What is Root? Full Definition Revealed
What is Root in Android Phone?
The biggest term that you may have heard around Smartphone blogs, or news sites, or forums, is “Rooting.” Now what does that mean?
Rooting is the process of allowing users of smartphones, tablets and other devices running the Android mobile operating system to attain privileged control (known as root access). At its most basic, “rooting” is the process by which one gains access to the administrative commands and functions of an operating system. Still confused?
Rooting gives you the permission to act like the administrator of the phone – similar to running programs as administrators in Windows, or running a command with sudo in Linux. Rooting gives the ability (or permission) to alter or replace system applications, files and settings, removing pre-installed applications, run specialized applications (“apps”) that require administrator-level permissions, low-level access to the hardware itself (rebooting, controlling status lights, or recalibrating touch inputs) or perform other operations that are otherwise inaccessible to a normal Android user. On Android, rooting can also facilitate the complete removal and replacement of the device’s operating system, usually with a more recent release.
It gives you privileges to modify the software code on the device or install other software that the manufacturer wouldn’t normally allow you to (for good mobile security reasons: they don’t want users to make modifications to the phones that could result in accidents beyond repair). But tech savvy users have already developed rooting methods, which vary depending on device. They are available on the web, and more and more Android users are resorting to them because of the powerful perks they provide.
As you learn more about the rooting process, you’ll probably run into a bunch of terms that can be confusing. Here are some of the most important ones and what they mean. If there are any other terms you think we should add, let me know and I’ll put them in!
- ROM: A ROM is a modified version of Android. It may contain extra features, a different look, speed enhancements, or even a version of Android that hasn’t been released for your phone yet.
- Stock: “Stock Android,” mean the Google-built version you’d find on Nexus devices. Many ROMs are based on stock Android with some additions, while others are based on the version that came with your phone. In other cases, “Stock” can also mean the version of Android that came with your phone—e.g., if you want to get rid of your ROM and return your phone to factory settings, you might say you’re “going back to stock.”
- Kernel: A kernel is the component of your operating system that manages communications between your software and hardware. There are a lot of custom kernels out there for most phones, many of which can speed up your phone and increase your battery life, among other things. Be careful with kernels, though, as a bad one can cause serious problems with your phone and possibly even brick it.
- Flash: Flashing essentially means installing something on your device, whether it be a ROM or a kernel. Sometimes the rooting process requires flashing a ZIP file, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Brick: To brick your phone is to break it during flashing or other acts. There is always a small risk with flashing, and if your phone becomes unable to function—that is, it basically becomes a brick – you’ve bricked your phone.
Perks & Benefits
- The possibility for complete control over the look and feel of the device.
- Full theming capabilities, meaning that everything can be changed and themed
- Full control of the CPU and kernel
- Unlock Hidden Features and Install “Incompatible” Apps – Install carrier-blocked apps, get features from the latest version of Android or make incompatible apps compatible. Whatever you want, rooting gives you the power to do a lot more. There are several Android applications which are extremely useful and also require root menu access, e.g. “Titanium Backup”.
- Boost Your Phone’s Speed and Battery Life – You can do a lot of things to speed up your phone and boost its battery life without rooting, but with root – as always – you have even more power. For example, with an app like SetCPU you can overclock your phone for better performance, or underclock it for better battery life. You can also use an app like Greenify to automatically hibernate apps you aren’t using.
- Remove Preinstalled Crapware / Bloatware – Uninstall that annoying, battery-draining, space-wasting crapware that comes preinstalled on so many phones these days—and, sadly, this feature is root-only.
- Flash a Custom Kernel – Some of Android’s most under-the-hood tweaks require a custom kernel, which you can only flash with a rooted device. A custom kernel can give you better performance, battery life, and even extra features like Wi-Fi tethering (on unsupported phones), faster battery charging, and lots more.
- Flash a Custom ROM – One of the best benefits of rooting. A custom ROM is basically a custom version of Android, and it truly changes how you use your phone. Some add a few handy features, some add lots of really unique features, and some change your operating system from head to toe.
- Full application control, including the ability to backup, restore, or batch edit applications
- Processes can be automated on the device through the use of applications such as Tasker.
With great power, comes great responsibility
Benefits of rooting an android phone come at a cost:
- Warranty: It’s legal to root your phone; however, if you do it, your device gets straight out of warranty.
- Brick: Rooting involves the risk of “bricking” your phone – Well, not literally, but if you goof up the rooting process, meaning the code modifications, your phone software can get so damaged that your phone will basically be as useless as a brick.
- Poor performance – Though the intention of “rooting” a phone is to give the phone more performance, several users have found that, in their attempts to speed up the phone or add additional features, that their phones lost both performance speed and features.
- Viruses – Yes, even phones can get viruses. A common practice that people do with “rooted” phones is to flash their ROM’s with custom programs. Gaining root access also entails circumventing the security restrictions put in place by the Android operating system. Which means worms, viruses, spyware and Trojans can infect the rooted Android software if it’s not protected by effective mobile antivirus for Android.
But you know what? It’s still totally worth it for all the goodies you get access to.
- Can I unroot my phone? If you decide you don’t like being rooted, you can often find instructions on unrooting your phone as well.
- Is rooting illegal? Technically, it once was, but exceptions to the DCMA have made it legal for most phones (but not necessarily tablets).
- Will rooting void my warranty? Unlocking your bootloader will void the warranty on your phone, even if your manufacturer provides a way for you to do it. That said, if you need warranty service for a hardware issue, you can sometimes unroot your phone and take it in for service with no one the wiser.
- Could rooting brick my phone? It’s possible, but pretty unlikely. As long as you follow instructions well, you probably won’t brick anything. Flashing custom kernels is a little riskier than just rooting or flashing ROMs, but again, if you follow directions you should be okay.
- Are any phones unrootable? In the past, many manufacturers have tried to make “unrootable” phones with harsher protections (like the Droid X), but they’re usually still rootable in some way, shape, or form.
- Will I still get over-the-air (OTA) updates? Will downloading them break my root? If you root your phone without flashing a custom ROM, then you will likely still get OTA updates from your carrier, and they will break your root. If you flash a custom ROM, you will not get OTA updates from your carrier. You may, however, get notifications for updates to your specific ROM. Those are safe to download.
- Will rooting speed up my phone? Not on its own. All rooting does is give you root access. However, it does open up the possibility for other tweaks that can speed up an old phone. When you gain access to administrative phone functions, it is simpler to freeze system processes that drain battery life.
- There are a ton of different Android phones out there, and while some rooting methods might work for multiple phones, there is no one-size-fits-all guide for rooting every phone out there.
- If you still want to root your device, make sure you research the process very well, as it differs depending on the smartphone type and brand. Its better you ask for expert advice on dedicated forums, or better yet, ask a tech savvy person to root it for you. All these in order to ensure you don’t turn your device into a brick.
- Install proper antivirus protection for your Android phone, even before rooting the device, to fend off malware infections.
- Here’s some good news: say you do resort to rooting your device. If for some reason you change your mind about it, you can always un-root it.
So, in a nutshell, when rooting an Android phone or tablet you’re basically tearing down the restriction walls of your firmware. Do plenty of research – there are a ton of sites with how-to videos and device-specific instructions, because no two phones are rooted the same way.