How to Root Your Android phone

Rooting Your Phone is Easier than You Might Think

Businesswoman using cell phone in library
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So you've decided to root your Android smartphone. While the concept of rooting is rather complicated, the actual process isn't terribly difficult. Rooting is a process that lets you access all the settings and sub-settings in your phone, which means your phone is truly your own and you can install and uninstall anything you want. It's like having administrative privileges over your PC or Mac. There are many rewards and some risks to consider, of course, and a few precautions you should take first.

Here are the steps you need to take in order to safely root your smartphone.

Back Up Your Phone

If you've ever interacted with an IT professional, you know that backing up your data is one of the most important things you can do. When rooting your phone, this is particularly important on the off-chance something goes wrong, or if you change your mind. (Rooting can be reversed.) You can back up your Android device in a number of ways, using Google's own tools or third-party apps. See our guide to backing up your Android device.

Choose an APK or Custom ROM

Next, you'll need to choose an APK (Android application package) or custom ROM (alternate version of Android.) Since Android is open-source, developers can create their own versions and there are many, many versions out there. Put simply, an APK is used to distribute and install software on your device. Rooting programs include Towelroot and Kingo Root: check which one is compatible with your device.

After you root your phone, you can stop there, or choose to install a custom ROM, which will offer even more features. The most popular custom ROM is LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod), which has even been built into the OnePlus One Android phone. Other well-liked ROMs include Paranoid Android and AOKP (Android Open Kang Project).

A comprehensive chart with descriptions of custom ROMs is available online. 

Rooting Your Phone

Depending on the APK or custom ROM you choose, the rooting process will vary, though the basics remain the same. Sites like the XDA Developers Forum and the AndroidForums offer in-depth information and instructions on rooting specific phone models, but here's an overview of the process.

Unlock the Bootloader

The bootloader controls which applications are running when you boot up your phone: unlocking it gives YOU this control.

Install an APK or Custom ROM

The APK enables you to install software on your device, the most common being Towelroot and Kingo. Custom ROMs are alternative operating systems that share features with stock Android but offer different interfaces and more functionality. The most popular are LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod) and Paranoid Android, but there are a lot more out there.

Download a Root Checker

If you use an APK instead of a custom ROM, you may want to download an app that will verify that your phone has been rooted successfully.

Install a Root Management App

A management app will protect your rooted phone from security vulnerabilities and prevent apps from accessing private information.

The Benefits and Risks

There are more pros than cons to rooting your Android phone. As we said, rooting means you have complete control over your phone so that you can view and modify even the deepest settings and access special apps designed just for rooted phones. These apps include ad-blockers and robust security and backup utilities. You can also customize your phone with themes and colors, and even change button configurations, depending on the rooted OS version you choose (more on that in a minute).

Risks are minimal but include voiding your warranty, losing access to certain apps (such as Google Wallet) or killing your phone altogether, though the latter is very rare.

It's important to weigh these risks against the features you could gain by rooting. If you take the right precautions, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.