What It Means to Root an Android Phone

Rooting is an at-your-own-risk method of modifying your phone

Samsung Galaxy S5
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Rooting an Android phone or tablet provides the user with unrestricted access to the entire file system. Equivalent to jailbreaking an iOS device, rooting lets the user make deep system changes that are otherwise not allowed with apps downloaded through the official app store.

When you root an Android device, it can give you tremendous gains over a regular, non-rooted phone/tablet. For example, you can do things like completely change the way the phone looks and where the menu options are located. Or, maybe you want to remove restrictions set by your wireless carrier—rooting can usually accomplish such things.

While root access is necessary to make such fundamental changes you should be aware of the risks before deciding whether to root your Android. Doing this runs the risk of mistakes being made that can damage the software, possibly to a point where the tablet or phone no longer works.

Note: Rooting, in this context, has nothing to do with the term root folder in reference to the location of something in the folder hierarchy.

Benefits

Although iOS users tend to jailbreak their phones so they can get around Apple restrictions on third-party app installation, the Android mobile OS is a more open system. However, much like with jailbreaking, rooting is useful for Android users if their wireless carrier imposes restrictions on how the device can be used like if they prevent ​tethering—rooting can give you access to tethering features even when the carrier doesn't allow it.

There are also some Android-specific reasons to root. Many Android phones, like the Motorola Cliq and the HTC Sense, have custom interfaces that owners may want to get rid of in favor of using the stock Android OS or a custom ROM.

Rooting your Android phone can also improve speed and reliability. Some third-party apps that require root access, are made specifically for monitoring battery usage and other system resources, and shutting things down when necessary to keep everything in tip-top shape.

Using the Xposed Framework is another reason to root your Android tablet or phone. Some of the Xposed modules only work with rooted devices, and depending on the version of Android you're using, you might need to root your phone or tablet before you can even install Xposed.

Risks

While rooting your Android device is often an easy process, the process of rooting, itself, is not usually a concern. Instead, it's important to realize that rooting provides the user with the access necessary to change core settings that aren't normally reachable through regular means.

Rooting does not always go smoothly, and if there are problems during the process, your device can be seriously damaged, or "bricked." This is the worst case scenario, particularly since you void your warranty when you root the device. If the rooting method is successful, it gives you complete control over your Android phone, but you may be more vulnerable to malicious apps and stability issues.

In July of 2010, the Library of Congress's Copyright Office ruled that jailbreaking or rooting your phone is legal, stating that jailbreaking is "innocuous at worst and beneficial at best." Even though the process is legal, you may want to wait until your device is out of warranty before rooting it.

Rooting Tools

Rooting apps aren't allowed on Google Play, but they can still be found on developer sites. Baidu Easy Root, for example, is a one-touch rooting app for Droid users. The KingoRoot app for Android provides a one-click Android root solution that doesn't require a computer.

Many of the older rooting apps are no longer maintained and don't work with modern equipment. If you decide to root your Android device, make sure the method is compatible with your particular device, and as always, unsupported apps are of the "use at your own risk" variety.