Productivity

The Complete Guide To Rooting Any Android Phone

We love Android, but rooting your phone can give you the opportunity to do so much more than your phone can do out of the box — whether it’s speeding it up with overclocking or customising the look of your phone with themes. Here’s how to root some of the most popular phones with minimal effort.

Rooting, for those of you that don’t know, means giving yourself root permissions on your phone (we’ve heard all the “root” gags before, thanks). It’s similar to running programs as an administrator in Windows, or running a command with “sudo” in Linux. With a rooted phone, you can run more apps (like backup or tethering apps), as well as flash custom ROMs to your phone, which add all sorts of extra features. If you’re on the fence about rooting, check out our top 10 root-only apps that make it worth the hassle.

There are lots of different Android phones out there, and while some rooting methods might work for multiple phones, there is no one-size-fits-all guide for rooting every one of them. As such, we can’t show you how to root every phone in existence, especially since we can’t test every method. So we’re going to post methods for the most popular Android phones and keep it updated as new phones come out.

Glossary of Rooting Terms

As you learn more about the rooting process, you’ll probably run into a bunch of terms that can be confusing. Here are some of the most important ones and what they mean.

  • Root: Rooting means you have root access to your device — that is, it can run the sudo command and has enhanced privileges allowing it to run apps like Wireless Tether or SetCPU. You can root either by installing the Superuser application — which many of the below root processes include — or by flashing a custom ROM that has root access included.
  • ROM: A ROM is a modified version of Android. It may contain extra features, a different look, speed enhancements, or even a version of Android that hasn’t been released yet. We won’t discuss ROMs in depth here, but if you want to use one once you’re rooted, you can read more about doing that here.
  • Flash: Flashing essentially means installing something on your device, whether it be a ROM, a kernel or something else that comes in the form of a ZIP file. Sometimes the rooting process requires flashing ZIP file, sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Bootloader: Your bootloader is the lowest level of software on your phone, running all the code that’s necessary to start up your operating system. Most bootloaders come locked, which keeps you from rooting your phone. Unlocking your bootloader doesn’t root your phone directly, but it does allow you to root, then flash custom ROMs if you so desire.
  • Recovery: Your recovery is the software on your phone that lets you make backups, flash ROMs and perform other system-level tasks. The default recoveries can’t do much, but you can flash a custom recovery — like ClockworkMod — after you’ve unlocked your bootloader that will give you much more control over your device. This is often an integral part of the rooting process.
  • ADB: ADB stands for Android Debug Bridge, and it’s a command line tool for your computer that can communicate with an Android device you’ve connected to it. It’s part of the Android Software Developers Kit (SDK). Many of the root tools below use ADB, whether you’re typing the commands yourself or not. Unless the instructions call for installing the SDK and running ADB commands, you won’t need to mess with it — you’ll just need to know that it’s what most of the tools use to root your phone.
  • S-OFF: HTC phones use a feature called Signature Verification in HBOOT, their bootloader. By default, your phone has S-ON, which means it blocks you from flashing radio images — the code that manages your data, Wi-Fi and GPS connections. Switching your phone to S-OFF lets you flash new radios. Rooting doesn’t require S-OFF, but many rooting tools will give you S-OFF in addition to root access, which is nice.
  • RUU and SBF: ROM Upgrade Utilities (for HTC phones) and System Boot Files (for Motorola phones) are files direct from the manufacturer that change the software on your phone. RUU and SBF files are how the manufacturers deliver your over-the-air upgrades, and modders often post leaked RUU and SBF files for flashing when the updates haven’t been released yet. They’re also handy when downgrading your phone, if a rooting method isn’t available for the newest software version yet. You can flash RUUs right from your HTC phone, but Motorola users will need a Windows program called RSD Lite to flash SBF files.

Most Android Phones: The SuperOneClick Method

The majority of you will be able to use previously mentioned SuperOneClick for Windows to root your phone. So far, it’s been officially tested on the following phones:

  • Acer Liquid Metal
  • Dell Streak
  • HTC Magic (Sapphire) 32B
  • LG Optimus 2x
  • Motorola Defy
  • Motorola Flipout
  • Motorola Milestone
  • Motorola Milestone 2
  • Nexus One
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace. Note: SuperOneClick only works on the Galaxy Ace running 2.2.1 and below. If you have 2.3 or above on your phone, you’ll need to follow the steps at this XDA thread to root your phone.
  • Samsung Galaxy S
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia X8
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia X10
  • However, it should work on many more. Forum threads abound on the internet where people claim it works with other devices, and they just haven’t been added to the “official” list. With that in mind, I’d recommend checking the rest of the methods on this page before you try SuperOneClick, to see if your phone already has an alternative method.

