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.