Rooting (Android) – how expanded Android access works

Android and iOS are the most-widely used operating systems worldwide for smartphone and tablet devices. Even if the two Unix-like systems are fundamentally different in their user experience, they share a few basic similarities. The most important shared aspect is the user’s limited access to the file system as default. This is mainly for security reasons. If you want to lift these restrictions, you have to root the tablet or phone at your own risk, as many manufacturers don’t look kindly on this kind of modification to the operating system.

The following article explains the advantages and disadvantages of rooting Android, what exactly we mean by rooting, and how rooting works in detail.

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Rooting a tablet or smartphone: What exactly is “rooting”?

Rooting refers to the user taking control of extended access rights on devices with Unix-like operating systems. The term can be traced back to the name of the main administrator account, which is called “root” in Unix and related systems. It is precisely this account that is available to users on a “rooted” device, giving them full access to the system and allowing them to make changes not possible with the normal user account. This includes the ability to delete pre-installed apps or to carry out system updates independently.

In the context of tablets and mobile phones, the topic of rooting is ever-present. That’s because a majority of mobile devices are delivered with either Android (based on Linux) or iOS (based on BSD), both of which restrict user access. In comparison with rooting Android, rooting iOS is made even more difficult by additional blocks, which is why the process on iPhone, iPad and other Apple devices is also called jailbreaking.

Why and when might rooting your Android device make sense?

Rooting a smartphone or tablet also modifies the underlying operating system, which is generally not envisaged by the device manufacturer. First and foremost, this restricted mode is actually meant to protect the user from these kinds of changes, which put the stability and security of the system at risk. With full user access and inexperienced use of the system software, this kind of scenario is certainly not uncommon.

There are, however, plausible reasons to root Android because the increased level of security is also always linked to limited functionality. As opposed to a standard smartphone or tablet, a rooted device offers the following additional setting options and features, among others:

  • User-defined system recovery: Android can be secured via Root in case the operating system ever needs to be recovered. The user will have to provide a back-up mechanism for this.
  • Manual system updates and app installation: With administrator rights, it’s possible to update Android yourself using so-called custom ROMs, which can be useful especially if newly released versions are not actually available for the device. You can also install apps by third-party providers that do not appear on the Google Play Store.
  • Modifying system files: By default, system files cannot be seen or changed by the user on Android. After rooting the tablet or phone, however, this option is a possibility.
  • Deleting pre-installed apps: Manufacturers and providers sell mobile devices with an installation-ready operating system including different standard apps, which can generally only be disabled. If you root your Android, you can also uninstall these apps.
  • User-defined moving of apps to an SD card: Moving apps to external SD cards can save valuable storage space, but often only works after rooting an Android device.
  • Changing boot animation and system font: Root access gives you the possibility of replacing the boot animation after starting the mobile device, as well as the general system font, with one of your own choices. It’s also possible to adjust the volume.
  • Over- and underclocking the CPU: With Root privileges, you can overclock the CPU of your mobile device to improve its performance, or underclock it to increase its battery life.

What are the disadvantages and risks of rooting an Android?

If you always wanted more freedom administering your Android, you’ll really get your money’s worth with a rooted mobile device. However, unlocking the administrator account comes with an array of risks. Installing and updating Android and apps yourself can lead to the device no longer working as desired. This is known as a brick, which can be split into a soft or semi-brick (repairable damage) and a hard or full brick (write-off).

Note

The term ‘brick’ refers to the typical cuboid shape of many electronic devices. After a brick – especially a hard brick – smartphones, tablets, etc., aren’t of much use other than as paperweights.

Activating Root on Android also means that spyware and malware can cause greater damage. If criminals gain access to your device, they will also have access to the extended administrator options and therefore more scope to manipulate the device.

Finally, rooting a tablet or phone can result in a warranty or guarantee claim being voided, although specific cases vary depending on manufacturers. In most cases, though, the respective distributor also has to prove that the device defect can actually be traced back to the Android being rooted. If, for example, you rooted your smartphone and the on/off button then comes loose because of a material defect and without wilful damage on your part, then the guarantee or warranty is still valid as normal despite the modification to the device software.

