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How to Root Your Android Phone with SuperSU and TWRP

androidroot

If you really want to dig into the Android system, you may find that some apps require root access. Rooting has become less necessary over the years, but it’s still useful if you want to run certain types of apps. Here’s the most widely supported method for rooting your device, and why you might want to.

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What Is Root, Anyway?

Android is based on Linux. On Linux and other UNIX-like operating systems, the root user is equivalent to the Administrator user on Windows. The root user has access to the entire operating system, and can do anything. By default, you don’t have root access to your own Android device, and certain apps won’t function without root access. Like other modern mobile operating systems, Android confines apps to restrictive security sandboxes for security purposes.

The root user account always exists in Android; there’s just no built-in way to access it. “Rooting” is the act of gaining access to this root user account. This is often compared to jailbreaking an iPhone or iPad, but rooting and jailbreaking are fairly different.

Technical aspects aside, root access allows you to do a lot of useful things. With root, you can remove bloatware that came on your phone, run a firewall, enable tethering even if your carrier is blocking it, manually back up your system, and use a variety of other tweaks that require low-level system access.

Apps that require root aren’t hard to find–they’re available in Google Play, but they won’t work until you gain root access. Some apps have features that only work on a rooted device.

You only need to root your phone if you want to run a specific app that requires root access. If you don’t plan on actually doing anything with that root access, don’t bother. You can always root it later if you need to.

Warnings

Android devices don’t come rooted for a reason. In fact, some device manufacturers go out of their way to prevent you from rooting. Here’s why:

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  • Security: Rooting breaks apps out of Android’s normal security sandbox. Apps could abuse root privileges you’ve granted and snoop on other apps, something which isn’t normally possible. In fact, Google prevents you from using Android Pay on rooted devices for this reason.
  • Warranty: Some manufacturers assert that rooting voids your device’s warranty. However, rooting will not actually damage your hardware. In many cases, you can “unroot” your device and manufacturers won’t be able to tell if it’s been rooted.
  • Bricking: As usual, you do this at your own risk. Rooting should generally be a very safe process, but you’re on your own here. If you mess something up, you can’t just expect free warranty service to fix it. If you’re worried, do a bit of research first and see if other people report success rooting your device with the tool you’re planning on using.

The Many Ways to Root an Android Phone

towelroot

There are many ways to root an Android phone, and which one you should use depends on your phone. In general, rooting will involve one of these processes:

  • Unlock the Bootloader: Google and device manufacturers don’t officially support rooting, but they do provide an official way to gain low-level access to some devices, which then allows you to root. For example, Nexus devices are intended for developers, and you can easily unlock the bootloader with a single command. You can then root your device by flashing a .zip file containing the su binary from the recovery screen. Tools like the Nexus Root Toolkit for Nexus devices automate this process. Other manufacturers also offer ways to unlock the bootloader, but only for certain devices.
  • Exploit a Security Vulnerability: Other devices are locked down. Their manufacturers provide no official way to unlock their bootloaders and tamper with their software. These devices can still be rooted, but only by discovering a security vulnerability on the device and exploiting it to install a su binary onto their system partition. An OTA update might fix the security vulnerability as well as unroot the device. For example, there was an $18,000 bounty for the first person who could root a Samsung Galaxy S5 running on Verizon or AT&T. A vulnerability was found, but future updates could prevent the vulnerability from working and remove the ability to root the Galaxy S5.
  • Flash CyanogenMod or Another Custom ROM: Technically, this is an extension of one of the above methods. Unlocking the bootloader and exploiting a security vulnerability can each allow you to flash Custom ROMs like CyanogenMod, which often come pre-rooted. CyanogenMod includes a simple toggle on its settings screen that allows you to enable or disable root access. Upgrading to a new version of CyanogenMod or your custom ROM won’t unroot your device if the ROM comes with an integrated way to enable root.

In this article, we’ll primarily be discussing users who fall into the first camp, who have an unlockable bootloader. If your phone requires an exploit, we won’t be able to help you, since the process is different for just about every phone. You’ll have to search a forum like XDA Developers for more information on how to root your specific device. This guide previously featured one-click root apps Kingo Root and Towelroot, and those may still support some older phones as well.

If your device does have an unlockable bootloader, however, then read on. Before you begin the process, you’ll need to unlock your bootloader the official way, and then install the TWRP recovery environment using these instructions. We’ll then use TWRP to root your phone.

