Root Explorer is the best app for viewing and editing system files on your phone. It’ll cost you $4, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s been downloaded more than half a million times and has a 4.7 star rating on the Play Store.
Root Explorer isn’t normally needed for the most common root activities, like flashing a ROM, installing Xposed modules, or running advanced battery enhancements. It may not be an app you use every day, but if you’re heavily into modding and hacking your phone, it is an essential tool to keep on hand. Let’s take a closer look.
Download: Root Explorer ($3.99)
Why You Need Root Explorer
Limiting access to internal storage is a basic security precaution. If you can’t get to the system files, then you can’t break your phone, and neither can malware. The only way you can get to this part of the system without rooting is by using the ADB tool with your phone connected to a desktop computer.
When you root your phone, you unlock the entire file system, but you still need special software to access it. This is where Root Explorer comes in.
Upon launching the app for the first time, you’re asked to grant root privileges. From there you’re thrown right into the root of the file system. It’s mounted as read only by default, to avoid any chance of you doing any damage.
Gaining write access is as simple as tapping the Mount R/W button. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t make any changes unless you know what you’re doing — it’s easy to brick your phone otherwise.
What Can You Do with Root Explorer
Root Explorer isn’t just for root activities — it works as an everyday file manager too. You can create new folders, search for files, cut and paste them from one location to another, and so on. It’s also fully compatible with cloud services, so you can move files and archives to and from your phone with ease.
There are also several more advanced functions, including:
- Tabbed interface. Open folders in their own tabs so you can switch between them quickly.
- Built-in text editor. Open and edit files such as build.prop without needing extra software.
- Create and extract ZIP and TAR/GZIP files. Create backups of files and folders, or extract compressed files.
- Extract RAR archives. Use RAR files without needing any extra software.
- APK Binary XML viewer. View the manifest for any APK on your phone.
- Open With function. Override defaults by choosing which app to open a file with.
- Permissions control. Set read/write permissions when copying or editing system files.
- MD5 Hash check. Check the integrity of sideloaded apps to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.
It’s a pretty comprehensive tool. And unlike many root apps, it has a polished user interface that makes it very straightforward to use.
Specific Root Explorer Mods
But now you might be wondering, what are some specific examples of things you can do with Root Explorer? Here are four suggestions:
1. Backup and share APKs. Most third party apps are stored in the /data/apps folder, and pre-installed apps in the /system/apps folder. Both require root to access. You can create backups of APKs, or share them — perhaps with your Amazon Fire tablet to overcome its limited selection of apps. There’s no guarantee apps will work on other devices, though, especially if they’re reliant on things like the Google Service framework.
2. Edit system files, including build.prop. Editing system files is a bad idea unless you know exactly what you’re doing. If you want to do it, you can with Root Explorer. The most likely file to edit is build.prop.
This is a configuration file that contains information about your device, including screen resolution, manufacturer, Android version number, and more. It can change how your phone works, and make “incompatible” apps compatible with your device. It’s found in the /system folder — backup first, and beware that errors can cause bootloops.
3. Delete bloatware or install new system apps. Almost every phone comes with an extra set of apps beyond the usual Android and Google offerings. These are often categorized as bloatware due to them using resources while offering little value.
These apps are located in the /system/apps folder and can be deleted if you don’t want them. (Again, make sure you know what you’re deleting before you do it.) Conversely, you can install other apps as system apps by placing them in the same folder. Set the permissions to:
User: Read and Write
Then reboot your phone to finish the process.
4. Change the boot animation. The animation that plays when you boot your phone is found in the /system/media folder. Simply replace the bootanimation.zip file with an alternative of the same name and you can personalize how your phone looks while it is starting up.
Free Alternatives to Root Explorer
Of course there are free alternatives to choose if you’d rather not pay. There are a few main options.
- ES File Explorer. One of the most popular and powerful file explorers for Android has root functionality. Beware bloat and intrusive ads, though.
- Root Browser. An ad-supported app that covers pretty much the same ground as Root Explorer, only with a less attractive interface. Ideal for occasional users, and there’s a paid ad-free upgrade.
- Amaze File Manager. Free, open source, and ad-free, but still in beta. May contain a few bugs, but well regarded by its users.
There are plenty more as well. They all have similar features, but different levels of usability and bugs. It’s worth testing a few to see which you like. Given how much power a root file manager gets, you need to make sure you use an app that you trust.
Do you use Root Explorer? Or do you prefer a different root file manager? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comments below.
Originally written by Erez Zukerman on December 21st, 2012.