make you feel too secure as 2015 draws to a close.

For those in Europe, the case is much clearer: the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has worked intensively around the root issue and, after a detailed examination, came to the conclusion that rooting a device and installing unofficial software does not impact on your rights to a hardware warranty.

OsmAnd gps map app
The legality of rooting Android depends on where you live. / © ANDROIDPIT

According to EU Directive 1999/44/CE, even when rooting and installing custom ROMs, the owner of an Android device can make claims under warranty for up to two years after purchase. This ruling, however, only applies to claims made regarding the hardware of the device, and if a retailer or manufacturer can prove that the software modification caused the defect then you may find yourself out of luck.

The good news for those in Europe is that the burden of proof lies on the retailer or manufacturer to prove that it was a custom ROM or the root process itself that caused the problem and not on you, the customer, to prove that it wasn't.

In the US, things are much less well-defined and basically come down to a mish-mash of manufacturer, carrier and retailer positions. The simple answer is: don't root unless you're happy to accept a voided warranty.

root s5
How do you know what has been done to an Android device you just bought second-hand? / © ANDROIDPIT

How do I know if my device is rooted?

If you've bought a second-hand Android device and want to know if it was previously rooted or modified, the simplest way is to check for root with a simple, free-to-install Android app. Fortunately, there are a couple of great apps for checking root access.

Jared Rummler from JRummy Apps is responsible for Root Check, a great app that not only tells you if your device is currently rooted or not, but also provides a nice glossary of terms and links to other good root apps by JRummy.

jrummy root check
JRummy's Root Check app is a great tool for managing root access and apps. / © JRummy
Root Check Install on Google Play

Root Checker is the default root check app from the developer Joey Krim. Root Checker does pretty much the same stuff as Root Check, but some features are reserved for the pro version. But even in the free version, you'll get an explanation of things surrounding root and links to other root apps.

joeykrim root checker
Joey Krim's Root Checker is the default root checker app for Android. / © joeykrim
Root Checker Install on Google Play

Benefits of rooting Android

We've written a pretty comprehensive list in the past about why you should root your Android phone, so we'll keep this short. Besides access to the best root apps on Android, the power to uninstall pre-loaded bloatware apps and the world of custom ROMs, there are plenty more reasons you should root your Android phone or tablet.

For starters, backups are easier with root access. If you have root, you can grant a backup app like Titanium Backup root level permissions and make complete backups of your system periodically, so no matter what happens to your phone, you'll always have an up-to-date backup to save the day.

android root apps teaser hero nexus 5
There are some incredibly powerful Android root apps available. / © ANDROIDPIT
Titanium Backup ★ root Install on Google Play

Root access also allows you to change the tiniest details in the Android system. Sure, you can flash a full blown custom ROM for a complete makeover, but you can also make minor tweaks with Xposed Framework. Maybe you just want to flash a new boot animation? Tweak some audio settings? Or overclock your CPU by just a smidge? All of this is possible with root.

With root access, you can also get better battery life out of your Android, by undervolting your CPU or through automatic app hibernation with apps such as Greenify. As mentioned above, removing pre-installed apps also lessens the demands on system resources, improving battery life further.

Ad blockers and full system automation with Tasker are another two of the big reasons to root Android, but your reasons to root will be about as personal as the things you can do once you have root. Maybe you want to change everything, maybe you only want to change one thing. No matter what you want to change, if you want to change anything about Android, you'll need root to do it.

AndroidPIT root apps tasker
Apps like Tasker can automate every corner of your Android life. With root, that is. / © ANDROIDPIT
Tasker Install on Google Play

Why you shouldn't root Android

“If root is so great, why isn't everyone doing it then?” I hear you ask. A few reasons really: the warranty issue we mentioned earlier, the fact that it can be complicated and dangerous, and that in many cases you'll no longer automatically get over-the-air (OTA) updates.

Once you're rooted it is also much easier to have that level of permission abused by a clever but ill-intentioned app. Granting root access to an app when you're rooted should be handled with much more care than the average person exhibits when blindly hitting Accept in the Google Play Store when the permissions list pops up.

