“Rooting” is a term you may hear or see if you spend time listening to or reading the words of Android enthusiasts on blogs or forums, often tossed around casually as if every Android device owner should know what it is, how to do it, and its potential effects. Funnily enough, asking others the definition of “rooting” sometimes results in receiving replies with a sort of Fight Club quality: if you have to ask what it is, you have no need to ask about it. So what are the keys to the mysteries surrounding these most sacred words?
In reality, discovering the definition of the term is rather easy with a quick search, which is generally what others mean by responding in such a cryptic manner: read and research first and then ask questions later. On the other hand, learning about rooting is only one third of the battle. The other parts consist of knowing how to root and knowing how rooting can benefit you.
Today we will satisfy two of those parts: defining “rooting” and variations of that term and exploring its benefits. The other part, actually rooting an Android device, is very much specific to your phone or tablet. Rooting most every phone or tablet is a different process and doing so requires particular instructions for that device. If, after you read this post concerning the advantages of rooting, you want to root your device, then perform a search along the lines of “how to root [insert your device name here]”. Or, if you happen to own a Nexus 7, or any other Nexus phone or tablet really, read my previous post on the process for that particular set of devices.
Anyway, “rooting” refers to the process by which a user gains access to a special superuser account and the system administration privileges granted by that account. The superuser account originated in the Unix operating system, the basis for many later Unix-like operating systems, like Linux, upon which Android is built. “Root” is the colloquial name of the superuser account on Android and some other operating systems. Accessing this account grants the user “superuser permissions” needed to perform system-level changes to the operating system.
So what does it all mean? Why would you want to gain access to this account? What would you do even if you did have access? How can it help you? Below I will outline the top five reasons to root your device and, in doing so, hopefully shed a little more light on the subject and offer you compelling evidence that rooting will enhance your Android experience.
1. Embracing the openness of Android
The first reason I offer you is one of a more philosophical nature than a pragmatic one, but it is important nevertheless: Android is supposed to be an open platform. I write “is supposed to be” as opposed to simply “is” because the version of Android on your phone or tablet is likely based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the source code for Android available to those who wish to peruse, alter, and use it for themselves. The Android devices that you purchase through carriers ship preloaded with additions and modifications to AOSP, like custom, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) skins in the way of Sense from HTC, for example. And even though most users would argue that it is a much needed aspect of Android, the Google Play Store is also a proprietary element absent from AOSP.
So what point am I trying to make? Android has the reputation of being an open platform, but alterations to its core sometimes infringe upon that. Rooting allows users to reclaim that openness in certain respects by regaining control over the Android operating system version on their devices and performing functions that the core OS allows, but not by default. Certainly I am not trying to convince you to root your device to circumvent OEM skins or remove the Play Store (that would be silly), but to change how your device to work the best way for you. The other reasons I provide in this post will educate you on just what exactly those changes can be and how they can impact your Android experience, but the main take-away from this section is that you, as a consumer, should have complete control over the device you purchase. If you want to install a different version of the Android OS to eradicate that OEM skin, then you should be able to do that; if you want to remove the Play Store for whatever reason, then you should be able to do that. Rooting opens the doors for allowing you to make these modifications and others. In general, using an open platform should mean having access to an open device, and rooting is the best way to maintain an open experience.
2. Installing custom recoveries
Perhaps the number one reasons users root their devices is to install custom software, but one of the prerequisites for rooting, maintaining root, and installing that software is unlocking the bootloader on your device. Most all devices ship with locked bootloaders, which handle how and what software the device loads, meaning that by default users cannot generally modify the stock recovery, ROM, or kernel without first unlocking the device. Unlocking the bootloader allows users to push modified files to their devices which change the software into which the device boots.
After unlocking the bootloader, which usually occurs as part of the multistep rooting process (that is, again, different for each device), the user must usually install a custom recovery. The stock recovery portion of an Android device allows you to perform certain functions, such as initiating a factory reset, deleting certain data, and installing official, signed updates to your stock OS. Limited by design, the stock recovery offers basic options to all users; custom recoveries, on the other hand, offer even more options, the most important of which is allowing users to install custom, unofficial, and unsigned updates on their devices.
