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The Android phone you’re using right now is running in a sandboxed environment. Unlike your Windows PC or Mac, you can’t go looking around or messing with system files. You can only operate within predefined parameters that are defined by Google and your manufacturer. Root access is the way to break free.

In the simplest terms, rooting your Android phone means taking control of your entire device, right from the code that’s running the operating system. It is beautiful, dangerous, and super rewarding. Rooting gives you access to system files, folders, and system commands — things that are normally hidden from the user.

Once you have root access, you’ll be able to do things mere mortals can only dream of. You’ll be able to remove carrier bloat, update to the latest version of Android even if it’s not officially supported, and you’ll be able to mod every part of the software. But as our friendly neighborhood superhero always says: With great power comes great responsibility.

Which brings us to the question — is it worth it?

The Advantages of Root Access

It’s important to note that just gaining root access won’t immediately solve all your problems. Rooting will just give you the power to do so. Here are all the clear advantages of using a rooted Android phone.

Titanium backup android rooting guide

Remove bloatware: You’ll be able to remove carrier or manufacturer bloatware that was preinstalled on your phone.

Better backups: You’ll be able to back up individual apps along with their app data Don't Lose Your Data: 5 Top Backup Solutions For Android Don't Lose Your Data: 5 Top Backup Solutions For Android Everybody needs to back up their data in case something happens to their device. Protect yourself with these amazing backup apps. Read More using Titanium Backup. And 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 will let you backup your entire operating system with just a tap.

Custom ROMs: If your phone is running slow, just switch to a custom ROM 6 Reasons You Need to Be Using a Custom ROM 6 Reasons You Need to Be Using a Custom ROM Custom ROMs are the best thing about having an Android phone! Don't miss out! Read More . It usually comes with the latest version of Android and the latest security patches. Most custom ROMs run on stock Android 6 Best Android 6.0 Marshmallow Custom ROMs 6 Best Android 6.0 Marshmallow Custom ROMs If you want to upgrade your phone to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, don't wait! These custom ROMs make it easy. Read More , so your phone will run much faster.

Extra apps and features: You’ll be able to run apps that aren’t available on the Play Store, and you’ll be able to tweak not just the software, but the hardware as well (by overclocking and underclocking the CPU).

Extended life: The HTC HD 2 is a legend in the rooting world. The phone was released in late 2009, but thanks to custom ROMs, it is able to run Android 7.0 Nougat seven years after its release. For you, a custom ROM could mean an extra year or two out of your current phone.

Things You Lose by Rooting

android rooting guide screens 2

Let’s talk about the cons. While it’s no longer illegal to root your Android phone Is It Illegal To Root Your Android or Jailbreak Your iPhone? Is It Illegal To Root Your Android or Jailbreak Your iPhone? Whether you're rooting an Android phones or jailbreaking an iPhone, you're removing the restrictions the manufacturer or cellular carrier placed on the device you own – but is it legal? Read More  in countries like the US, you do void your warranty by doing so. That’s not the end of the world, though, because you can usually unroot your device and get back to stock 3 Ways to Get Your Rooted Android Phone Back to Stock 3 Ways to Get Your Rooted Android Phone Back to Stock This is the easiest way to get your rooted phone back to stock. Read More if you want. After that, it should be back under warranty. Some manufacturers implement ways to know if you’ve ever rooted, but there are often workarounds for those.

Something that will affect you on a day-to-day basis is the incompatibility with some apps. Apps like WhatsApp Every WhatsApp User Must Know These Features Every WhatsApp User Must Know These Features Want to get the most out of WhatsApp? Some features -- hidden and obvious, new and old -- are essential to improving your experience. Here are some of the best. Read More and Netflix will throw up a warning. Certain banking apps might lock you out entirely. Once you’re rooted, you’ll need to be wary of software updates. A major update might affect your root status, and if you have customizations installed, you could end up bricking your phone.

Lastly, you’ll need to be extra careful about what you do with your phone. Because apps have root access, a malicious app or tweak can do much more damage now.

Rooting Dictionary

Bootloader: The bootloader is the piece of software on your phone that boots up the system recovery and the operating system. When you boot up the phone, this is the first piece of software that runs.

Root: The term “root” is a relic of the Linux world (Android runs on Linux). Gaining root access means gaining administrator or superuser access to the entire device, at its most basic level.

Recovery: The first thing the bootloader rings up is the recovery. A custom recovery like TWRP will let you back up the entire device, flash tweaks, and install a new custom operating system.

Custom ROM: A custom ROM is a replacement operating system. It’s compatible on the most fundamental level, but customized or changed in some other aspect. A custom ROM can have special apps, extra features, or tweaks to the code that make your phone faster and more secure.

SuperUser: When you root your phone, it installs a “su” binary. You can use apps like SuperSU to manage superuser access. Grant it to apps so they can interact with the root level of the operating system.