The disadvantages and risks of rooting smartphones and tablets include:

  • Rooting Android and installing or updating software on one’s own always comes with the risk of a soft or hard brick.
  • Cybercriminals can cause greater damage with malware and spyware by taking advantage of the expanded administrator possibilities.
  • If activating the Root account or a subsequent Root action, like overclocking the CPU, leads to a device defect, in many cases a warranty or guarantee claim will be voided.

Activating root on Android: How does it work?

Do you want to root your mobile device to get full access to organise the system? On the internet, you can find the most varied tools that serve the sole purpose of making Root available on Android. Generally, most of the solutions for the activation process require you to connect your mobile device to a desktop PC, but some programmes allow you to root a tablet or phone without a PC. Alternatively, you can manually root the operating system, which works reliably, but requires a certain level of knowledge of the device model at hand.

How do the different methods work exactly, and what fundamental precautions should you take before activating Root, regardless of the solution you choose?

This is how you achieve the optimal conditions for Android rooting

Before rooting your tablet or phone, you should first secure your personal data, such as photos or videos. You can use cloud storage or a separate device to back-up valuable information. When activating the administrator account, these files won’t get lost. The rooting process requires a lot of battery power, which is why you should ensure your device’s battery is fully charged. Alternatively, you can connect your tablet or smartphone to the mains during this process.

If you wish to activate the Root account on Android with the help of a desktop PC, you have to ensure that your mobile device is set to debugging mode (the mode for access to certain system components) as soon as you connect it to the PC with a USB cable. Before rooting, activate the option “USB debugging” or “Android debugging” in the Android developer options (these can be found in “Settings” -> “System”).

Tip

Developer options are hidden as standard on Android, so if you can’t find the relevant menu entry in the system settings, you have to display it first. To do this, click on the entry “About the phone” (or also “Phone info”) and then select “Build number” seven times.

How to root your Android via PC

To activate Root via your PC, first, activate the debugging option mentioned above, and then connect your Android device and the desktop computer via USB cable. In some cases, it may be necessary to install additional drivers on the PC for it to recognise the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) interface that is used for data exchange in the debugging mode. You can find a list of appropriate drivers for a range of devices in the official Android developer forum.

If all the connection details have been dealt with, you just need the right software, also known as a rooting toolkit. Recommended toolkits include: WinDroid Toolkit, VRoot or wugfresh.com: Nexus Root Toolkit for Nexus devices. After you’ve downloaded and installed your chosen kit, simply follow the programme-specific instructions to root your tablet or your phone.

Root a phone without a PC – how it works

Besides toolkits for desktop PCs, there are also various so-called one-click apps for Android with which the root activation can be carried out directly from a mobile device. Of course, these apps are not available on the Google Play Store, but you can download the practical programmes that make Android rooting possible from the respective app and project pages as an APK file (Android Package) and then install them manually.

Because Android blocks such apps from foreign sources by default, you have to first allow them. In Android 8, this can be done by accessing the security settings of the system software by activating the option “Allow apps from unknown source” or “Install unknown apps”. In newer editions of the system, you have to allow specific apps – usually the respective browser – to obtain apps from outside the Play Store. For Google Chrome, for example, this works as follows:

  1. Open the settings for your mobile device.
  2. Click on “Apps and notifications”.
  3. Search for the Chrome entry in the list of apps (“Show all apps”) and click on it.
  4. Scroll down to the section “More” and click on “Install unknown apps”.
  5. Move the slider for the entry “Trust this source” to the right.
Note

If you have activated the option for apps from unknown sources, these can generally be used. But in some cases, you may have to confirm the installation again by clicking “Install anyway”.

There is a wide selection of solutions for rooting a tablet or smartphone without a PC. Always be careful that the app you choose supports both your device and the version of Android that is currently installed. Two of the best-known Root Android apps are the following:

  • KingoRoot: KingoRoot has been one of the most popular rooting apps for all conventional Android systems since it was released in 2013. Alongside the APK version, there is also a Windows edition for rooting via PC.
  • One Click Root: The app One Click Root does exactly what its name suggests. According to the developer, more than 1,000 different device models can be rooted in just one click. Optionally, they can also be unrooted.

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