If you are an Android user, I'm almost certain you heard the word “root” being thrown around. You've probably been asked if your phone has been rooted or if you plan to as well. Being uncharted ground to new users or people who have never bothered to look into it, the term “root” can be somewhat scary. What does it mean? Do you risk turning your phone into a very expensive paperweight? What are the advantages or disadvantages of rooting? Well, I am here to relieve you of your fears and answer those questions.
Typically the first thing I do to each Android device I buy as soon as I pop the battery in and power it on is root it. It's to the point now that I rely on a lot of applications that require root access. Without them I feel as if I'm not getting full functionality of my phone.
Rooting is essentially giving you administrative access to your device. Once your device is rooted, you will have an application by the name of Superuser that can be found in your app drawer. This application is where you can control the permissions of any applications that require "administrative" rights. This is a simple way of looking at it.
I get asked by people all the time if rooting is like jailbreaking an iPhone. It's sort of the same concept, but don't get caught saying that around any Android fans, you may get jumped.
We'll start with the lesser of the two, drawbacks. Once your phone has been rooted, your manufacturer warranty is null in void. This is probably the number one reason for people not rooting their Android devices, but if you decide rooting is not for you, the process is just as easily undone. Reversal of this process leaves no evidence of ever having been done and your warranty is back in place.
Another negative that I'm aware of is the risk of bricking your shiny new toy. The chances of this are slim to none, but if you don't know what you are doing, your odds of creating the coolest paperweight in the office are much higher. If you choose to root, please read instructions carefully. The most important steps – they're all important – are likely in bold, red, or bold and red font usually followed by exclamation marks. Pay close attention to those steps.
Security is a growing issue in mobile devices, especially since many technologies are moving to mobile space. Gaining root access does bring to light some security concerns, but it isn't as serious as it seems. Nick Kralevich, an engineer on the Android Security Team, states that rooting, "...is not a feature of a device; rather, it is the active exploitation of a known security hole." He goes on to explain that Android is "backed by a solid implementation" and that applications are "sandboxed" from each other. This means that you have to allow permissions to any application that attempts to interact with another. You are in control, even when rooted.
When it comes to advantages, the list is nearly endless. However, there are a few that truly stick out among the crowd. First and foremost, you have full control over your system. You can install applications like SetCPU that allow you to set the CPU speed of your device manually. It also allows you to overclock (set the processor speed higher than the manufacturer rating) your device, but I wouldn't recommend that unless you know what you're doing. Other performance tweaks like the relocation of caches (browser, maps, market, etc.) can also be utilized with root access to improve the speed and battery life of your device.
The most annoying thing about buying subsidized phones is the carrier bloatware that nobody really wants to have to filter through. With root access you can remove whatever you want and install essentially whatever you want – barring it's compatible with your phone – at your own leisure. You're taking charge of your device, in a sense.
Along with rooting you will often hear words like custom recovery and ROM. These are generally for the more advanced users, but what these things allow you to do will extend the customization of your device to nearly endless possibilities. Installing a new recovery, or flashing as it is commonly called, allows you to create backups of your device on your SD card. Much like your computer's recovery can create a backup image of your current settings, files, etc., the custom recovery you flash to your Android device will back everything up so when you restore it, it is exactly how you left it down to the settings, applications, and text messages.
Custom ROMs are different versions of Android that have been modified by developers to make it look, feel, and operate however they want. For example, the myTouch 4G ships with it's own version of Sense UI, nicknamed Espresso 2.0. I grew bored with it and someone had created (ported) a custom ROM for the myTouch that was actually the software from the Desire HD, which is skinned with an entirely different version of Sense UI. Using custom ROMs, you can have both your hardware and software of choice, given that the hardware you choose has developers working on it.
Even if you don't want to go to the extreme of using custom ROMs, root access will allow you to install applications that weren't necessarily meant for your device. For instance, if there is an application that is specific to a carrier or manufacturer, given the proper tweaks by a developer, it can be installed on nearly anything running Android.
There have been home replacement applications in the Market available to non-root users for quite some time. A unique benefit over launcher replacements is the ability to theme. However, theming a launcher doesn't venture too deep into the system. Using themes created for specific ROMs, you can totally deck your device out however you want to. Applications like MetaMorph can help you with this process.
As you can see, the advantages of rooting far outweigh the disadvantages. This doesn't mean it is for everyone though. Some people will live happily ever after without ever having to root their Android device. If you are interested in rooting or diving a little deeper into Android and seeing how you can get your hands dirty, head on over to PhoneDog's Android network site, DroidDog.com. There you will find a little more than just your typical Android news.
The most important part of all is knowing your risks. Rooting can be dangerous if you don't have the proper know-how and jump into the process all willy nilly. Be patient, read instructions carefully, and don't be afraid to ask for help. You also must now that you are doing this at your own risk. If your device becomes damaged in the process, PhoneDog nor DroidDog are at fault. I am not telling anyone to go root their device now, I'm simply educating on what it is and how it can be used. You have been warned.
With that out of the way, don't look at rooting like it's a dirty word. Carriers and some manufacturers make it out to be; but rooting can be fun and extends the capabilities of your handset immensely. Straight from the Android Security Team over at Google comes this quote about rooting, “It should be no surprise that modifying the operating system can give you root access to your phone. Hopefully that’s just the beginning of the changes you might make.”