ADB: Android Debug Bridge lets you communicate to your Android device from your PC using the command line. For some devices, this is the only way to gain root access.

Kernel: A kernel is what sits between the phone’s hardware and software, making it easy for the software to communicate, interact, and tinker with the hardware. If you’re the ambitious kind, you can switch out the kernel for something custom Why You Should Consider Using A Custom Android Kernel Why You Should Consider Using A Custom Android Kernel Do you want the best performance out of your Android device? Or maybe you want the best battery life? Consider a custom kernel. Read More . This can give you a performance increase and access to more features.

Xposed Framework: Xposed is a modding tool Customize Your Phone Without Flashing a ROM With The Xposed Framework Customize Your Phone Without Flashing a ROM With The Xposed Framework It is common knowledge that the best way to customize your Android device is to flash it with a new ROM. It is also wrong. Read More . The modules available for Xposed let you tweak system and app behavior. You can get features from custom ROMs without actually switching to one.

Brick: When your phone just won’t boot up, it’s officially bricked. Don’t worry — you can usually get it up and running again by restoring a Nandroid backup.

Nandroid: Once you’re rooted, you’ll be able to perform Nandroid backups using the custom recovery. This backs up your entire phone, including apps and data that you can restore after you’ve installed a different custom ROM. So even if you update a ROM, you won’t lose out on any data.

Back up Before You Root

When the bootloader is unlocked, all your data will be wiped in the process. So it’s really important you backup your data Here's A Free, Multi-Layered Plan To Back Up A Non-Rooted Android Here's A Free, Multi-Layered Plan To Back Up A Non-Rooted Android Even with a non-rooted Android device, you can have a solid backup plan – and it doesn't have to cost you a dime! Read More before you take the first step.

Android backup rooting guide

Android doesn’t have a singular backup system for all apps and data (although you’ll gain this ability once you’re rooted). As rooting can be a risky affair, it’s best to back up all your important data first — contacts, messages How to Easily Transfer All Your Data to a New Android Device How to Easily Transfer All Your Data to a New Android Device When the time comes to move to a new phone, how on earth will you move all your data over? These tips will ease the process and make sure you don't miss a single thing. Read More , work documents, images, etc. To make sure your Google data is being synced to Google’s servers, go to Settings > Accounts > Google.

For contacts and email, just make sure Google sync is enabled, and should be good to go (as long as you use Gmail). For Photos, you can either copy them to your PC or upload them to Google Photos 12 Amazing Google Photos Features You Didn't Know About 12 Amazing Google Photos Features You Didn't Know About Google Photos is a well-known service, but it holds many little tricks. Here are 12 great features of Photos you might have missed. Read More . For any important documents you might have on your device, we recommend you upload them to Google Drive or Dropbox Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive: Which Cloud Storage Is Best for You? Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive: Which Cloud Storage Is Best for You? Have you changed the way you think about cloud storage? The popular options of Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive have been joined by others. We help you answer which cloud storage service should you use. Read More .

There are also a few apps that can help you back up other bits of data Don't Lose Your Data: 5 Top Backup Solutions For Android Don't Lose Your Data: 5 Top Backup Solutions For Android Everybody needs to back up their data in case something happens to their device. Protect yourself with these amazing backup apps. Read More you may have lying around.

How Rooting Actually Works

how to root 101 android rooting guide

Usually, rooting is a three-step affair: Unlock the bootloader, flash a new recovery, then use the new recovery to flash a .ZIP file that will give you root access.

The first thing you need is an unlocked bootloader. For most popular devices, there’s some kind of workaround to unlock the bootloader. Before going forward, check if your device’s bootloader can be unlocked via a quick Google search. Every Android device is different.

Once the bootloader is unlocked, the next thing is to switch from the system recovery to a custom recovery. A third-party recovery like TWRP 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  lets you do things like flash .ZIPs, install tweaks, make backups, and execute commands. We’ll use our new recovery to flash a .ZIP that will give us root access.

Once you’re running a recovery like TWRP, you’ll flash a SuperSU file that gives you root access. When you reboot your device, you’ll find that nothing has actually changed. You just gained the power to make changes. Don’t worry, real change is coming. We’ll talk about installing a new ROM, managing tweaks, and using root-enabled apps in the sections below.

Should You Root?

Android rooting guide check root access

Now that you know what rooting is, the advantages, and how exactly you go about it, now is the time to ask the question: Should you root? Using a rooted phone is (and I say this without a hint of irony), a lifestyle. Just like brewing your own beer or building retro game consoles How to Play Retro Games on Any Platform With DOSBox How to Play Retro Games on Any Platform With DOSBox Want to play retro PC games on your computer, phone, or game console? Here's everything you need to know to get started with DOSBox, including the best games to emulate! Read More is a lifestyle. For some people, it works; for some, it doesn’t.

