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How to Jailbreak Your Kindle Paperwhite for Screensavers, Apps, and More

We’ve shown you how to jailbreak your Kindle in the past, but the new Paperwhite (with a beautiful higher resolution screen that begs for custom screensavers) requires a brand new bag of tricks to jailbreak. Read on as we jailbreak a Paperwhite and show off the new screensaver modes.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

There are two elements to this tutorial. First, there’s the jailbreak itself. The jailbreak allows you to access your Kindle Paperwhite as if you were a developer with full access to the operating system and file structure of the device. This is awesome because it allows you to use the device as you wish, including loading third party hacks, add-ons, and other cool tweaks.

The second part of the tutorial covers a great example of what you can do with a jailbroken Paperwhite, installing custom screensavers. The original screensaver hack was pretty awesome (as it allowed you to replace the stock Kindle screensavers with your own), but the new screensaver hack is even better as it allows for three modes: custom screensavers, displaying the cover of the last book read, and a lightweight “sleeping” overlay that keeps the current page visible. We’ll detail how these modes work once we’ve installed the hack. We don’t know about you, but around How-To Geek we love customizing things big and small, so this hack is right up our alley.

What Do I Need?

For this tutorial, you’ll need the following things:

  • A Kindle Paperwhite
  • A USB Sync Cable
  • A host computer

While all the Kindles are jailbreakable, the Kindle Paperwhite is the newest and also requires an approach significantly different than older Kindles. If you have an older Kindle, don’t despair, you can check out our old Kindle jailbreak guide here.

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You’ll also need a host computer capable of opening .zip archives and mounting the Paperwhite as removable flash storage. Since the computer just serves as a platform for transferring files to the Kindle, the tutorial is OS-agnostic.

Finally, you’ll need a handful of small files for each step of the process (jailbreaking and installing the screensaver hack) which we will link directly to in each section of the tutorial at the appropriate time.

Upgrading/Downgrading Your Paperwhite’s OS

If your Paperwhite’s Kindle OS version is 5.3.3 or 5.3.6+, you cannot install the jailbreak hack and will need to upgrade/downgrade your OS version to a suitable one.

Note: If your current Kindle OS version, as checked by going to Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Device Info, is 5.3.0, 5.3.1, 5.3.4, or 5.3.5, then you do not need to upgrade or downgrade your current OS version. If your OS version is earlier than 5.3.0 we highly recommend upgrading to to the most current but jailbreak friendly release 5.3.5. If you’re currently on an acceptable Kindle OS version,  please jump to the next section, Installing the Jailbreak.

We opted to jailbreak using the highest still-jailbreakable version, 5.3.5, and had no problems. Some users have reported issues and jump all the way back to 5.3.1. You can download the necessary upgrade/downgrade files directly from Amazon’s servers here:

If for any reason the above links are broken (e.g. Amazon is no longer offering older Kindle OS files for download) the files are also available on this third party site, hosted by Kindle modder/developer Ixtab:

Download the appropriate Kindle OS .bin file to your computer.

Before proceeding, put your Paperwhite into Airplane mode by navigating to Menu -> Settings and toggling the large “Airplane Mode” toggle at the top of the screen to “On”. We don’t want the Paperwhite connecting to Amazon’s servers during this process on the off chance that it will attempt an over-air upgrade or other type of interference.

Mount your Paperwhite as a removable device on your computer by attaching it via the USB sync cable. Copy the .bin file from your computer, to the root directory, like so:

Do not be concerned if you do not have the other files present in the screenshot in your directory, such as the .calibre files, as they are a byproduct of using the Calibre book manager (if you don’t use Calibre, they won’t be on your device).

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Once you’ve successfully transferred the .bin file to your Paperwhite, eject the device from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Navigate to Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Update Your Kindle.

Your Paperwhite will reboot and after a moment or so you’ll see a Software Update screen with a progress meter. Leave it be; it will finish the update and restart on its own after about 5-10 minutes.

Once the Paperwhite has rebooted, check the device information again to ensure the proper Kindle OS version has been flashed to the device. Navigate to Menu -> Settings -> Menu ->Device Info like you did earlier in the tutorial and verify that the update was successful.

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Installing the Jailbreak

Now that we’re on the right Kindle OS version, it’s time to get down to the business of installing the jailbreak. Although we’re referring to the whole process as “jailbreaking”, their are actually a few interesting things happening under the hood.

First, the actual jailbreak is applied to the Paperwhite. This is a modified certificate which allows custom update packages to be installed (much like jailbreaking an iOS device allows unsigned packages to be installed on your device).

Second, it installs the Jailbreak Bridge; this little bit of code is designed to help preserve/migrate the jailbreak in the face of future updates.