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How to Flash SuperSU to Your Phone and Gain Root Access

Alright, so you’ve unlocked your bootloader, and you’ve installed TWRP. Great! You’re actually almost there. To gain root access, we’re going to use a program called SuperSU, which gives you the ability to grant root access to other apps.

SuperSU is available in the Google Play Store, but that version doesn’t actually give you root access–in fact, you need root access to use it in the first place! Talk about a Catch-22. Thankfully, SuperSU is also available as a .zip file that we can “flash” with TWRP. Doing so will grant you root access along with the management features of SuperSU’s Android app.

So, to start, head to this link, which will take you to the latest version of SuperSU available for download. Download the .zip file to your computer, plug in your phone with a USB cable, and drag the SuperSU zip to your phone’s internal storage or SD card.

Next, reboot your phone into TWRP recovery. Doing this is a bit different on every phone–for example, you may have to hold the Power and Volume Down buttons simultaneously, then use the volume keys to boot “Recovery Mode”. Google instructions for your specific model to see how it’s done.

Once you’ve done so, you’ll be greeted with the familiar TWRP home screen. Click the Install button.

NOTE: You may want to make a backup in TWRP before continuing with this process.

1-twrp-install

The following screen will appear. Scroll down and navigate to the SuperSU ZIP file you transferred earlier.

2-choose-zip

Tap the SuperSU zip and you’ll see this screen. Swipe to confirm the flash.

3-confirm-flash

It should only take a moment to flash the SuperSU package.  When it finishes, tap the “Wipe cache/Dalvik” button that appears and swipe to confirm.

4-wipe-cache

When that finishes, tap the “Reboot System” button to boot back into Android.

If TWRP asks if you want to install SuperSU now, choose “Do Not Install”. Sometimes, TWRP can’t detect that you already have SuperSU, so it’ll ask to flash its built-in version. But it’s almost always best to flash the latest version of SuperSU yourself, which we’ve just done.

TWRP-root

Managing Root Permissions With the SuperSU App

When you reboot your phone, you should see the new SuperSU icon in your app drawer. SuperSU controls which other apps on your phone get root permissions. Whenever an app wants to request root permissions, it has to ask your SuperSU app, which will show a request prompt.

To make sure root is working properly, you can download the Root Checker app and verify your rooted status. Alternatively, download a root-only app you’ve been wanting to try, and see if it asks you for superuser permissions.

For example, if we open and try to add an app to Greenify–a handy battery-saving app for rooted phones–we’ll see this popup, asking for root access. If you click Grant and you get a success message, you have successfully achieved root on your phone.

2016-01-28 23.57.10

To manage root permissions, open your app drawer and tap the SuperSU icon. You’ll see a list of apps that have been granted or denied superuser access. You can tap on an app to change its permissions.

If you ever want to unroot, the SuperSU app, go to its Settings screen, and tap the “Full unroot” option. It will attempt to unroot your device. If it works for you, this is definitely the easiest way to unroot your phone.

But for now, the world is your root-friendly oyster. You can check out our list of great root apps for ideas, or install the Xposed framework for some seriously cool tweaks. Good luck!

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Image Credit: Norebbo

Whitson Gordon is a writer, Windows geek, PC builder, metalhead, chopstick-using potato chip eater, and Midwest-to-Southern California transplant. You can follow his nerdy exploits on Twitter and Facebook.


Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/6/15

  • Jason Dagless

    Yeah nice to do but becoming less and less important. The only perk for me being rooted on my Nexus 4 was to increase the colour vibrancy (why this isn't a standard feature anyway??) so no big whoop there.

    Plus the banking apps I use a lot won't run if rooted so reduces the glamour of rooting.

    For me rooting has more Cons than Pros

  • Jason

    One thing i'm not clear about when it comes to rooting is the carrier policies versus what actually happens. Its known that carriers do not like/want you to root the phone.

    I use T-mobile and have been told that if I root the phone I will no longer receive device updates.

    Does anyone know if this is true or if it happens with other carriers? What other negative side affects occur besides what was mentioned in the article? These issues could make/break the issue of rooting a phone.

  • Wruff Truff Fruff

    This article completely fails to address the big reason why to root your phone: Stagefright. Clearly, the two previous commenters are wholly unaware of the issue, are willfully ignorant, or are amongst the very few Android users possessing a phone that received a security update already. Meanwhile, if you want to avoid the Stagefright hack, disable MMS autoretrieval.

  • Jorge Cribb

    What´s about framaroot?

