Why Do People Root Android Phones?

Sony Xperia Z2
Sony Corporation

Rooting an Android phone means giving yourself superuser access. A superuser is an administrator who has access to more features and functions of a system and can make changes to it beyond its standard behavior. This grants more access to the operating system, which means more power over how the device works, but it also brings with it a greater potential to do damage to the device's proper operation.

One of the best features of the Android phone is that it has an open source operating system. However, this doesn't mean it is completely open; phone service carriers and device manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others, put quite a few modifications and restrictions on their phone products. Even Google puts some restrictions into its own operating system for safety and security reasons, but also at the request of carriers and phone manufacturers.

Preventing rooting for security

Providing full access to an operating system's source code opens the possibility for users to unintentionally corrupt the proper functioning of their phones. It can also allow other apps to potentially cause damage. For example, unwittingly installing a malicious app could completely disable, or "brick," your phone, or worse, give the app access to the complete functionality and data in your phone.

By default, your user account isn't logged in as root, so all your apps have the usual limited permissions and access.

Why override security to root a phone?

For advanced users, rooting allows them to perform tasks and make changes that they require that go beyond the usual functioning of the device. For example, they can flash variations of the Android operating system that may be more useful for their specific needs.

Rooting a phone also allows a user to install non-standard apps that allow a user to do things that the manufacturers, phone carriers, and phone makers don't ordinarily permit.

Google, the creator of the Android operating system, is not completely opposed to rooting. They could make rooting harder on Android devices, but they don't. You can also find apps designed to run on rooted Android devices in the Google Play store. If Google were out to quash rooting, this would not be the case. If you're going to install root access apps, sticking to the Google Play store is a way to limit the possibility of installing a malicious app that could take advantage of your phone's rooted status—but it isn't a guarantee of safety.

Consequences of rooting

Rooting your phone will void your device's warranty, and given the potential to permanently break your phone, this could be a costly adventure for amateurs. Your phone will also no longer be able to install updates released by Google in the familiar way. You will have to manage maintenance and updates on your own.

Rooting, jailbreaking, and unlocking your phone has gone through legal gray periods. Unlocking your phone allows you to use it on other carriers, and is different from rooting and jailbreaking. For a time, it was illegal to unlock your phone to use on another carrier—even if you had purchased it and were no longer under contract with a carrier. That changed in 2014 when the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama. This law permits any cell phone or smartphone user to unlock their phone and move to another carrier if they have fulfilled all their phone contract requirements.

Rooting and jailbreaking are different from unlocking. Though the Library of Congress Copyright Office, which has regulatory jurisdiction over the area, ruled in 2010 that jailbreaking a phone is a legal action, phone manufacturers generally do not want their customers "hacking" their devices, and doing so will void the device's warranty.