Third, it installs a set of Kindlet developer certificates. Kindlets are Java Applets for the Kindle (e.g. the little games you can play on the Kindle). By preinstalling the certificates for the most common jailbreak/third party developers active in the Kindle modding community, it makes it much easier to install third-party Kindlets later on.

Fourth, it installs what is known as a “Rescue Pack” developed by Kindle modder Ixtab that enables an SSH server on your Paperwhite. Although it’s pretty difficult to actually hurt the various Kindle models with jailbreaking and sticking to well known jailbreak tools and techniques, it’s always possible to screw stuff up if you start doing more advanced mucking around inside your Paperwhite. The SSH server Rescue Pack provides a point of entry to wipe and reset your Paperwhite should the need arise.

Just like rooting/jailbreaking other devices, the actual jailbreak itself doesn’t do a whole lot. It opens up the potential to do a whole lot, however, which we’ll tap into once we’ve finished jailbreaking.

To get started, download the Paperwhite jailbreak files here: The Official Mobileread Thread (free Mobileread account required).

Once you’ve downloaded the file, kpw_jb.zip, open the file and extract the contents to a temporary location on your computer. Attach your Paperwhite to your computer and open up the mounted volume. Copy the three non-readme files from the kpw_jb archive: jailbreak.sh, MOBI8_DEBUG, and jailbreak.mobi to your Paperwhite, placing them in the following directories:

Root\

--- MOBI8_DEBUG

--- jailbreak.sh

--- \documents\

------ jailbreak.mobi

Failure to place the DEBUG and .sh files on the root and the jailbreak.mobi in the documents folder will prevent you from launching the jailbreak. Once you have placed all the files properly, go ahead and eject your Paperwhite from the computer. Remove the USB cable.

Your Paperwhite will return to the last screen you were using; hit the home button to return to the homescreen if you’re not already on it. On the homescreen you should see a new Personal Document:

If you don’t see the new document, check the pulldown menu right below the navigation bar. If you have it set to only display Books, for example, you won’t see the jailbreak document. Click on the new document to open the .mobi file.

Once the document is open, you’ll be greeted with a giant “Click to JAILBREAK” link on the first page:

Apologies for the sudden decrease in screenshot quality, the screen capture is disabled within documents for copyright reasons, so we switched to manually photographing the Paperwhite’s screen.

After you click the link, you’ll see a follow up screen with additional instructions, like so:

Do just as it says: gently press for a few seconds in the corner of the screen. It will quickly boot over to the jailbreak installation process:

Once the process is complete, it will kick you right back to the Paperwhite’s home screen (which is an interesting break from previous jailbreak tools that completely restart the device). The previous jailbreak document will be replaced with log of the jailbreak process, like so:

Opening the document simply lists off what the jailbreak did (which is essentially just a list of what things we talked about earlier in the tutorial like installing the Jailbreak Bridge).

At this point, the device is completely jailbroken! The only functionality not available immediately after installation is the SSH-based Rescue Pack (you need to restart your Paperwhite once to enable the SSH server).

Installing the Screensaver Hack

Now that we have the Paperwhite jailbroken, it’s time to actually take advantage of the jailbreak to do some fun stuff. The number one reason people jailbreak their Kindles is to get custom screensavers, so we’re going to show you how to round out your jailbreak hack with a nice custom screensaver pack.

To get started, we need to download two files, a Python for Kindle pack and the actual screensaver hack (kindle-python-0.5.N.zip and kindle-linkss-0.11.N.zip, respectively).

You can download them here: The Official Mobileread Thread (free account required)

Once you’ve downloaded the files, it’s time to get started. Before we can use the screensaver hack, we need to have Python installed on the Paperwhite. Mount your device via the USB sync cable and extract update_python_0.5.N_install.bin to the root of the Paperwhite (you do not need to extract any other files from the kindle-python-0.5.N.zip archive). Once the file has successfully transferred, eject your Paperwhite from the computer and remove the USB cable.

Initiate an update on the Paperwhite, just like we did in the previous section of the tutorial, by navigating to Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Update Your Kindle. Click OK to authorize the update and then wait a few minutes while it completes the update process.

Once you’re back at the Paperwhite’s home screen, go ahead and attach it to your computer via the USB sync cable again. Now it’s time to transfer the screensaver hack. Extract the file update_linkss_0.11.N_install.bin from the kindle-linkss-0.11.N.zip archive and place it in the root directory of your Paperwhite (again, there are other files in the archive that remain untouched). Repeat the same update process, via Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Update Your Kindle. After you authorize the update your device will restart again.

