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How to Root Your Android Device & Why You Might Want To

Android geeks still often root their devices, and you can usually do it yourself in just a few minutes with one of these easy tools. After you root your Android phone or tablet, you’ll have full access to the entire system.

Rooting has become less necessary over the years, but it’s still necessary if you want to run certain types of apps. You get to choose which apps get root permissions and which don’t.

What is Root, Anyway?

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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.

With root access, you can remove bloatware that came on your phone, use an app permissions manager, run a firewall, enabling tethering even if your carrier is blocking it, manually back up your installed app settings, 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’ll just lose that root access if your phone or tablet receives an operating system update, anyway.

Warnings

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Android devices don’t come rooted for a reason. In fact, Google and device manufacturers usually go out of their way to prevent you from rooting. Rooting either requires taking advantage of “exploits” in a device or unlocking its bootloader and modifying your system partition. It’s not officially supported. You could also install a custom ROM that comes rooted — again, this isn’t officially supported.

  • 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 the past, Google has recommended against using the Google Wallet mobile payments app on a rooted device for this reason.
  • Warranty – Some manufacturers assert that rooting voids your device’s warranty. However, rooting will not actually damage your hardware. 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.
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How to Root

Rooting is often a simple and quick process. However, there’s no single standard way to root every device. We’ll cover a few useful tools that will root a large majority of devices here. If your device isn’t supported, check out the XDA Developers forum and look at the subforum for your specific model of device. This is a good place to start finding out how other people have rooted your device.

Thankfully, there are some tools that make this process easy for the vast majority of Android phone and tablets out there. If one of these tools doesn’t work, you can likely find instructions specific to your individual device online. You’ll just have to do some searching. Bear in mind that you’ll need a root process that works on your device and its current version of the Android operating system. Rooting instructions for older versions of Android on that specific device may not work.

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Kingo Root is a simple, easy way to root a large amount of Android devices. Here’s an incomplete list of the devices Kingo Root supports.

This is a Windows desktop app, so you’ll need to download Kingo Root and run it on your Windows PC. It will try to automatically root your phone or tablet using a variety of techniques. Before connecting your Android phone or tablet to your computer via a USB cable, be sure to enable USB debugging.

Kingo Root focuses on using “exploits” to root a device. For this reason, it shouldn’t require an unlocked boot loader — just enable USB debugging, connect it to a computer, and it will install the drivers automatically and walk you through the process. It seems to want to install additional apps on your device — we found an option labelled “Try the smallest fast browser for free” that we unchecked during this process.

Towelroot is another option you might want to try. Enable apps from “Unknown sources” under Settings > Security, download the Towelroot app, and install it. Android will warn you that this app will attempt to bypass Android’s security settings — that’s the whole point. Bypass the warning and install it anyway. Towelroot was developed by GeoHot, a well-known hacker in the iPhone jailbreaking community.

You then open the installed app and it uses an exploit in Android to root your device. Towelroot should support every Android phone or tablet with a kernel build date before June 3, 2014.

(You can find your device’s kernel build date by opening the Settings screen, scrolling down, and tapping About Phone or About Tablet. Look for a date under “Kernel version.”)

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Updates to your device’s Android operating system — also known as OTA, or over-the-air, updates — will usually remove root access. Rooting modifies your device’s system partition, and the OTA update sets that system partition back to its default state. There are sometimes ways keep root access after performing an update, but they’re not guaranteed to work and depend on the device you’re using and the update you’re installing.

Managing Root Permissions With the SuperSU App

As part of the rooting process, your rooting tool of choice will generally install SuperSU, Superuser, or a similar app onto your phone or tablet. This app provides an interface where you can control 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 pops up a permission prompt.

Open SuperSU (or possibly a similarly named app) from your app drawer to and manage which apps get this root permission on your own. Apps that want root access use the “su”, or “superuser,” command to gain elevated permissions. SuperSU or a similar tool controls access to this command.

If something goes wrong, it’s possible that the app won’t be installed as part of the rooting process. You could just install the SuperSU app from Google Play, if so. However, this app won’t actually do anything unless you have a rooted device in the first place.

CyanogenMod and Other Custom ROMs Come With an Easy Root Toggle

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If you’re already using a custom ROM, this may be integrated directly into your device’s settings. For example, the popular CyanogenMod — often used by many people to get an up-to-date Android operating system on devices no longer updated by their manufacturers — has this built in.

You can simply visit the device’s settings, find the Superuser setting page, and toggle “Superuser Access” on. It’s disabled by default for security reasons, but it’s just behind a quick, supported toggle.

There’s one big perk to doing it this way: You won’t lose root access when you upgrade CyanogenMod or your other custom ROM of choice.

How to Unroot a Rooted Device

Want to unroot? The tool you used to root may allow you to unroot a device, too. However, the easiest way to unroot is to use the SuperSU app that’s probably installed on your device. Open 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 do unroot.


You should now have a rooted Android device and be able to use apps that require access. If your device receives an OTA update, you’ll likely need to go through this process and root it again if you want to keep using those root-only apps and tweaks.

Image Credit: JD Hancock on Flickr

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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