You may notice that unlocking bootloaders and installing custom recoveries have no direct connection to rooting itself, but these aspects of the process prove necessary for obtaining root and beneficial in their own right; consider them necessary goods, if you will, or happy coincidences even.
3. Installing custom ROMs
Installing custom ROMs, i.e. those custom, unofficial, unsigned updates to which I refer above, is one of the greatest benefits of rooting. Do you have an old device that no longer receives updates from the OEM? Are you still munching on that stale Gingerbread while your friends are devouring that delectable Ice Cream Sandwich or enjoying that delicious Jelly Bean? Do you want to add cool capabilities to a device that lost its wow factor? Then installing a custom ROM is for you!
Before I switched over to my current phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, I was using an HTC Thunderbolt. While HTC promised and then subsequently failed to deliver its ICS update for the T-Bolt, developers had a custom ROM based on ICS up and running on the phone in a spectacular fashion. In my time remaining with the device before I made the switch, I enjoyed a wonderful treat that many other Android owners could only dream of tasting.
If you happen to be a Thunderbolt user or you own another forgotten phone, then you may just want to search up one of the quality ROM offerings from the beloved Android development community. Many Android enthusiasts happen to be programmers who continue to support devices long after their manufacturers stop, and if your phone was even reasonably popular during its time in the lime light, then some developer more than likely created a feature-filled, more efficient, and probably all around better ROM. Such ROMs generally contain less bloat in the way of unnecessary apps and they tend to squeeze better battery life and performance out of the device.
For those stuck on Gingerbread and earlier wondering how much better these new Android versions could possibly be, I recommend reading the feature lists for both ICS and JB on the official Android website; you will then wonder instead how much longer before you crack and finally root to reap the benefits of these superior OS versions.
4. Installing custom kernels and over/under-clocking processors
Perhaps a benefit of lesser importance to some, installing custom kernels, like installing custom ROMs, can lead to notable improvements in battery life and performance. The kernel is the firmware that allows your device at the software level, i.e. the OS, to communicate with and draw power from the device at the hardware level. Developers have created derivative versions of the modified Linux kernel on which Android is based that perform more efficiently than the stock one does by default.
Again, installing another kernel has more to do with the custom recovery than it does with rooting, but root access allows users to manipulate how their devices use power in yet another way by over- and under-clocking the processors in their devices to increase performance and battery life respectively. Custom ROMs with root capabilities often contain built-in controls that allow users to increase voltage and allow their devices to function better by maximizing their processors’ power; likewise, they can decrease the voltage such that the processor draws less power and maintains better battery life.
5. Installing root-optimized applications
Aside from installing custom ROMs, installing root-optimized apps is another popular reason for rooting. Searching “root” on the Play Store yields a number of apps which require or work better when granted root access. Before I offer examples of such apps, I will offer you a warning. Custom ROMs generally contain an app that handles root permissions and prompts you to grant those permissions when an app that needs root access requests them. DO NOT grant root access to apps that could potentially do harm to you or your device by extracting or deleting your data. Only use trusted apps and read reviews and recommendations so you know which apps others trust too.
Now with that out of the way, I will highlight a few apps which many root users regard as staples.
- AdAway, or similar ad-blocking apps, block ads system-wide in free apps, making them much more tolerable if you do not want to shell out for the paid versions of those apps.
- Cerberus is a security app that allows you register your device with their service; if you ever lose or someone steals your device, you can remotely monitor the device, its location, and wipe any data on it.
- Titanium Backup is a feature-rich app that allows you to back up your entire ROM, apps, data, or apps and data together if you want or need to restore them after wiping your data and installing another ROM.
Many other quality, beneficial root apps exist, so do some research and you are bound to find some gems.
That does it for the top reasons to root. If you need me to clarify or better explain anything I wrote, then please contact me in the comments and I will answer any questions you have or make any recommendations you need. And as always, if you have any other categories you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading!
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