After the restart and a successful return to the Paperwhite’s home screen, mount the Paperwhite via the USB sync cable again. When you look inside the root directory of the Paperwhite you’ll see a few new additions:

The /python/ and /extensions/ folder are created by the Python installer and should be left entirely alone. The /linkss/ folder is created by the screensaver hack and contains files and folders of interest to us. While the majority of the files in /linkss/ should be left alone, there are few that require our interaction in order to generate the screensaver effect we want. Let’s look at the different configuration options now.

Note: You can only use one of these configurations at once. Setting up more than one simultaneously will leave you with a blank screensaver in most cases and crashes and errors in others.

Setting the Paperwhite to Cover Display Mode: If you want the Paperwhite to display the cover of the book you last read (or are currently reading) as its screensaver, you need to simply create a blank file named “cover” in the /linkss/ directory like so:

You can create a new text document and simply remove the .txt extension or, as we did here, you can copy the existing blank file “autoreboot” and just rename it. The important part is that its a dummy file with no extension. Delete the “autoreboot” file while you’re in there (more on this in a moment). Eject your Paperwhite and restart it via Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Restart.

When your Paperwhite finishes restarting and has returned to the homescreen, open a book and then wait a minute or two for the hack to process the cover. If you put the Paperwhite to sleep immediately you’ll get a screensaver that reads “The ScreenSavers Hack is currently in ‘cover’ mode, but hasn’t yet successfully processed a book cover :)”. In otherwords, you did everything right but it hasn’t prepared the cover for use yet.

Setting the Paperwhite to Sleep Overlay Mode: If you want the Paperwhite to display a small overlay that indicates the device is asleep over the last visible content, you need to repeat the process from the previous step by instead name the blank file “last”. While you’re in there, again delete the “autoreboot” blank file.

While this method is novel in that it shows you exactly what was on your Paperwhite when you put it to sleep (thus if you could, say, read a recipe without worrying about the device going to sleep) it has great potential to lead to confusion.

Setting the Paperwhite to Custom Screensaver Mode: Although the current-book-cover mode is really cool, this is the mode that most people think of when they think of custom screensavers on the Kindle, the ability to place your own images onto the device and display them.

First, you need to remove any empty files you created for the previous two techniques (if you used them), such as “last” or “cover”. Next, you need to mount your Paperwhite via the USB cable and browse to the folder /linkss/screensavers/.

Within that folder you’ll find a single .png file, that looks like so:

Other than serving as a placeholder and indicating that the screensaver hack was successful, this file also shows us what parameters a Paperwhite screensaver needs. This is important because if a file fails to meet either of the following criteria it won’t work:

  • The file must be in .png format.
  • The file must have the dimensions 758×1024.

While technically the Paperwhite can handle in-device display of color images, you lose control over the process so images may not display the way you wish. With that in mind, it’s highly recommended you convert the image to 8-bit grayscale. You can do the conversion in any common image editing suite like Adobe Photoshop and GIMP.

For our test we created a .png of the How-To Geek logo. If you would like to use the screensaver on your Paperwhite, you can download it here.

After you’ve placed your screensaver(s) on the Paperwhite in the /linkss/screensavers/ folder, eject your Paperwhite. Your new screensavers will not appear until you restart the device, so do via Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Restart.

Other Screensaver Hack Tricks: In addition to the techniques we outlined above, there are a few little tweaks and tricks hidden away in the screensaver hack worth mentioning. You can use the following blank files, created just like we created the other blank files, to achieve various outcomes:

  • autoreboot: This is a specific flag used by some plugins for Calibre to automatically reboot the Paperwhite after they’ve done their work. If you aren’t using a plugin that requires it, you don’t need this flag.
  • reboot: If this file is present, Paperwhite will automatically reboot 10 seconds after it is ejected from the computer. This flag is only useful if you’re using your own custom covers (and you add new ones frequently) as a reboot is not necessary when using the overlay or cover method.
  • random: If this file is present, the list of screensaver files will be randomized every time the Paperwhite is restarted.
  • shuffle: The shuffle flag is tied directly to the autoreboot flag and is used to randomize the order of covers after the autoreboot function is called. If you’re not using the autoreboot flag, you shouldn’t be using this flag.

If at any time you no longer wish to employ a given flag (e.g. reboot), simply delete the blank file from the /linkss/ folder and restart the Paperwhite.


That’s all there is to it! Install the jailbreak, install the screensaver hack, apply a tiny amount of initial tweaking, and it’s custom screensavers all the way down.

Have a Kindle or ebook-centric hack, trick, or tweak you’d like to see us write about? Sound off in the comments and we’ll get to investigating.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/31/13

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