Is Rooting an Android Phone a Good Idea?

Why do people root Android phones?

Sony Xperia Z2
Sony Corporation

When you root an Android phone, you give 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. It also brings the potential to damage how the device operates.

About Android and Rooting

One feature of the Android phone is that it has an open source operating system. Because the core of Android is open source, anyone can build on and modify it. Most of the time, device manufacturers modify the OS to create custom Android versions for their phones, add features, and create a polished experience for users. Part of that includes imposing their own rules and restrictions on their custom Android builds.

Android logo

Phone service carriers and device manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others, put modifications and restrictions on their phone products. Even Google puts restrictions into its own operating system for safety and security reasons, but also at the request of carriers and phone manufacturers.

Prevent Rooting for Security

Phone manufacturers lock their devices to prevent people from unintentionally damaging the phone or opening the phone up to security risks. They also lock devices to prevent people from removing apps installed by the manufacturer. Locking down phones prevents people from switching carriers and might decrease the lifespan of a device by preventing new updates.

Locked code

As a result of all of this, the user account isn't logged in as root, so all apps have limited permissions and access. The phone manufacturer and carrier set the limits on what can and can't be done, both for your protection and their business interests.

Why Override Security to Root a Phone?

Rooting a device allows you to perform tasks and make changes that require more control and go beyond the usual functionality of the device. On a rooted phone, you're not limited to what the phone manufacturer says you can do with the device. Instead, you can do anything the device hardware allows.

With a rooted Android device, you decide how to use the phone. Upgrades and new features can be added with custom ROMs. Because the Android operating system is open source, anyone can make their own version of Android and release it for free online. This community has introduced Android distributions such as LineageOS. Custom ROMs unlock features and functionality on devices and provides updated versions of Android after a phone manufacturer stops support.

Android root functionality

Rooting a phone also allows you to install non-standard apps that do things that the manufacturers, phone carriers, and phone makers don't ordinarily permit. These apps remove bloatware, control storage, and modify hidden settings. Many root-only apps provide control of the device at a hardware level, for example, to enable new power saving options.

Google, the creator of the Android operating system, is not completely opposed to rooting. Google Nexus is geared toward developers and provides a way to unlock the bootloader and root the device.

Root only app on the Play Store

Apps designed to run on rooted Android devices can be found in the Google Play store. Downloading root-only apps from the Google Play store limits the possibility of installing a malicious app that could take advantage of a rooted phone.

Consequences of Rooting

Rooting a phone voids the device warranty and the phone carrier may refuse to service the phone. Plus, rooting a phone may violate the service contract.

Flashing custom ROMs involves booting the device into a custom recovery manager and installing the ROM directly on the phone hardware. If something goes wrong, there's a risk of bricking the device. This means that the phone won't boot, make phone calls, or connect to Wi-Fi.

Broken phone

Rooting also opens up the possibility for apps to run with admin privileges. Running anything with admin privileges gives it the ability to do anything on the device. Malicious apps with admin privileges can do serious damage.

Rooted phones are unable to automatically install updates released by Google. Updates to the OS are provided by ROMs such as LineageOS.

Unlocking a phone allows it to be used on other carriers, and is different from rooting and jailbreaking. For a time, it was illegal to unlock a phone to use on another carrier — even if it was no longer under contract with a carrier. That changed in 2014 when the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law. This law permits any cellphone or smartphone user to unlock their phone and move to another carrier if they have fulfilled the phone contract requirements.

Rooting and jailbreaking are different from unlocking. 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 don't want customers to hack devices, doing so may void the device warranty.

So, Should You Root?

That choice is entirely up to you. If you're not a technical person, rooting may not be for you. You need to be comfortable digging around under the hood to make it work. Is your device near the end of its life, and you want to extend its run? Rooting might be worth it.