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Everything you need to know about rooting your Android

While your Android isn't in the same sort of jail an iPhone lives in, rooting can help you break out.



If you've researched anything about Android on the internet, you've probably seen and read about "rooting" one. There was a time when many of the Android phones available didn't live up to their potential, and root was the answer. Horrible software was the norm, applications that you would never use ran amok and wasted data and battery life, and the experience was bad all around.

Because every Android phone is running the Linux kernel and middleware very similar to a Linux distribution you would install on a computer under the hood, rooting them was the way to allow us to try and fix them our own way. Rooting is how you get complete access to everything in the operating system, and those permissions allow you to change it all. Modern Androids are quite a bit better than they used to be. Even the most inexpensive phone or tablet you can buy in 2017 will do more and perform better than the best Android phone available just a few years ago. But many of us still want to root our phones and are looking for more information.

Table of contents

What exactly is root?


When you root your Android, you're simply adding a standard Linux function that was removed.

Root, at least the way we're talking about it here, is the superuser. Your Android phone uses Linux permissions and file-system ownership. You are a user when you sign in, and you are allowed to do certain things based on your user permissions. Apps you install are also given a type of user ID, and they all have permissions to do certain things — you see those when you install them on older versions of Android, or you are prompted to allow them on Marshmallow or higher — in certain folders with certain files. Root is also a user. The difference is the root user (superuser) has permissions to do anything to any file any place in the system. This includes things we want to do, like uninstall application forced on us by the people who built them or the people who sells them to us as well as things we don't want to do that can put your Android in an unusable state. When you're doing things with superuser permissions, you have the power to do anything.

When you root your Android, you're simply adding a standard Linux function that was removed. A small file called su is placed in the system and given permissions so that another user can run it. It stands for Switch User, and if you run the file without any other parameters it switches your credentials and permissions from a normal user to that of the superuser. You are then in complete control, and can add anything, remove anything and access functions on your phone or tablet that you couldn't reach before. This is pretty important, and something you should think about before you begin.

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Should I root my Android?


Yes. No. Maybe. All three answers are perfectly valid. People have different reasons to want to root their devices. Some do it just because they can — they paid for the hardware and think they should be able to do anything they like. Others want to be able to add things that aren't there, like internet servers or be able to "fix" services that are there but don't work the way they would like them to work. People might buy a phone because they like the hardware, but hate the software and want to change it. Mostly, people root their phones because they simply want to get rid of the extra things on it that they don't want. Every one of these reasons — as well as any reason you might have that aren't mentioned here — are the right reasons.

Most people want root to get rid of the bloat.

Before you do any preparation to root your phone, you need to remember that it changes everything about the inherent security from Google and the people who built it. Plenty of us don't like it, but being able to access an account with admin permissions was not included in release versions of Android on purpose. As soon as you add this capability, you are responsible for the security and integrity of the operating system and every application on it. For some, this is more responsibility than they want or need. Rooting isn't the answer for everyone. If you're not sure about the ways you can break things by doing them as root, you should learn more about it before you start. It's OK to not know things and to try and learn, but not knowing and doing them anyway can turn a very expensive Android into a paperweight. You also need to know that for many Android models, rooting means your warranty is null and void. Services (including apps as well as network access from your carrier) can be denied to you because of the security risk when you're rooted. The risk is real, because so many users go into it all blind and let security lapse. Not doing that is your responsibility — take it seriously!

Finally, there are plenty of users who simply don't care about this stuff. Any Android phone, no matter how restricted root access is, can do just about everything we want or need from a pocket computer. You can change the appearance, choose from over a million apps in Google Play and have complete access to the internet and most any services that live there. You can even make phone calls. It's great if you're happy with what you have and what it can do, and aren't worried about trying to fix what isn't (in your eyes) broken.

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Getting ready to root

Android SDK

You'll need to do a few things to prepare your phone for rooting, depending on which method you use. Many of the ways require you install the Android SDK or unlock your bootloader. This sounds like a lot of scary work, but it's not difficult and knowing how to use these tools will help if things go wrong. The Android SDK is huge, and if you're just rooting your phone, you don't to waste bandwidth or file space on it. XDA user shimp208 built Minimal ADB and Fastboot, a Windows tool that only contains the ADB and Fastboot components needed for rooting.