AndroidPIT root apps Greenify
Root users need to pay particular attention to which apps they grant superuser permissions to. / © ANDROIDPIT
Greenify Install on Google Play

It seems fair to expect that anyone interested in and capable of rooting their phone would also be capable of updating their system software manually, but it can be a pain to always have to update your device yourself, especially if you own several, simply because you are rooted.

There are also more potential complications when updating a rooted Android device than when updating a non-rooted one. Again, these are perfectly workable, but are potentially more annoying than root is worth to the average person.

We've written about some of the other reasons you shouldn't root your Android if you're interested to know more of the disadvantages of rooting.

Androidpit System update Nexus 6P 2
With root, you'll get OTA notifications, but have to flash updates manually. / © ANDROIDPIT

How do I root my smartphone?

Because the process used to root individual devices varies so greatly and changes so quickly, there's little point in providing dedicated links to tutorials on AndroidPIT. The simplest thing to do is hit the search button and look for a current guide. But read on for some general rules.

How to root Samsung devices

Because Samsung devices are supported by the excellent Odin software tool, rooting Samsung devices is generally very simple. All you need to do is download the Odin program on your computer and flash the latest Auto-Root tool from the developer Chainfire.

Other root methods for Galaxy devices frequently come up and occasionally CF-Auto-Root takes a while to appear for a new Galaxy device, but it's generally one of the better and more reliable methods if you're at all unsure about the process. 

It should be reiterated here that Samsung includes a flash counter on its devices. This means that if you root your Galaxy device and flash anything on it and then have to return it for repair, Samsung might refuse your claim due to modifications being made that are not covered under warranty.

root s5
It's easy to root a Samsung Galaxy phone with Odin and CF-Auto-Root. / © ANDROIDPIT

How to root LG devices

LG devices don't need a third-party program like Odin to root. All you need is a computer and some ADB commands with which to run a script or you can use a tool called One Click Root if you're a little scared of the whole ADB thing.

LG notably provided official instructions for unlocking the LG G4 bootloader back in the middle of 2015, but with the caveat that you'll be voiding your warranty if you do so. 

How to root Sony devices

Depending on which kind of Sony phone you have – one with an unlockable bootloader or not – the root process will be slightly different for you. If your bootloader is officially unlockable it's much easier to get a custom recovery on your Xperia and then make further modifications by flashing zip and image files.

You simply need to check Sony's list of Xperia devices with an unlockable bootloader and, if your device is on the list, find a custom recovery for it. We'd recommend TWRP, which has a convenient supported devices page to make the search that much easier. From here all you need to do is grab a SuperSU exploit and flash it through recovery.

AndroidPIT Nexus 6 TWRP recovery install
This is TWRP recovery on the Nexus 6. / © ANDROIDPIT

How to root Nexus devices

Google is in the business of helping developers and enthusiasts do what they want, so you don't have to request an unlock code or anything like that for a Nexus bootloader. Simply enable OEM unlocking in the Developer settings (if it appears on your particular device), connect to a computer with a USB cable, enter Fastboot mode and apply a simple Fastboot or ADB command (depending on which Nexus you have).

How to root other Android devices

There are plenty of other ways to unlock your bootloader and root other Android phones. Motorola has an official support page to guide you through the bootloader unlock process and a quick search in Google or XDA Developers will provide the very latest root method for your particular device.

As mentioned above, HTC officially supports unlocking the bootloader and provides information for doing so on its website. Unfortunately, rooting HTC devices can be a tricky business, with a bricked phone one possible outcome if things go wrong. Again, we advise you to trawl through the XDA Developers root directory for the latest surefire root methods. 

androidpit android phones confused
To root or not to root? That is the question only you can answer. / © ANDROIDPIT

Conclusion: should I root or not?

As you can probably tell by this point, rooting Android is not for the faint of heart. You need to be willing to risk voiding your warranty, will have to manually apply Android updates, are more prone to security risks and will have to research the latest root method and apply it perfectly to your device to avoid possible problems.

But the benefits of rooting Android are manifold. You'll have complete control over your system, can uninstall bloatware, apply millions of system tweaks and create complete backups automatically. If you've got this far and can't wait for the next stage, hit that search bar, do some digging in XDA and start the next phase of your Android education. Happy rooting.

Kris is a former AndroidPIT Editor who came to the team via a lengthy period spent traveling and relying on technology to keep him in touch with the outside world. He can usually be found juggling three phones at once and poring over G+ posts, Reddit and RSS feeds.

