Rooting Your Android Phone: An Introduction

Get more out your Android device

Your Android smartphone can do a lot, but you can add even more functionality if you root your smartphone. Benefits include installing and uninstalling any apps you want, controlling the deepest sub-settings in your phone, and enabling features restricted by your carrier, such as tethering. Before you dive into the world of rooting, you need to know what the risks are, and the best way to root your phone safely without losing any data.

The information below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

What is rooting?

Rooting is a process that lets you access all the settings and sub-settings in your phone. It's similar to having administrative access to your PC or Mac, where you can install software, remove unwanted programs, and tinker to your heart's delight. On your phone, this means you can remove preloaded apps from your phone's carrier or its manufacturer, such as backup apps, sponsored apps and the like. Then you can make room for apps you'll use, and possibly speed up your phone and save battery life while you're at it. And if you decide rooting isn't for you, it's relatively easy to unroot it.

The Benefits of Rooting

Unless you have a Google Pixel or Google Nexus smartphone, it's likely there are apps on your phone that you never installed. These unwanted apps are often referred to as bloatware since it takes up space and can slow down the performance of your phone. Examples of bloatware include apps from companies that have an agreement with your wireless carrier, such as the NFL, or carrier-branded apps for music, backup, and other functions. Unlike apps you've chosen to download, these apps cannot be uninstalled—unless you have a rooted smartphone.

Person using smartphone at desk.

The other side of the coin is that there are many apps designed just for rooted phones that help you improve performance, block spam, hide ads, and backup everything on your phone. You can also download batch app removers so you can get rid of all your bloatware in one fell swoop. And many of these apps can even be found in the Google Play Store.

Want to use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot? Some carriers, like Verizon, block this function unless you sign up for a particular plan. Rooting your phone can unlock this features at no extra cost.

Once you root your smartphone, you can access custom ROMs, such as Paranoid Android and LineageOS. A custom ROM will have an attractive and clean interface as well as a myriad of customization options including color schemes, screen layouts, and more. 

Before Rooting

Rooting is not for the faint of heart, and you should learn a few terms before you embark on this adventure. Two key terms you'll need to know are ROM and bootloader. In the computer world, ROM refers to read-only memory, but here it applies to your version of the Android OS. When you root your phone, you install, or "flash" a custom ROM to replace the version that came with your phone. The bootloader is a piece of software that boots up your phone's OS, and it needs to be unlocked to root your phone. There are a variety of custom ROMs for Android available, some of which are easier to use than others.

The first thing you should do is backup your phone's version of Android, your ROM, in case anything goes wrong with the rooting process or if you ever want to reverse the process.

Possible Risks

Of course, there are some risks to rooting your phone. It may violate your carrier or manufacturer's warranty, so you'll be in a lurch if anything goes wrong with your hardware. Rooting your phone may also block access to some apps. Developers may block rooted phones from downloading their apps for security and copyright reasons. Finally, you risk turning your phone into a brick; that is, it no longer boots up. Rooting rarely kills smartphones, but it's still possible. Always have a backup plan.

It's up to you to decide whether the potential benefits are worth the risks. If you do choose to root, you can always reverse it if you have any regrets.