  • rawlwear

    CyanogenMod for me is a must I love the settings different profiles you can make for performance vs powersaver.

    Titanium Backup - The main reason I even rooted my phone

    ROM Toolbox - scripting and start up, cpu & memory management, Note alot of thing can be adjusted in Cyanogenmod instead of this app.

    System App Remover - Name says it all

    Greenify - More battery life,

  • No reason to belittle anyone. Rooting is not for everyone. In fact, I'd say rooting is only for the minority, perhaps even the vast minority. I actually found it interesting that this article states rooting is often simple and quick, as this has not been my experience. That said, I'm not understanding how rooting a device is, as you seem to be claiming, guaranteed protection against the Stagefright exploit. Isn't Stagefright an MMS exploit? But then, I'm not a rooting expert by any stretch of the imagination!!

  • Jason Dagless

    Another thing I find when you root etc. you end up a total updates junky and spend most of your time adjusting and tweaking your phone. Oh a new nightly! Oh am I getting 2% more battery time today?

    Quite frankly I got tired of it after a few months and found I had more in my life than babying my phone all day.

    Went back to stock, quit worrying about phone husbandry and found I had so much more time in the day, not to mention a life.

  • Alin

    Interesting article for those who don't know what to do to root their devices. Can you tell us something about "triangle away" app ? With this app can reset the flash counter of their devices before unroot and then send it to service, without having problems of warranty (of course, if the device is still in warranty period)...

  • Bill Hays

    Nice thing about the OnePlus 1. It seems to be made for unlocking the boot loader and rooting. Neither one of those will harm the warranty, plus they have a good user community for help and supply several unlockers and rooting tools. It also comes stock with Cyanogen ROM.

  • Jason Dagless

    I don't have to worry about receiving MMS messages as the last Google update broke that feature.

    Not that I ever used it. I'm not 14.

    Hyperbole and again...more cons that pros.

  • Alfredo Hidalgo

    Top reasons why you may want to do this...........

    Unlock Hidden FeaturesUninstall BloatwareSpeed up You PhoneAds FreePrivacy GuardedBoost Battery Life.........................

  • I checked the links you posted and there is no way to root my LG 4 - at least not yet. That is probably a good thing as it will keep me from messing around with it. smile

  • rawlwear
  • Lowell Heddings

    That's true, we didn't point to that as the reasoning...

    But that's because this article will live on long after Stagefright is dealt with. We actually wrote this article originally 3 years ago, and then completely rewrote it again from scratch to republish as a new article since the old one was out of date.

    We're looking at doing an article on Stagefright but we need to make sure that we cover the subject responsibly, or leave it to others to do if we can't.

  • I did check the forums and I did learn something that has made a big difference in my phone and was a tip about Advance Calling. I went out to Verizon and added Advance Calling to my service (it's free). I also disabled Google mail as it had loaded 101 spam mails onto my phone and disabled the weather app in addition to removing a lot of bloatware. I don't use Gmail so don't need it. Doing those three things has made a big difference in battery life. I can log into the Play Store on my PC and download whatever I want. Previously, if my phone was at 97% when I went to bed, it was down to 2% in the morning. This morning it was at 52% so that is a huge improvement. I live in an area where the signal is not the best so battery life is always a problem. As it happens, this phone came with a spare battery, charger and a 32 GB Sandisk card so a great deal and now I won't have to worry if I forget to charge as soon as I get up.

  • Daniel Yang

    You forgot the ultimate reason: CyanogenMod, which can do all of the above. smile

  • rawlwear

    @dbugdan Note you cant download that without having a rooted phone

  • I am going to hold off on messing with my phone. Ask me about a computer and I get it but I am only beginning to unravel phones. I would like to root it at some point to learn the operating system. I like to know how things work and why. smile

  • Update: I was on the Android forum (link was posted here) and one user said his Advanced Calling stopped working after he rooted his phone. When he called Verizon they told him it looked to them as though the phone had been rooted. Soooo with the LG G4, Verizon can tell if it has been tampered with.

  • Wruff Truff Fruff

    Yeah, sorry, that was a poorly executed post on my part. Would have been better off clicking cancel or at the very least recognizing I was in one sour ass mood and rewriting the mess.

    To answer your question, yes, Stagefright is an MMS exploit, but by rooting your phone, you'll be able to apply security updates on your own right when they are issued without having to wait first on the device manufacturer and then next on your mobile carrier.

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