17 comments

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  • AnyRooter Android Root Pro is the best rooting program I used in past 4 years. It supports a lot of Android smartphones and tablets. And it roots the device within 1 click, which is quite impressive: http://www.anyrooter.com/android-root-pro.html

  • If I root my galaxy note 3 n900, it will change the manu style??

  • oliver 4 months ago Link to comment

    FOR NEXUS USERS!!!!: USE NEXUS ROOT TOOLKIT!!!!! ITS FREE FOR DOWNLOAD FOR PC!!!

  • I like to use wugfresh's toolkit to root it makes everything so much easier.

    • Eeeeh! Wait , thats for Nexus only toolkit. Is the world that narrow ? Ithought the title said "...for Android?"

  • I just use Kingroot and its easy just Google it download it open it and Bam your phone is rooted! Next use Purify.

    • Yep Kingoroot or the IRoot same pedigree but different branding both in PC and on device (.apk) format available they both install the same Kinguser app as their Superuser.

  • Like always this particular writer always like to gloat over something that is not as what the title says. This is not the ultimate guide to rooting but an "introduction to root" , maybe to him it is his ultimate knowledge about about root which I gather from following his postings here is( his exposure is limited to) Samsung, Nexus, HTC, maybe Moto. If you follow his postings everything revolves around those models only. There is no substance in his " ultimate Root" article except that , as all users know about Warranty and SuperSU but nothing about how to root.

    • I would just like to state that it was not my intention to gloat but to merely prevent any others from making the same error as my self. My postings (what postings, this is the first) as stated I read all I could, but this was clearly not enough as if you read my POSTING you will find certain apps will not trust a rooted system. Believe it or not I still am a fan of rooting and being free from all the bloat ware and let the hardware do what it is capable of. In not being informed that my banking apps would not wok my have changed my mined as all the root cloaking apps didn't work either. I can only comment on what I have found and didn't not generalise.

      • My friend I am referring to Kris Karlon, lol! Dunno where'd you get the idea that I am referring to your postings (we are all readers)Never even notice your postings. I have been following this Kris postings and I am commenting on his biasness towards certain brands of phones ( you dont believe me?search for his articles here). And there were other articles by him that got the "booo" from the crowd.

      • So sorry, I thought it was aimed at me

  • It all sounds so cool, I for one fell for all the hype regarding rooting my HTC_ONE M8 and read all I could before doing the deed, but after the initial joy of completing the task I then found out that internet banking with all my bank account apps would not allow me access with the explanation the a rooted phone will not be able to use their app. This is a fact that I had not encountered when reading all the stories, so be aware guys.

  • Sunshine 5 months ago Link to comment

    Cool, I can share this to my friends. Thanks a lot.
    How-to-root- android-device: http://goo.gl/2E868e

  • I have been using Lenovo K3 Note and the device is well supported by community. I am definitely benefited after rooting my device. ROW version of the android is updated frequently but after rooting my device i am able to install Dev version which is lot more faster with lot less bloatware.

  • Mohammad 5 months ago Link to comment

    how to root asus k019(fe375) lollipop? I can't find any method.

    • Kingroot or iRoot (Google for it- NOT KingOroot) 98% percent chance that it will be able to root ASUS as Kingroot/iRoot was developed to root China manufactured products try the Android version. But if you want SuperSU than you will have to do a second process. But better have a firmware/ROM backup first (just in case)The Kingroot (NOT King-o-root) should be able to root any ASUS/Lenovo/ Phablet in just about 3-4 minutes flat for KitKat/Lollipop (when I upgraded from KitKat to Lollipop the process is the same unlike other exploit that says it can only work on KitKat n not Lollipop or vice versa)

  • storm 5 months ago Link to comment

    How easily rootable a phone is and how much community support it gets from the independent developers are two of my prime criteria in selecting a phone. This tends to mean I select mainstream powerful devices as these are the most popular phones, at least as defined as follows. Powerful attracts the developers; popular means there's a good target audience/market for the modifications. This creates an economy of sorts in which root is best developed and enjoyed. It also means you're likely to keep getting OS updates well after the carrier and manufacturer stop officially supporting the device.

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