Here is our comprehensive walkthrough of how to set up and install the Android SDK

Depending on which phone you have, unlocking the bootloader is slightly different. The "standard" way is by using the OEM unlock command, which is outlined here. If you're using a Motorola, HTC or LG phone (as well as other brands like Huawei or Sony) you'll likely need to get a token you enter during the process. You'll find how to do that and who to get it from at each vendors developer pages. Remember that unlocking the bootloader on your Android may affect the warranty status.

Using commercial root apps

Using commercial rooting apps like Kingo Root or One Click Root is straightforward, and can be done with or without a computer. While these apps can't root every phone, the people who make them are doing as best they can to keep the applications current.

While we can't validate the theories that these applications could potentially contain malware or send your data off to a server in some unfriendly nation, plenty of folks around the web have expressed concerns and doubts. You shouldn't ignore them. We recommend that you factory reset your Android before you download, install or run these applications to be safe. Your phone will remain rooted afterwards, and you can factory reset once again then sign in normally. Better safe than sorry.

Using Kingo Root

You can use Kingo Root with or without a computer. You'll find the download for both methods at the Kingo Root page — just select the one you want to use.

Kingo Root

If you're using a windows computer with Kingo Root, you'll need to have the correct USB drivers installed on the computer you're using. If you don't have these, the Kingo Root program will try to locate and install the correct ones during the process. Simply plug your phone into the computer and start the application. It's as simple as letting the software set things up, then you click the button labeled "root" in the software. As long as your phone is supported, the rest is automatic. You'll see a list of recommended root application to install after the procedure is finished, but if the program says it was successful your phone should have the superuser unlocked.

Kingo Root apk

It's easier to try and use the Kingo Root app on your phone to root. After you've downloaded it (and allowed sideloading of apps) you charge your phone to at least 50% and run the app. There's only one button to press, and after you tap it the rest is automatic. If the stand-alone version isn't successful, the computer version might be.

Full instructions and tutorials for supported phones can be found at the Kingo Root support page.

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How to root my phone?

Over 12,000 Android devices

How you root your Android is going to depend on which one you have. There are over 12,000 different Android models (and that's only counting ones that can access Google Play) from hundreds of different manufacturers. Some of those are easy to root, while some of them aren't. There are even models that will probably never be able to be rooted because the people who make or sell them just don't want you to be able to do it. And that's OK! Android means choice, and every person who wants a security-focused device that won't likely ever be rooted like the BlackBerry KEYOne should be able to buy one. And people who want a device that's easy to root (with all the tools and files needed to unlock it provided by the manufacturer) can buy one. This is something to keep in mind when you're buying your next phone and you should support the manufacturer who shares your thoughts about rooting.

The best Android phones

With over 12,000 different models, we can't cover every single method to root every single device. We can point you in the right direction and help you get there, though.

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Rooting your Samsung phone

Galaxy S8 Plus

Samsung used to offer "developer editions" of their popular models, but weak sales (they usually needed to be paid for in full with no type of subsidy or financing) they seem to have stopped production. We have only ourselves to blame — it's just not worth making something that nobody is buying.

Samsung also makes very lucrative deals with carriers, and most of the time those carriers want to prevent you from rooting your phone. Recent models from AT&T or Verizon are notoriously difficult to exploit, and all the U.S. versions of the Galaxy S7 are locked up and encrypted. There might not ever be a way to root them. This isn't true for unlocked models sold outside of North America though.

Knox can pose special problems when trying to root.

To root most Samsung phones you'll need to use a program called Odin. It's a low-level firmware flashing tool that can push image files to the storage and overwrite existing images. You'll also need the correct USB drivers for Windows computers. If you're using a Mac computer or running Linux, the software that flashes images is called Heimdall. They both work essentially the same, and carry the same risks — if you try and flash the wrong image or a bad image, your phone isn't going to be able to start. While this is often recoverable, know that there is always a chance you can ruin your phone or tablet, and your warranty is voided as soon as you begin.

