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The ability use custom ROMs is one of the great joys of Android.

A custom ROM contains a whole new build of the Android operating system. To be able to install — or flash, as it’s known — a ROM offers huge benefits.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at two ways to flash a custom ROM. One takes the manual approach, the other uses an Android app.

Before You Begin

You need to do a little bit of prep work before you can get started. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to assume you’ve got all these things in place already.

You need a custom recovery. This is a small piece of software What's a Custom Recovery? Exploring CWM, TWRP, and Friends What's a Custom Recovery? Exploring CWM, TWRP, and Friends If you've ever considered tinkering with your Android device, you've probably read that you need to flash a custom recovery onto it before you can do anything serious. But, that begs some questions. Read More that is used to create a backup and to flash a ROM. In this guide we’re going to use TWRP. A custom recovery is normally installed when you root.

You need an unlocked bootloader. Most phones ship with a locked bootloader, and you need to unlock it before you’re able to overwrite the system files. The process can differ depending on what device and what version of Android you’re using, so check online for your specific device if you still need to do this.

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Turn on USB Debugging. In Android go to Settings > Developer options and turn on USB Debugging.

usb-debugging

Disable security. It’s a good idea to disable your security settings before you flash a ROM, especially if you use a fingerprint scanner.

Backup your data. We’ll create a full backup during the flashing process, but it’s also convenient to backup just your data using the app Titanium Backup. This requires root.

Charge your phone, or plug it in. You really don’t want your phone to run out of power halfway through flashing a ROM.

Download a Custom ROM

You also need a custom ROM What Is Rooting? What Are Custom ROMs? Learn Android Lingo What Is Rooting? What Are Custom ROMs? Learn Android Lingo Ever had a question about your Android device, but the answer had a bunch of words in it that you didn't understand? Let us break down the confusing Android lingo for you. Read More . Here, it’s important that you make sure you get one that’s compatible with your phone’s exact model.

Obviously you aren’t going to do anything as silly as attempting to flash an HTC ROM on a Samsung phone, but if you’ve got the US version of a Samsung phone, it could be quite easy to download a ROM designed for the international version of the same phone by mistake. These might actually be classified as different phones. Make sure you get the right one!

pac-rom

The ROM will download as a .zip file. Save it somewhere on your phone’s internal storage. With most ROMs, you may also need to download the Google apps (GApps) in a separate zip.

Flash a Custom ROM Through Recovery

The preferred way to flash a ROM is to do it manually through your custom recovery. It’s a little more involved than using an app, but you get full control over the process and there’s less chance for something to go wrong.

twrp

Turn off the phone and boot it into recovery. The way you do this differs on each handset, but normally involves holding down a combination of the power button, the home button, and/or the volume buttons, then following any onscreen instructions.

Flash the ROM

Once TWRP has launched, you’re ready to start flashing the ROM. Here are the steps:

  1. Create a Nandroid backup What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? You need that backup at the ready. Read More . This is what you’ll use to restore your phone to its previous state, or to recover from any problems. Go to Backup and select which partitions you want to save. You can include them all, as it’s possible to select which parts to restore when the time comes.
  2. Swipe the bar to get started, then wait several minutes for the backup process to complete.
  3. Go back to the home screen and select Wipe. Swipe the bar to reset your phone (it won’t wipe your internal storage). Alternatively, select Advanced Wipe and choose Dalvik/ART Cache and Cache. This keeps your data and apps intact, but may cause errors with your ROM (this is called a dirty flash).
  4. Return to the TWRP home screen and select Install. Navigate your way to where you saved the ROM (the zip file).
  5. Tap the zip file to select it.
  6. Swipe the bar to begin installing.
  7. After it completes, repeat steps 5-6 with the GApps zip if you need to.
  8. Reboot.

Don’t panic if it appears to get stuck on the boot screen because the first boot after flashing a ROM usually takes a bit longer than normal.