    Also, if you want to double-check that SuperOneClick will work with your phone, a quick Google (e.g. superoneclick motorola milestone) will probably reveal whether it’s compatible.

    What You’ll Need

    • A Windows PC: SuperOneClick has ports for Mac and Linux, but it’s pretty complicated to get it working. I haven’t used it myself, but you can check out its XDA Developers thread for more information. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll assume you have a working Windows PC to get this working. If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend — after all, you’ll only need it once.
    • The USB Drivers for Your Phone: In order for your phone to fully communicate with your PC, you’ll need its USB drivers. To get them head to your phone’s manufacturer’s website and search for them on the Support page. Note: You can now grab an automatic driver installer at the SuperOneClick page on XDA and skip this step — though you can always download the drivers yourself if you so choose.
    • Previously mentioned SuperOneClick: This is the Windows program that will root your phone. It’s portable, so just download it and unzip it somewhere safe — no installation necessary.

    The Process

    First, find, download and install the USB drivers for your particular phone, if necessary. You can generally do a Google search for your device’s drivers, but you can just head to your manufacturer’s website too (e.g. HTC users will head to HTC’s website) and navigate to your device’s support page. Go ahead and install the drivers once they’re downloaded. Note: Again, you can now grab an automatic driver installer from SuperOneClick’s XDA page and skip this step if you so choose.

    Next, make sure your phone is in USB Debugging mode. Head to Settings > Applications > Development, and check the USB Debugging box at the top.

    Once you’ve done all that, start up SuperOneClick. Plug in your phone (make sure NOT to mount the SD card), and hit the “Root” button to root your phone — it’s that simple. When it finishes, you’ll see a message that says “Root files have been installed!” Hit Yes if it asks you to run a test, and if everything went according to plan, it should confirm that you have root permissions. You can now close out of the app.

    To double check and make sure everything went well, when you open up your app drawer you should see an app called “Superuser”. If so, you’re good to go! You can now flash custom ROMs, run root-only apps and more. See the “What Now?” section below for more ideas.

    Certain HTC Phones: The Unrevoked Method

    If you’re running an HTC phone from 2010 and earlier, chances are you’ll need to use the Unrevoked tool. More specifically, Unrevoked roots the following phones:

    If you have an HTC phone that isn’t supported by either method, Unrevoked may be working on support for it — they’re still actively developing the program and doing a great job. It usually takes them a few months, but once they get it up and running, it’s worth it. Unrevoked’s one-click method is a ton easier than the manual hacking you’ll have to do if you want root access right after a phone is released.

    What You’ll Need

    • A Computer: Thankfully, Unrevoked is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. So as long as you have a PC handy, you can run it.
    • Previously mentioned Unrevoked3: When you head to Unrevoked’s website, you’ll see a list of phones. Click on yours, and you’ll probably be presented with two options — for a traditional root, you’ll want to make sure you download the “Unrevoked3″ tool, not “Unrevoked Forever”. It will automatically detect your operating system (Windows, Mac or Linux), so just hit the download link to grab the appropriate version.
    • HBOOT Drivers (Windows only): Windows users using Unrevoked will need to install a few drivers to get it working properly. Mac and Linux versions should be a plug-and-go affair.

    The Process

    If you’re running Windows, the first thing you’ll want to do is install the Unrevoked modified USB drivers (Mac and Linux users can skip the next two paragraphs). Download the drivers from this page, and extract them somewhere you’ll remember. Turn off your phone, then reboot into the HBOOT menu by holding the volume down button and then holding power. You should boot into a white screen. Plug your phone into your computer via USB, and wait for your phone to say HBOOT USB PLUG.

    When it does, head to Start and search for Device Manager. Start it up and head to “Other Devices”, where you’ll see an “Android 1.0″ device. Right click on it and hit Update Driver Software. Click “Browse my computer for driver software” and navigate to the folder you extracted earlier. Hit next and let it install. If you get any warnings, just hit OK. When you’re done, and you should see the Device Manager now lists an Android Phone with “Android Bootloader Interface” under it.

