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.
Jump to section:
- What is root?
- Root and your warranty
- Is rooting legal?
- How to check for root
- Advantages of rooting
- Disadvantages of rooting
- How to root Samsung devices
- How to root LG devices
- How to root Sony devices
- How to root Nexus devices
- How to root other Android phones
- Is rooting for me?
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".SuperSU
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.Root Check
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.Root Checker
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.Titanium Backup ★ root
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.Tasker
“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.Greenify
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.