At this point, you have to decide if it works for you. Or you can decide once you’ve already tried using a rooted device. If you’re excited about the notion of complete control over your Android device (and everything that entails), go for it. If you’re desperate for better performance out of the machine, go ahead and install a custom ROM.

Just keep in mind that you’ll need to be mindful of a lot of things, and you’ll need to do your due diligence before making a significant change to the operating system. Because when it comes to the root life, there are no shortcuts.

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Use One Click Tools

If your device has an unlockable bootloader, there are 2 major directions you can take. You can either go the old-fashioned way, or you can use a one click tool.

The old-fashioned way entails connecting your Android phone to your PC and manually passing commands to the phone using the command line.

The appeal of a one click tool (one that works from the device itself or via a PC) is that it takes care of everything for you. The manual route gives you more control over the process and is far more reliable. When it comes to one click tools, you’re at the mercy of its developer and how well it’s customized for your device.

You’ll find many one click rooting tools like KingRoot, KingoRoot, CF-Auto-Root, OneClickRoot, and so on.

android rooting guide screens 3

Here’s how a one click rooting tool like KingRoot works. KingRoot is just a database of exploits. When you use the app, it uploads your device details to its server and downloads the relevant exploit back on the device which disables the security parameters. This allows the app to gain root access.

The problem is that their use of exploits makes them notoriously unreliable. Exploits are usually blocked with software updates. And sometimes they may vary depending on the version of the operating system and the type of phone it is.

Kingo Super Battery

Apps like KingRoot and KingoRoot install their own cleaner apps in the process. So even if your phone does end up being rooted, you’ll now have more bloatware to deal with. Plus, utilities like KingRoot only work if you have an unlocked bootloader, and they don’t install a custom recovery like TWRP. If your end goal is to run a custom ROM, it’s better if you go through the manual process.

The advice for using a one click rooting tool is simple: Only use it if it’s your only option.

How to Root Your Android Phone

Thousands of different devices, hundreds of tools, and dozens of Android versions mean there are a million different ways to root an Android phone. But all you really need to think about is how it works for your device.

If you have a Nexus, Pixel, OnePlus, LG, or HTC phone, the process will be quite straightforward (even if it is slightly tedious). If you’re using something from an obscure brand, it’s going to be a bit harder. If you’re using a carrier-locked Samsung flagship like the Galaxy S8 The Greatest Smartphone You Shouldn't Buy: Samsung Galaxy S8 Review (and Giveaway!) The Greatest Smartphone You Shouldn't Buy: Samsung Galaxy S8 Review (and Giveaway!) The $800 Samsung Galaxy S8 is, without question, the best smartphone ever made. But you probably shouldn't buy one. Read More , it might be downright impossible. Let’s find out.

Open a new browser tab because it’s time for some good old-fashioned internet research! First of all, go to the XDA Developers forum and search for your device.

xda developers android rooting guide 1

XDA is the best community resource for everything related to rooting, modding, and custom ROMs. You’ll find detailed guides on how to root your device, how to install custom ROMs, and more. More importantly, the guides there will always be up-to-date. Certainly, more so than any step-by-step process I could outline for you here.

Alternatively, search on both Google and YouTube for phrases like “how to unlock (your phone here) bootloader” or “how to root (your phone here)”. Here’s the rule of thumb — favor the community-based result. A guide for rooting the OnePlus 3T that’s hosted on the official OnePlus forum is going to be far more helpful than what some blog wrote about. Once you find the forum post, read the comments and cross check the steps with a couple of different sources.

xda developers android rooting guide 2

The steps will vary based on different devices but this is usually the way it goes:

  1. On your PC, you’ll need to install ADB and Fastboot drivers. On your phone, enable USB Debugging.
  2. Once your phone is connected to the PC, put it in Fastboot mode and use the command prompt to send the commands to the phone. This is how you’ll unlock the bootloader and then install a custom recovery like TWRP.
  3. Boot into the TWRP custom recovery, flash the SuperSU file that you’ve copied over to the device, and you’re rooted. Run the Root Checker app to confirm root access.

Install a Custom ROM

Now that you’re rooted, you’ll want to install a custom ROM How to Install a Custom ROM on Your Android Device How to Install a Custom ROM on Your Android Device Ready to revitalize your Android phone or tablet? Installing a custom ROM is the best way to do that -- powering it up with even better performance and features. Read More . This time, the process is mostly the same no matter what device you’re using. It’s important to note that when you install a custom ROM, you’re basically replacing the entire operating system with a new one. So you’ll lose all your data.

Paranoid Android rom

This is why you should first make a Nandroid backup in case the custom ROM doesn’t work out. In the TWRP recovery, tap on Backup to get started. Also, back up individual apps and data using Titanium Backup so that once the custom ROM is installed, you can restore all your favorite apps just they way there were.