Also, many Samsung phones ship with Knox security enabled. Knox is part of Samsung's special "Samsung Approved For Enterprise" feature where personal and work environments can be separated in a way that allows both to coexist on the same device. Knox can pose special problems when trying to root a phone that uses it, and it has a software counter that can show when device firmware has been tampered with. This means it's very easy for Samsung to void your warranty if you start fiddling with things.

For more information about rooting Samsung phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Rooting your LG phone

LG phones have several different methods to install the files needed for rooting. Some are completely bootloader unlockable and it's trivial to push the files through a custom recovery, while some are locked up tighter and require some special tricks. As we see with Samsung phones, carriers have a lot of influence here, so many AT&T and LG models take longer to find a method to root.

The LG G6 is simple to root, and you can do it without a computer with both commercially available rooting apps as well as apps from Android enthusiasts like yourself. There are security questions anytime you use software built by someone else that could potentially have full access to all the data on your phone or your computer, and you'll need to read everything you can and decide if you want to go this route. Apps like OneClickRoot or AndroidRootPro are a few examples. There are plenty of satisfied users as well as users who question the methods. Listen to both sides and decide what you think here. An alternative is unlocking your bootloader and installing an open-source custom recovery that you can use to flash the needed files or even pre-rooted firmware. This requires a little bit of computer knowledge, but it's not that difficult.

For more information about rooting LG phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Rooting your HTC phone

Much like LG phones, many HTC models can be bootloader unlocked through the HTC Developer program. You'll find complete instructions for doing it here, as well as warranty information you need to know if you give it a try.

The HTC U11 is easy to root, and using the HTC Developer tools to unlock the bootloader allow for sending images to the phone to enable rooting and even more. There are also commercial services like Sunshine that can root your phone through an app or provide mail-in services where they do it for you. Again, it's up to you to decide if you feel comfortable with these services or if you would rather use the Android SDK and do things the manual way. Both methods are known to get you rooted and ready to do the things you wanted root to do.

For more information about rooting HTC phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Rooting your Lenovo (Motorola) phone

Motorola also offers a pretty liberal bootloader unlocking policy, which you'll find at their developer site. Using the standard Android SDK tools, you can unlock your bootloader so that a custom recovery image can be flash. This allows you to flash any other system image to your phone.

If your Motorola phone isn't covered under their bootloader unlocking policy (see the list here) — this means Verizon, of course — you might have to resort to exploits or commercial software like MOFOROOT or OneClickRoot. Once again, we have to remind you about using tools created by someone else that may have admin access on your phone or your computer, but the option is available.

We're waiting to see if the coming generation from Motorola is as developer friendly as they have been in the past, and we'll update accordingly.

For more information about rooting Lenovo (Motorola) phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Rooting your Pixel or Nexus phone

To root your Pixel or Nexus phone, you should start with learning how to install and configure the Android SDK. There are plenty of one-click scripts or toolboxes that will unlock your bootloader and get you ready to flash (or even flash it for you) a custom recovery, but there's a great reason to learn how to do it yourself — you are able to fix most anything if it goes wrong by using the Pixel and Nexus Factory Images.

Google not only supports unlocking your bootloader, they also give you full and complete instructions on how to do it, how to flash third-party images and how to go back. Unlocking the bootloader doesn't break any warranties as Google realizes that there are many valid reasons to flash experimental on the developer/reference device for Android. Take advantage of this, and use the tools Google provides!

Once a third-party recovery image is flashed, you're easily able to push anything you need for root or any other image to your Pixel or Nexus. Because it's the reference phone and easy to alter, you'll find plenty of tools and resources for things you can do after you've rooted. We highly recommend a Pixel phone to anyone who wants to tinker with the Android software platform.

For more information about rooting Pixel and Nexus phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Other phones

As mentioned previously, there are over 12,000 current Android models from hundreds of manufacturers. There's no way to include each and every one on a single page.

Some of these phones come with a method (either approved by the manufacturer or found by a third-party) to unlock the bootloader and use the custom recovery method to root them. Many of these other phones can be rooted with applications like Kingo Root, with or without access to a computer. Phones from names you know, like Sony or Huawei, are supported as well as phones from companies you might not have heard of like Vivo or Phicomm. You'll find a partial list of supported phones here.