If it eventually becomes apparent that Android isn’t going to boot, take a look at our problem solving guide How to Recover a Bricked Android Phone How to Recover a Bricked Android Phone If you've accidentally bricked your Android phone and need to fix it, this is how. Read More for possible solutions. Having taken a Nandroid backup, you should always be able to restore that to get your phone up and running quickly.

Once your phone has restarted, you’ll need to restore your data and apps (assuming you did wipe the data as outlined above). Most ROMs are pre-rooted, so if you used Titanium Backup, it will work without any extra steps.

Now you’re ready to enjoy your new software.

Flash a Custom ROM with an App

If all that sounds like a bit much, you can use an app within Android to flash the ROM instead.

The best one to use is FlashFire. It’s free and easy to use. It’ll handle the entire process for you — you don’t even need a custom recovery.

flashfire

FlashFire only works on rooted phones. To set it up, you need to grant the request for root access when you run it for the first time. Then swipe open the sidebar from the left, choose Settings and select Freeload. This activates the app’s full features.

Flash a ROM With FlashFire

Every task in FlashFire can be completed with little more than a couple of clicks.

  1. Tap the + icon in the bottom right of the screen to see your options. Choose Backup > Normal to create a standard backup (or select Full to back up everything).
  2. Hit the check mark in the top right corner to get started, then wait a while for the backup to complete.
  3. Next, select Wipe and choose which parts of your phone to clear. System data, 3rd party apps, and Dalvik cache are selected by default, and this should be all you need.
  4. Finally, select Flash ZIP or OTA and locate the downloaded ROM you have stored on your phone.
  5. Tick the Mount /system read/write option, then hit the check icon to get started. For some ROMs or other flashable zips, you might need to select some of the other options too. See the FlashFire user guide for more.

And that’s just about it. You’ll probably need to repeat steps 4 and 5 for the GApps zip, if your ROM required you to download it separately. If you want to restore a backup, open the sidebar and select Backups.

FlashFire can also handle things like OTA updates from your phone’s manufacturer, or add-ons like the Xposed Framework 12 Best Xposed Modules for Customizing Android 6.0 Marshmallow 12 Best Xposed Modules for Customizing Android 6.0 Marshmallow These Xposed modules can seriously customize and improve your Android phone or tablet, even if it's running the newest Android 6.0 Marshmallow! Read More . Plus, it doesn’t interfere with your root access, which makes it a very convenient tool.

The Best ROMs

Installing a custom ROM can seem daunting at first. Once you understand the steps involved, it becomes second nature — whichever method you choose.

download-cycanogenmod

All you need now is to find a decent ROM to test. CyanogenMod is the most popular, and has official and unofficial builds for most devices. PAC-ROM is another one with widespread support. It has a stock-like interface but is packed with geeky features that enable you to customize how the phone looks and works.

On top of these, we recommend browsing the XDA Developers forums for your specific device to find a good custom ROM. As long as you keep a recent Nandroid backup on hand, there’s no harm in testing multiple ROMs until you find the one that’s right for you.

Do you use custom ROMs? Which method do you prefer to flash them? What are your favorite ROMs? Let us know in the comments.

Originally written by Ryan Dube on March 25, 2011.

  1. tanveer
    November 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    i can't find any rom for galaxy j1 ace j110h.
    searched in cm,pac-rom and xda forum

  2. Chinmay
    November 24, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Thanks, this article is very helpful. I bought Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung flagship of that year. It came with Android 4.2.2 and since then didn't receive any update. Samsung didn't release update for that particular baseband version, other S4s got so many updates over the course of 2 years.

    So Custom ROM is the only solution in my case, I've already rooted my phone but didn't knew what to do next, this article explains everything from start to finish.

  3. HTCUserrr.
    May 15, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Uhm, I've rooted my phone, and downloaded ROM manager. I backed up my phone, downloaded the CM rom, attempted to reboot into restore. But, it's stuck at the HTC screen. I've let my phone sit until the battery died, just to make sure it didn't just take a while to get into recovery mode. And it still won't go into recovery.
    Help? Please&Thanks.
    Phone : HTC Hero, 2.2. (Sprint). Rooted with Universal Androot.