    Next, make sure your phone is in USB Debugging mode. Head to Settings > Applications > Development, and check the USB Debugging box at the top.

    Now, start up the Unrevoked tool and plug in your phone (again, make sure to hit “charge only”). It should do everything for you automatically. Make sure you wait until Unrevoked says “Done” before unplugging your phone. If you open up your app drawer and see an app called “Superuser Permissions”, you’re done and can continue to flash custom ROMs, use root only apps and more (see the “What Now?” section for more inspiration).

    Newer HTC Phones: The Revolutionary Method

    From the makers of Unrevoked comes Revolutionary, a great new tool that unlocks the bootloader of many new HTC phones. This won’t actually root your phone, but after unlocking the bootloader, you can flash ClockworkMod Recovery and then flash a ROM of your choice, meaning you can flash a ROM that gives you root access. Currently, Revolutionary is in developer preview, but you can download it and try it on these supported phones:

    What You’ll Need

    • A computer: You’ll need either a Windows or Linux computer to run Revolutionary.
    • Revolutionary: At the bottom of the page, you’ll see downloads for both Windows and Linux. After you click on one, you’ll be asked to name your phone, your HBOOT version, and enter your serial number, which will give you a beta key allowing you to use the program. You can find both your HBOOT version and serial number after you start up the program.
    • HTC Fastboot Drivers (Windows only): Windows users using Revolutionary will need to install a few drivers to get it working properly. Linux users won’t need these.

    The Process

    To unlock and root your phone with Revolutionary, first download the program as described above and extract the files to your desktop. If you’re on Windows, grab the HTC Fastboot drivers and install them as well. On your phone, head to Settings > Applications > Development, and make sure USB Debugging is turned on. Plug in your phone, and make sure it’s set to “Charge Only”.

    Start up Revolutionary and make not of your HBOOT version. Head back to Revolutionary’s download page and pick your HBOOT version from the drop-down menu. The Revolutionary command prompt window should also list your serial number; copy that and paste it into the beta key box. Hit OK, copy your beta key, and then paste it into the command prompt. Revolutionary will root the phone, and reboot it a few times — just let it do its thing.

    When it prompts you to download ClockworkMod Recovery, type Y and press Enter. If all goes well, it should flash ClockworkMod Recovery to your device, which allows you to root your phone and flash custom ROMs. Again, this will take a while; let your phone work. If it doesn’t work, you should be able to flash ClockworkMod by downloading ROM Manager from the Android Market and flashing it from the top option on the app’s home screen.

    When all that’s done, you still need to gain root access to your phone. Download this ZIP file and put it on the root of your SD card (without extracting it). Shut down your phone, and boot it up into HBOOT. Usually this means holding the volume down button and then pressing the power button, though it may differ from phone to phone. Choose Recovery from the menu (using your volume rocker) and press the power button to enter ClockworkMod.

    Once inside ClockworkMod, choose “Install ZIP from SD Card”, then pick “Choose ZIP from SD Card”. Choose the ZIP file you just added to your SD card, and let it do its thing. When you’re done, head back to the main menu and choose “Reboot System Now”. Once you’ve rebooted, check your app drawer for the Superuser app. If it’s there, you’ve achieved root, and you can get on to the really fun stuff (see the “What Now?” section at the bottom for ideas).

    Newer Motorola Phones: The Pete Method

    As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Motorola has gotten pretty controlling with its most recent phones, so SuperOneClick no longer works if you’ve updated Android to 2.3 Gingerbread. Luckily, in an attempt to root his Droid 3, developer Pete created a program that roots a number of Motorola phones, after which you can remove bloat and do whatever else you want to them (though certain phones may have a harder time flashing custom ROMs and kernels — you’ll need to search for specific methods related to your phone). Phones known to work with Pete’s Root Tool are:

    Motorola Milestone 2

    We haven’t tested this one ourselves, so we won’t go through the detailed process here. Hit the link below to download the program and see how it works.

    [Pete's Motorola Root Tools]

    Rooting the HTC Desire Z

    The Desire Z is a special case. If you’re running 2.3 or above, you need to downgrade your phone back to 2.2 using this very involved method, then use a tool called Visionary to give it temporary root, and then go through a bit of manual hacking to make that root permanent. None of the Lifehacker editors have a Desire Z to test this on, but you can hit the link below to try it out for yourself. I’d also recommend heading over to The Unlockr for their video of the first step, using Visionary.

