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 posting methods for the most popular Android phones, updating our earlier similar guides.
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.
Here you'll find what we think are the best rooting methods for the most popular phones. We won't go through the nitty gritty details of each method, since we can't always test them ourselves, but we will tell you what you need and what each method entails. Before rooting, we recommend you read up a bit more on your phone, and we've provided some links for further reading at the end of each description.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
If you're a proud owner of Google's newest Nexus device, you can root it with just a few clicks thanks to a program called the Galaxy Nexus Root Toolkit.
The Galaxy Nexus Root Toolkit is pretty simple to use. You will need a Windows PC (so if you don't have one, borrow one from a friend), but everything else is pretty self-explanatory. You can find more detailed instructions on the app's home page, but essentially, you'll just need to install the program, launch it, click the Drivers button, back up your apps and data if so desired (since rooting will wipe your device), then use the Unlock and Root buttons to unlock your bootloader and gain root access. From there, you can download ROM Manager from Google Play, from which you can flash the ClockworkMod Recovery, make nandroid backups and flash custom ROMs. The Galaxy Nexus Root Toolkit can also unroot your phone if you decide rooting is not for you.
The Toolkit should get you pretty far, but for more info on troubleshooting, ROMs, themes and more, check out Android Forums' All Things Root guide for the Galaxy Nexus.
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.
Samsung Galaxy Note
Rooting the Galaxy Note is super easy with the Odin one-click rooting app. You'll need a Windows PC for this method, but other than that, it doesn't get any simpler. You'll just need to download a few files, boot up your Note in recovery mode, plug it into your computer and run the Odin program. It'll flash ClockworkMod Recovery onto your phone, which you can then use to flash the necessary root files. For a full walkthrough, check out RootGalaxyNote.com's video rundown here.
HTC One X
Rooting HTC's One X is a multi-step process, but it's been made easy by Hasoon2000's All-In-One Rooting kit application.
Rooting the One X requires unlocking the bootloader with HTC's official method, then flashing a custom recovery and then gaining root access. However, Hasoon2000's toolkit puts all the tools you need into one, simple Windows app that guides you through the process nicely. Android Authority has a great how-to guide, so just read through those and you should be good to go.
And when you're done, be sure to check out the ROMs, themes and other tweaks you can make to your rooted phone with Android Forums' All Things Root guide for the One X.
You can root your HTC Desire in one of a few ways, but the best way is with the unofficial (but powerful) Revolutionary rooting tool.
Since Revolutionary gives you S-OFF, we prefer it to HTC's official method, which only unlocks your bootloader (and leaves a digital "watermark" on your phone that will show HTC that you've voided your warranty). So, rooting the HTC Desire involves using Revolutionary to unlock the bootloader and gain S-OFF, but without flashing ClockworkMod. Then, you can flash the Amon RA recovery yourself, which should be a bit more reliable on this phone than ClockworkMod. From there, you can flash a new ROM to your device, or push Superuser right from your recovery to gain root access. For the full instructions, head over to this thread at Android Forums.
Be sure to also check out the All About Rooting thread over at Android Forums for more info on rooting, how to manage your phone's partitions, and what ROMs are available for the Desire.
Rooting the Motorola Atrix requires a tiny bit of command line work, but it's nothing most users can't handle. You'll need a Windows machine for this particular method, but it's really just a matter of plugging in your phone and running a few commands. First, download these fastboot files, then follow the instructions on this page. This is for the Atrix running software version 4.5.141 only. For more info on how to root, what ROMs are available, and more, check out Android Forums' All Things Root guide for the Atrix. Thanks to ScottyMountainHigh for sharing this method!
Where to Go If Your Phone Isn't Listed
Just because your phone isn't listed doesn't mean it isn't rootable (in fact, some of the above methods might work on other phones). Pete's rooting tool, which roots the Motorola Atrix, also roots a number of other Motorola phones, from the Cliq to the Droid2 and 3 to the Droid Bionic. Similarly, HTC's official unlocking method will unlock the bootloader of nearly any HTC phone, though you'll need to look up more information on how to flash a recovery to your specific device. It also isn't the easiest method, so if your phone has a one-click tool available, it's usually better to use that because it's quicker, will give you S-OFF, and won't leave a digital "watermark" on your phone that permanently voids your warranty. Lastly, SuperOneClick is a great one-click app that roots a ton of phones, especially older ones, so do a bit of Googling and see if it works for yours — because it's just about the easiest root method out there.
The best way to research your phone, though, would be to check out the All Things Root section of your phone's forum at Android Forums. If you find your phone's subforum and click on All Things Root, there's almost always a sticky post with info on rooting methods, ROMs and other special troubleshooting tips that could apply to your specific phone. Looking up your phone on the XDA Developers forums is always a great idea too, and the CyanogenMod Wiki often has lots of information on rooting and flashing ROMs as well (even if you aren't flashing CyanogenMod). With a bit of research, you should be able to find at least one guide that works for your specific device.