Commercial root apps work, but check out the pros and cons before you use them.

Apps like Kingo Root and One Click Root work because they take advantage of an exploit (a bug or glitch) in the software. This means that many security applications will identify them as a virus, and that software updates can (and do) break compatibility with them. Not every phone can be rooted through an app that leverages an exploit, but many can. It's certainly worth a look to see if your particular phone is supported. These services are profitable, and profitability means time and money is spent to keep them current and working on as many models as possible.

Here's where we will discuss the ethics of companies like Kingo Root. It's good to question the methods and motives behind any company that wants access to potentially sensitive information, and a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing. A lot of folks feel that these kinds of apps are unsafe or follow unsafe practices, and they may be correct. On the other hand, plenty of people have used the apps and services and are completely happy with the results. We can't speak on it either way, as we're not involved in the creation or testing of any of these apps. Our job is to inform you that they exist, and let you know that there is always a bit of inevitable controversy surrounding them.

For more information about rooting other phones, check the forums for your specific model

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Where to go from here?

Now that you're armed with a bit of information about what root is, why you might want to do it and where to go to find the methods, you're able to do some legwork.

The most important part of the entire process is to read. Find every bit of information about rooting your particular phone or tablet, read up on the intricacies of the Android SDK and flashing a custom recovery for your phone, and find out how to go back before you connect any cables or install any software. Even the easiest phones to root require some general computer knowledge — your Android is a computer — so you should make sure you're able to understand things like working with zip files or using a file manager. Remember — it's always OK to have questions and ask for help.

A good place to start is in forums. Our forums are filled with people who hack and crack at Androids for fun, and other resources like XDA Developers forums can be a goldmine of information. Never overlook information that's readily available when it comes to hacking at your expensive phone. Rooting offers a long list of possibilities for responsible and safe users, so make sure you're informed and careful and have fun!

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Why is it so hard to 'root' a smartphone?

If a phone is just a tiny computer, why is it so hard to be the admin?


Rooting, bootloader unlocking, jailbreaking; it has many different descriptions but they all mean the same thing when it comes to smartphones. It's how you open the phone's software bootloader so that you can load unofficial software.

Android users have it easier than most (which may not be a great thing all the time) because changing the Linux permission model that Android uses is as easy as placing one very small file in the system folder. But for many phones, it's still not very easy, and that's by design.

To get them out of the way, there are a handful of phones from companies like Google, HTC, Motorola and other lesser-known brands that let you unlock the bootloader without resorting to any chicanery. Going through the Android settings, you make the switch, agree that you know the risks, and from that point forward your phone will try to load whatever software is in the right place on the bootable partition. There are some side-effects, like Android Pay not working, but the phone is yours to install whatever you want and placing that particular file is now an option. Not an easy option, but an option.

More: Best Phones for Rooting and Modding

Other phones don't work this way, choosing instead to only load a signed and trusted version of the operating system from the factory it's supposed to come from. Part of the reason is user (that'd be you and me) privacy and security. It's impossible to hide personal data from a user with root privileges, whether that user is a real person or another piece of software that wants all your stuff. While it'd be great if the companies making our phones only thought about our privacy, but other reasons phones are locked up have nothing to do with you or me and are just as important (if not more) to those very companies.

Your phone company hates it

Take a trip in the Android Wayback machine and visit 2010 with me. The T-Mobile G1 was the coolest new phone, ran Android, and almost took an entire cellular network down.

Android back then had an app called G Chat. It was the predecessor to Hangouts and every Android phone (which was really only one) had it installed. Back then Google didn't have much of a relationship with carriers and it seems like very little if any testing was done on how G Chat would affect T-Mobile'sshiny and new fast 3G network. The app would spam packets of data almost non-stop, which was awesome for users who wanted a really fast messenger client but literally crashed T-Mobile in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. It was a small bug, but had a big impact.

Cell networks are fragile things. So are some of the people in charge of them.

