By Ryan Kamauff
One of the constant discussions between Android users is why/if you should “root.” Rooting is a term that describes the ability to grant programs “superuser” access. This allows programs to operate at the root level of the operating system, enabling full phone backups, changing certain parameters (CPU/GPU speeds) and changing the entire operating system. While this can be accomplished via a variety of means, there are a few requirements that must be met for rooting to take hold, and be useful. Having an unlocked bootloader expedites the rooting process, but is not necessary. When you root, you root at your own risk. I have rooted over 20 different devices, always successfully, but sometimes there are issues. The keys to rooting a phone are:
- do your research. I cannot stress this step enough. use XDA forums or Rootzwiki. Both of these are great places to educate yourself and ask questions
- back up data you can’t afford to lose. you can use Dropbox to backup all your photos, Evernote, Google Drive and more. When you root your device, you will likely lose all local data.
- a prepared computer with the proper SDK’s. you need a PC to root most Android devices. You can do it with Linux or Mac OS, but I’m not familiar with those systems
- an unlocked bootloader. Unlocking your bootloader will make everything easier
- a custom recovery. Custom recoveries allow you to install anything on your phone, or download
- a root-friendly OS (usually just has superuser installed)
The research step cannot be skipped. Every smartphone is different, and requires different steps to rooting and installing custom roms on the device. Failing to follow the proper steps can lead to “soft-brick” or “hard-brick.” Resulting in a completely wiped device that needs to be returned to stock, or a literal brick. So follow the steps, and don’t skip anything.
Backing up data you can’t afford to lose is a key step. Whether it is photographs or documents, you need to find a cloud or physical storage solution. Some devices have SD card slots, which you can back up to, but these may still get wiped in some circumstances. Dropbox is great for backing up photos or a range of documents, though some local settings will always have to be reset.
Preparing your computer is a key step in rooting. To properly access your Android smartphone, you need to have the Android SDK and the Java SDK software installed on your PC. As well, you need the individual drivers for your smartphone. PDANet can be a one stop download, but either way, you still need the proper drivers. This will allow you to both Fastboot control and ADB (both which allow you to directly send files from your PC to the heart of your smartphone). You also need to download the files you wish to flash. This usually includes the ROM itself, custom recovery, and the GAPPs file.
Unlocking your bootloader will make the whole process easier. As well, it provides you with a path to remediation if need be. An unlocked bootloader and Fastboot can can allow you to easily flash a stock version of your operating system (useful for warranty purposes). It also provides the ability to flash different modems and kernels. Unlocking the bootloader will allow you to directly install the new recovery and ROM without worrying about doing much more.
Installing an unlocked custom recovery is key to improving your control over the device. You can use it to backup entire operating systems, including all settings and apps, or install different ROMs/Kernels and mods. The most popular are Team Win Recovery Project and ClockworkMod Recovery. Both offer great capabilities, I prefer TWRP because it is more touch friendly myself.
The last step is installing your ROM. I prefer AOKP myself. It is based on the Android Open Source Project with some modifications. You can set things like the status bar and the navigation bar, and set a wide variety of settings. AOKP has recently moved to “nightly” releases which go out every few days. Another great option is the CyanogenMod ROM. It too is based on AOSP and offers a wide variety of capabilities. Lastly, there is an up and coming ROM known as Paranoid Android. Paranoid Android is based on CM, and has a new feature known as “HALO,” which delivers chat-head function for all types of notifications. there are a variety of different ROMs, so just find the one that fits your needs.
While this is not the definitive rooting guide, it is a good jumping off point. I warn you though, once you dip your toes in the Android rooting world, you might find yourself consistently rooting.