The Complete Guide to Rooting Your Android Phone or Tablet twrp

After you’ve made sure that the custom ROM is compatible with your device, download it to the internal memory of your phone. Boot into the TWRP recovery, find the file, and flash it. When you reboot, you’ll be running an entirely new operating system. Here are a few of the major custom ROMs you should look into: LineageOS, PAC-ROM, Paranoid Android.

Root Apps You Must Try

root apps Android

Titanium Backup: If you’re going to be a custom ROM hopper, Titanium Backup is the first app you should install after rooting. The app will let you backup apps along with their data. You can even sync it using cloud services like Dropbox so that your app data will always be safe even if your phone ends up bricked.

Greenify: Greenify is the best way to improve your phone’s battery life. Greenify shows you which apps are running in the background and how many times they’re waking up your device from sleep. You can then decide to freeze background processes on a per-app basis. It’s like the Doze feature How to Improve Battery Life on Android 6.0 Marshmallow How to Improve Battery Life on Android 6.0 Marshmallow Battery life is finicky, but with this trick, you can squeeze a lot more out of your Android 6.0 Marshmallow device. Read More , but on steroids.

Tasker: Tasker is a powerful automation app Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker automates anything you can think of on your Android device and IFTTT automates Web services. Used together, there's nothing you can't do. Read More . You can set up IFTTT-style workflows that initiate a program you’ve already configured. You can have the lights turn off when you leave your house or automatically launch Spotify when you connect to your Bluetooth headphones.

Xposed Framework: The Xposed Framework app is required to install certain mods. The rich library of Xposed modules will let you tweak your device to your heart’s content. Currently, the Xposed Framework only works reliably on Lollipop and Marshmallow devices.

Nandroid Manager: This app lets you interact with your Nandroid backups. You can extract files from them or easily backup apps and data.

Flashify: As a frequent flasher, Flashify will make your life easier. The app makes it easy to flash GAPPs, .ZIPs, kernel files, and more. Using Flashify’s interface is much faster than twiddling around in the TWRP recovery.

Link2SD: The app creates a seamless link between your internal storage and SD card so the apps think you’re just using your internal storage. This can help you move app data (especially media) to the SD card without tipping off the app.

Magisk: This ingenious little app This Is the Best Way to Root Your Android Device This Is the Best Way to Root Your Android Device If you want to root your Android phone or tablet, this is the best way to do it. It bypasses restrictions that other root methods don't. Read More helps you hide your root status from apps. This way you can download movies from Netflix How to Download Netflix Videos for Offline Viewing How to Download Netflix Videos for Offline Viewing Netflix now lets you download selected movies and TV shows to watch offline. Which is nice. This article explains everything you need to know about downloading Netflix videos to your device. Read More even when you’re rooted.

Stay Vigilant

As I’ve said before, rooting is a lifestyle and being alert is part of the package. So be careful when you’re out there in the trenches, without the safety of the secure sandbox. Consult trusted sources like XDA and you’ll be fine. Don’t just flash anything (and if you are a troublemaker, make sure you’re all backed up).

Did you decide to root your Android phone? Why? What kind of apps and custom ROMs are you using? Share with us in the comments below.

Image Credit: Niyazz via Shutterstock.com, Canon via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Nikunj Bhatt
    April 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    I m a mobile app developer so I would like to share about the last thing in the article - ADB Wireless. Don't know about past but now it is possible to connect to phone wirelessly using ADB.
    After connecting using USB, user needs to enter command "adb tcpip 5555", then disconnect USB and enter command "adb connect 192.168.1.2". Here the IP address "192.168...." is of the phone. The computer and the phone should be on a same network.

  2. Yopita
    February 8, 2017 at 1:17 am

    Great article!! *****

  3. rishikesavan
    February 25, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Thank you so much for this beautiful article. I'm using LAVA isis-x1 Selfie (android 5.1). Is it possible to root my mobile? i have tried many apps for this and i always getting disappointed. Please let me know is there any way to root my mobile.?! you can let me know in (rishirishiaero@gmail.com)

  4. Anitha .K
    May 22, 2015 at 9:55 am

    how to change font style in Micromax canves xl2 a109

  5. gabi
    April 28, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Is there a way of making temp root untill next rebbot?

  6. gabi
    April 28, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Great article. Most comprehensive i have read. Thank you.

  7. Steve
    March 6, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Will this work on a Acer A501 Tablet running ICS?

  8. taffy
    February 2, 2015 at 8:37 am

    This article amazing .Simple ,straight forward and correct,nicely done. cheers

  9. Gilbert
    January 13, 2015 at 4:25 am

    How does one root a Samsung phone with the bada o.s?