While users with root privileges didn't cause this, it did make carriers worried about having Android phones on their networks. Phones from HTC, Motorola, and Samsung were being released and nobody wanted a repeat, so carriers started "rigorously testing" and eventually requiring approval for Android phones on their networks. Part of that was a guarantee that users wouldn't be able to go back in and change the way things worked, which meant the software had to be locked down so these types of settings weren't able to be fiddled with.

Fast forward to today, and carriers are equally worried that someone might be "stealing" data by using it to tether a laptop or a tablet instead of using it directly from their phone, changing APN settings to get a higher priority, or even change settings so that SMS and MMS messages can be sent for free even if they aren't part of your ancient data plan that you should have probably changed by now.

Carriers have to worry about their network because if it breaks too often customers will look elsewhere. We all know the honor system will never be an option when there's a way to get more than you've paid for, so locking down settings and permissions is a result. It also means that the carrier gets to decide which of its apps you can uninstall or change, and pre-installed apps can mean a lot of money for them.

Chip makers hate it just as much

The company who made your phone only made parts of it. Things like processors or modems or even storage devices are bought in bulk and used in the final assembly. Even Samsung, who manufactures many of the individual parts in a lot of smartphones, uses parts from companies like Qualcomm or Broadcom or Toshiba and even LG.

These companies are afraid you'll be able to muck around with the firmware they own and want your phone locked up tight.

There is a lot of money tied up in a company's IP and they want to protect it.

Most people wouldn't try to do something like alter a GPU driver, even if they could. But most is not the same as all, and tech companies are famous for doing everything they can to safeguard their intellectual property. If you get in there and crack some bytecode to reverse engineer a change, you might also be able to see how they do the things they do. There is a lot of competition among tech companies and if you did know exactly how one of them was able to do something they patented, other companies would be more than happy to talk to you about it and maybe even exchange some money or goods for that helpful information.

Knowing exactly how something works makes it very easy to do the same exact thing with enough tiny changes that you won't have to pay royalties. Tech companies love royalties, which can often mean a lot more income than selling products can. It's something they all want to protect, so they do things like not give license to distribute files and have things like software bootloaders hardened and encrypted.

Even Google doesn't love it

Since the Nexus One, every "official" Google phone has been easy to bootloader unlock. Google gives you the tools to do it, gives you the instructions to do it, and doesn't end your warranty once you've done it. But they would rather you not do it, too.

Android gets a bad reputation it doesn't deserve. (it's the users, not the software!)

Rooted phones can cause a lot of trouble. Trouble makes headlines when it's serious enough or popular enough. Companies like Netflix were hesitant to release their software for use with Android because they were afraid of "trouble" in the form of us all stealing movies that were optimized for a tiny screen and buffering over a cell connection instead of the full bitrate file that every computer on the planet has access to. That's as silly of a notion as it sounds, but it's true because Android had a bit of a reputation as being that thing hackers used in the basement to ruin the planet or something.

Google gives Android away because their first goal is to have as many eyeballs on the internet and looking at Google ads as possible. That means Android needs to stay crazy popular, which means it needs apps like Netflix. Nobody at Google cares if you root your phone and hex edit a single player game so you can have all the coins or a million lives. they do care about people who would hack Netflix, but more importantly, they care that Netflix thinks people with Android phones will hack them. Google wants Netflix to love Android as much as you and I do.

Your privacy is part of it, too

Everyone here at Android Central wants you to have a good time with your phone but also be able to keep private things private and secured. That means we're not very keen on rooting a phone being a trivial thing that anyone can do without knowing the risks. Google, Samsung, Motorola, LG and every other name attached to Android at any level feels the same way.

Everyone deserves privacy and some need a little help.

Corporations need to protect their bank account, but most of the time people running them and working for them want you to love using their products just as much if not more. After everything needed to protect investments and profit is done, they want you to think their product is safe to use. For Toyota, that means making a Prius or Corolla that won't randomly accelerate. For ZTE that means making a phone that's very hard for malware to crack into.

Some people just shouldn't have a rooted phone. We all know at least one of those people. To protect them means things are going to be hard for you, too. We may not like the reasons why it's so hard to root a phone, but we should be glad that the companies involved care about our privacy, even a little.

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