Ask LH: I’m New To Jailbreaking, Can You Help Me Wrap My Head Around Cydia?

I recently jailbroke my iPhone and now that it’s done I’m very overwhelmed by Cydia. I’ve downloaded a couple apps, but I don’t understand most of what I’m looking at. The descriptions and explanation in Cydia don’t help much, so I’m wondering: can you help me wrap my head all this stuff?

Title image remixed from discpicture (Shutterstock).


Jailbroken and Confused

Dear JC,

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I still remember the first time I jailbroke a first generation iPhone on iOS 2.0 and confusingly stared at the third-party app installer Cydia for the first time (and of course if you haven’t jailbroken yet our guide to doing so is easy to follow). Back then it was a complete mess and while things have improved over time, it’s still confusing to beginners.

To start, you should think of Cydia as an unofficial App Store filled with a lot of apps and features that Apple doesn’t allow on an iPhone. Navigating all those features is a bit difficult at first, but thankfully the key to understanding how to use the Cydia store lies in understanding the terminology it uses.

The first and most important step is to understand how the repositories work.

The Basics of Repositories

One of the more confusing parts about Cydia is the repositories (aka sources). Repositories are essentially different servers that have jailbreak apps located on them. Basically, you can picture a repository as a separate store within Cydia — like an Amazon private seller.

If you look at our list of jailbreak apps you’ll notice that we usually include the source where you can find the app we’re talking about. For the most part you should be able to get away with the default list of sources, but you may come across a tweak or app that you need to add a new source repository for. To add a new source tap Manage > Sources > Edit > Add and you’ll get a URL popup to add a new source. Once you do you can search for the app you’re looking for and Cydia will index the new source.


The Difference Between Apps, Tweaks, Widgets And Themes

The other confusing thing about Cydia is that since it houses every type of jailbreak imaginable it’s hard to tell the difference between different types of software. For the most part a casual user will run into four main types: apps, tweaks, widgets and themes. While other minor jailbreak hacks are tucked away in Cydia you likely won’t ever need to deal with them. So, let’s take a look at the big four.

  • Apps: Apps on Cydia will operate the exact same as an app from the iTunes App Store. The only difference is that they’re not approved by Apple. This means you’ll see apps that do things like network tethering, reskinning of the interface and provide alternate means to send and receive text messages. For the most part these are self-explanatory and are divided up into categories under the Sections menu much like the App Store.
  • Tweaks: Tweaks are a little more confusing. Basically a tweak is a slight enhancement to a pre-existing app usually found in the “Add-On” folders under the Section menu. These tweaks usually don’t have an icon on your homescreen. Instead, they’re usually configured under the Settings menu on your iPhone. One example of this is Sparrow+. The purpose of the tweak is to enhance the official Sparrow mail app by adding push notifications and changing Sparrow to the default mail client.
  • Widgets:Widgets are somewhat new to iOS but after the release of the excellent Dashboard X Cydia is getting flooded with them. Widgets can exist in one of three places: the Notification centre, on the homescreen (with Dashboard X), or on the lock screen. They’re essentially shortcut buttons and tools that make information available to you outside an app. You’ll usually find these in Cydia in the Add-Ons folders much like the tweaks.
  • Themes: If you want to customise your iPhone, themes are how you do it. The two most popular means of doing this are Dreamboard and Winterboard. To use themes you need one of these two apps installed. Themes are found under in the Themes folders on Cydia.

As you’re getting used to how the Cydia store works it’s usually best to stick with downloads in the above four categories. Most other tools are meant for developers and are best left alone until you know what you’re doing.


Deleting And Updating Installed Apps

Now that you’re getting the hang of Cydia you’re probably downloading heaps of apps and tweaks, right? Chances are you’ve realised not all of them are what you want, but deleting apps isn’t as easy as just holding your finger down on the homescreen (not off the bat anyway).

To delete Cydia apps and tweaks (and anything else) you have to pop back into Cydia. Tap Manage on the bottom bar and then scroll through to find the app you want to delete. Tap Modify and then Remove. If that seems too tedious you can download Cydelete from the BigBoss Repository and delete Cydia-installed apps just like official apps.

Updates in Cydia are handled in a similar way to the App Store. When you open up Cydia you’ll see a badge on the Changes menu with any app or tweak updates. Tap the Upgrade button and your apps will update to the newest versions.

Once you play around with Cydia for a while it gets easier to understand. If you keep your repositories with just the default ones you’ll typically be safe against any junk or dangerous apps, but always use the same type of caution you would on your computer. More importantly, play around with different tweaks and have a good time with it. If you’re not sure of where to start, our picks for the best jailbreak apps for iOS 5 will get you going in the right direction.



PS Is there anything about the Cydia store that confuses you? Sound off in the comments.

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