    • Tina
      May 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      I think this is an issue you should take to MakeUseOf Answers

      When you submit a question, please refer to this article and describe exactly what you did, what hardware and/or software versions you used, and what happened.

  4. nizbot
    March 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Start here:
    http://forum.cyanogenmod.com/f...

    Good luck.

  5. Stultz
    March 26, 2011 at 1:48 am

    in install the CyanogenMod. rom but now all my hts Icrediable does is set there spinning the blue arrow around and around. I feel like i rally messede it up

  6. Djangelic
    March 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I agree with nizbot, you should have definitely mentioned XDA forums, as they are a WEALTH of information. I am currently running Cyanogen on my Evo, but I am partial to Cyanogen, because when I was rocking the G1, Cyanogen was the first to support it and port over 2.1. Regardless, if you are coming over from an HTC sense based rom, check out TouchPal Dialer in the marketplace. it gives you a Sense looking dialer, that completes cyanogen for me :)

    • Anonymous
      March 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks for the comments everyone - yes, I agree, I feel bad that I didn't mention the XDA folks...I personally picked up a lot about the Droid from those forums and should have thrown out a call out to them in this one. I'll have to do that in a future article.

      I really am loving Cyanogen at the moment. Considering flashing the radio as I heard you can get better reception, but I haven't learned enough about it yet to determine whether that's really necessary or true - do you guys know? Has anyone gone that far and was there an improvement in # of bars?

      • Anonymous
        March 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

        By radio do you mean modem?

        • Anonymous
          March 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm

          The radio is the software part of the ROM that handles telephony functions - a.k.a. receiving the cellular signal. I've read that you can actually flash the radio software separately and improve your cellular reception, but I also read it's one of the easiest ways to brick your phone so I haven't built up my courage to do it yet. :-)

        • Anonymous
          March 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm

          Yes, modem firmware. From what I understand (cause I've not had to do this yet) the modem firmware is specific to your ROM build along with hardware and geographic location. Essentially your mileage may very depending on your specific location, hardware and ROM.

          But to answer your question, yes it is possible to improve the performance of your device by flashing a different modem. Sometime battery life too depending. Usually there are threads dedicated specifically to modems per device on XDA and other forums. Just make sure you research before taking the leap and you should be fine as long as you can get to recovery mode ;)

          Also, as noted above; Just know that technically by rooting and flashing a different ROM you are voiding your warranty. So it's good practice to have your stock ROM on hand in case the S$%# hits the fan.

        • Anonymous
          March 25, 2011 at 11:10 pm

          Very cool - thanks for the tips. I just might try it out...after doing a bit of studying first. :-)

  7. Anonymous
    March 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I like that you mentioned SuperOnceClick. I used it to break the ice in this arena, but it didn't unlock my bootloader, so ROM Manager, etc. couldn't apply new ROMs. There are still benefits to be had short of swapping out ROMs, but don't bang your head on the wall trying to install one until after altering your bootloader (and possibly voiding your warranty).

  8. Anonymous
    March 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Depending on your device, your mileage may vary <-- This needs to be made clear when talking about flashing different ROM's. Especially since rooting is and can be different for each device. Not to mention, some devices you will brick if you try and root them.

    This whole article and you didn't even mention XDA as a resource...(not that it's the only one, but still)
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/index.php

    Plus making a backup of your current rom via ROM Manager will not give you access to your current apps and settings after you flash a new ROM. You will need to use an application such as Titanium Backup for this (Pro license is highly recommended).

    Also, IMO CM is only the tip of the digital iceberg. There are so many good dev's out there churning out amazing looking and performing ROM's now. For my device CM is not so good for example...not to mention, I just don't like some of the attitude tossed around by their devs lol.

    My advice is to look at XDA for your device and find which ROM will appeal to you the most. Please EDUCATE yourself before taking the leap ;)

    Device: Samsung Captivate At&t
    ROM: Phoenix Ultimate SE
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=892973

    Kernel: Speedmod K13D 500HZ
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=893880

    Theme: Darky's Ginger Honey Beta by Antonda
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=855676

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