Maybe you've heard about "rooting" a phone from a friend or read about it somewhere on the Internet. Maybe you even *kind of* know what it is but aren't sure what you can do with it. Or maybe you are already running a rooted phone and looking for more ways you can utilize it. Whatever the case may be, this article is for you.
What Is Rooting?
First, for the newbies, let me clarify what rooting is. Getting root or rooting your phone is the process of modifying the operating system that shipped with your device to grant you complete control over it.
This means you can overcome limitations that the carriers and manufacturers put on your phone, extend system functionality, and even upgrade it to a custom flavor of Android.
The name root comes from the Linux operating system world, where the most privileged user on the system (otherwise known as Administrator on Windows) is called root.
Installing a ROM may require rooting first, but just rooting can be usually done in only a few minutes, keeping your stock OS otherwise completely intact.
Usually rooting is fairly simple - in most cases you can find several videos and articles on the web that explain how to do it on your specific phone model - just Google "YOURPHONEMODEL root".
Rooting is not something manufacturers or carriers approve of but they can't really prevent it from happening because the rooting process usually exploits a vulnerability in the operating system code or device drivers and allows the "hacker" to upload a special program called su to the phone. This program is the one that provides root access to programs that request it.
Another program called Superuser Permissions is usually bundled with all root methods. It gives you a chance to approve or deny requests from any application that wants to utilize root. Superuser Permissions essentially replaces the conventional root password with a simple Approve/Deny prompt, which isn't as secure as having a password, but is far more convenient on a mobile device.
Now an obligatory warning: rooting your phone does run the risk of potentially bricking it (i.e. your phone could become nonfunctional) – so do your homework before attempting anything, unless you're a fan of $500 paper weights.
Benefits Of Rooting
Let’s check out some of the benefits of rooting your Android phone.
Full Control Over Android
You have access to alter any system files, use themes, change boot images, delete annoying stock apps, such as Sprint's NFL Mobile live and Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile, and other various native applications that might drive you crazy (Footprints, Voice Dialer, etc).
There is plenty of information on the web on how to accomplish this, but our favorite way is by using Titanium Backup and freezing/deleting the apps from there (root required, of course).
Back Up And Restore The Whole System
On most rooted Android devices, you can back up your entire system to an SD card, much in the same way you can image a hard drive. This is great if you’d like to try a new ROM, as you can back up your phone, wipe it completely, flash the new ROM, and if you don’t like it, just restore from your backup to get your device back to exactly how it was before you wiped it.
ROM Manager allows you to easily flash a custom recovery image which is what you will need in order to backup and restore your phone. The recovery image is a special program that can be booted into outside of the phone's main operating system, sort of like an OS recovery console on a PC. By default, the recovery image on most Android phones only gives you a few options, mainly related to wiping the phone. Custom recovery images expand upon these options and usually include scripts that can do things like backup and restore your system, fix file permissions, or allow you to flash custom ROMs that the normal recovery image would otherwise reject.
Normally, flashing a custom recovery image requires some command line work, either on your PC, or on a terminal emulator directly on the phone, but Koush's ROM Manager should automatically flash his custom recovery image (known as ClockworkMod Recovery) for you, provided you're on one of the supported phones (<-- the list in this link should be always up-to-date, as it's maintained by Koush) and that it is already rooted.
Using ROM Manager is pretty simple. Download and install the application from the market, fire it up, and you’ll be prompted to allow the application superuser permissions - make sure you approve it.
The first thing you’ll need to do is flash the ClockworkMod recovery image that I mentioned earlier, which can be done right in the app (it’s the first option). ROM Manager should automatically find the latest version of the right image for your phone, download, and install it - the whole process is seamless.
After that is done, you can simply use the ‘Manage and Restore Backups’, and ‘Backup current ROM’ options to, well, backup your current ROM or restore from an existing backup. It’s that simple!
At Android Police, we always encourage supporting developers, so please check out ROM Manager Premium if you enjoyed the free version!
Save Space On Your Phone
While Google did introduce Apps2SD (moving parts of applications to external storage) officially in the Froyo update, it remains up to developers to manually add support for it in their apps. Because of that, it's still fairly easy to overflow your internal storage and run out of space.
The easiest way to alleviate this problem and enable most applications to be movable to SD would be to flash a custom ROM that enables just that. For example, CyanogenMod, the most popular Android custom ROM, allows the user to force most apps to SD even if developers of those apps didn't enable this feature. See 13 Ways CyanogenMod 7 Makes My Android Phone Feel Future-Proof [Deep Review] for more info on this and other amazing features of CyanogenMod.
Note that this doesn't work on all apps, notably keyboards and apps with widgets.
Run Special Applications
Update 6/26/11: Rather than list apps that are supercharged by having root access here, we started a series dedicated to them. Here are the first parts of Top Android Apps Every Rooted User Should Know About:
Install Custom ROMs
The Android custom ROM scene started growing shortly after the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, was released. The ROMs that were initially available just offered a few tweaks here and there - access to developer only sections of the operating system, debugging information, and things of that nature.
Now, a few years after the release of the G1, the Android ROM community has grown immensely, and ROMs have been developed for most of the Android phones currently on the market.
They've gone far beyond simple tweaks and can now give your phone an entirely new look and feel. There are ROMs that can make your phone fly by replacing the kernel with hyper-optimized versions or even overclocking the CPU. The possibilities are nearly limitless and attempting to cover all of the features of all the ROM's available for all of the phones out there would be pretty much impossible.
If you're interested in flashing a custom ROM on your phone, your best bet is to hit the Googles, search for "phonename custom ROM," and see what comes up. You'll likely find at least one forum dedicated to hacking your phone with plenty of information to get you started.
Here at AndroidPolice, we're planning a series of custom ROM reviews for as many phones as we can get our hands on. Stay tuned for updates!
Good luck and happy rooting!
Have you rooted your phone? If so, what are you running?