    [XDA Developers]

    Rooting the Motorola Atrix

    The Atrix now has an unlockable bootloader, meaning root is fairly easy to achieve. You’ll need to unlock your phone first (if you have Gingerbread already, skip to step 6), after which you can flash the ClockworkMod recovery and then flash a rooted version of the stock Gingerbread ROM. Alternatively, you can root it with some terminal commands, though it’s a bit more complicated and the Atrix guides at XDA Developers are pretty bad. Also check out how Elly did it on Gizmodo Australia. Hit the links below for a guide to each step in the process.

    Unlock Motorola Atrix 4G Bootloader, Install ClockworkMod Recovery, Root the Motorola Atrix 4G [AddictiveTips]

    Rooting the Samsung Galaxy Nexus

    Rooting the Galaxy Nexus is a simple matter of unlocking the bootloader and installing the proper superuser binaries. You have quite a few options, including a fairly simple flashing method that you can read about at the link below.

    [Android Forums]

    Rooting the Samsung Galaxy S II

    Rooting the Galaxy S II is fairly easy, as long as you have a Windows PC handy. Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S, the Galaxy S II has many variants, meaning there’s no one rooting method that will work for everyone. Your rooting method will depend on which carrier you’re on, as well as what country you’re in. Non-US users with the i9100 version of the phone can check out this method. Be extra sure you’re following a guide for your specific device — most guides will have country codes that can help you find the right one.

    For now, most of the guides require that you have the Samsung drivers for Windows and a program called Odin, which you’ll find in the guide for your phone. Odin will flash the ClockworkMod recovery to your phone, which you can use to push the Superuser app to your device, which gives you root access. You can then also flash ROMs and other things from ClockworkMod, if you so desire.

    For more information, check out the All Things Root guides for the international Galaxy S II over at Android Forums.

    What Now?

    Now, the world is your oyster. Here are some things you can do:

    Troubleshooting Problems

    If you run into a problem rooting or flashing a ROM on your phone, we’ve written a guide to troubleshooting an almost-bricked Android phone. Be sure to check that out, as well as the instructions below on how to unroot your phone if worst comes to worst.

    Unrooting Your Phone

    If, in the end, you decide you want to go back to your over-the-air updates, stock ROM and unrooted goodness, you can unroot your phone. The process is a bit different for every manufacturer and every device, but these guidelines should get you on the right track.

    This will return it to exactly how it was when you bought it from the store. You’ll lose all your apps, settings, ClockworkMod recovery and you’ll get over-the-air updates again.

    For Motorola Phones: If you have a Motorola phone, you’ll need to use RSD Lite, the program that Motorola and its partnered carriers use to restore almost-bricked phones. RSD Lite isn’t exactly an official program open to the public, so you’ll have to Google around to find a version that works for you. You’ll also need an SBF file for your device, which is the original stock ROM that RSD Lite will flash to your phone. Google for this as well. RSD Lite only runs on Windows, so if you’re a Mac or Linux user, you’ll need a Windows partition or a friend with a Windows machine to help you out.

    For HTC Phones: HTC phones can flash stock ROMs, known as RUUs, right from the phone’s bootloader. You’ll need to Google around for your device’s specific RUU file, but once you download it, save the ZIP file to your SD card and rename it (to something like PG05IMG.zip — the download page for the RUU file should specify which filename is required), booting up your phone should automatically flash the stock ROM from HBOOT, HTC’s bootloader. Check out the video at the left to see an example of this on the HTC Thunderbolt.

    For Samsung Phones: If you’re using a Samsung Galaxy phone, you can use a tool called Odin to reflash an OPS file, which is a stock ROM that will return your phone to factory settings. You’ll need a Windows machine and a copy of Odin, which you can find by Googling around the net (as its not an official tool). Check out the video to the left to see an example of Odin, and check out The Unlockr’s guide to using Odin to familiarise yourself. You may need to Google around for your specific device’s OPS file and instructions.

    This guide should have you up and running with root permissions on nearly every Android phone out there. I can’t test every Android phone in existence, so your mileage may vary. Let us know how you go in the comments below.


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