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Being able to hack and mod your Android device to no end is a huge selling point for the platform. Flashing custom software, or ROMs as they are often called, and tweaking the device until it no longer looks or runs like it did when you bought it is only a small portion of the changes you can begin to make on your Android device after gaining root access.

If you've followed any of my root-centric articles, you have probably noticed me throw around the term “custom recovery” several times. Thus far, I have defined and given advantages and disadvantages of several aspects of rooting and modding your Android device. I'm well past due on giving a synopsis on what makes all the modding possible, custom recoveries.

What is a custom recovery?

If you've dealt with recovery software on your computer any, you probably already have a good idea of how this works and what it's all about. Out of the box, your phone comes with stock recovery software. It varies depending on the manufacturer, but all stock recoveries are essentially the same. They allow you to manually flash official updates and allow you to clear the cache on your phone. What they can do is very limited and in reality, not all that helpful.

Thanks to the genius Android developers out there, we have custom recoveries that replace the limited, unhelpful ones. These third-party, or aftermarket, recoveries add all sorts of functionality to the recovery software on your phone.

What do they do?

Now that you know custom recoveries are much more helpful, what exactly do they do that the stock versions don't? Flashing a custom recovery to your Android device allows you to:

  • Create backup images – A backup image of your phone will backup all settings, applications, app data, and every other aspect of your phone's current state.
  • Restore backup images – Restoring a backup image will restore everything to exactly how everything was when the backup was made. Creating and restoring backups are very useful when trying new mods. I recommend making them fairly often.
  • Factory data reset and wipe cache – This is self explanatory, but custom recoveries also allow you to format other partitions like the phones internal and external storage, too.
  • Flash custom ROMs – This is also self explanatory. Recoveries are where all the ROM flashing magic happens. You can also install applications via a recovery as well, just make sure they're in zip format (.apk files will not work).
  • Partition your SD card – Though this was a lot more helpful when phones came with less memory and before Android 2.2 came along, some people still prefer to partition their SD card for more application storage.

There are a few more uses for custom recoveries, like wiping dalvik cache and battery stats or creating logs for error reporting and debugging. But the features listed above are what recoveries are most commonly used for.

Which recovery should you choose?

Back when I first started tinkering with Android, there were several different recoveries to choose from, like Amon RA and JF Recovery (thanks @benpike). But as ClockworkMod Recovery and ROM Manager become more popular, other recoveries are starting to disappear. Unlike custom ROMs, there is no need for hundreds of different versions as all recoveries accomplish essentially the same thing. ClockwordMod's support reaches far and wide. As general advice, I would suggest using this over other custom recoveries.

How do I get/flash a custom recovery?

I'm not going to go too deeply into details here, as there are several different methods of flashing a new recovery and some are more advanced than others. For instance, the most advanced technique is to manually flash the recovery through a command prompt on your computer using ADB (Android Debug Bridge).

If that went over your head, no fear!

Your device may be officially supported (most are) by ROM Manager and ClockworkMod. If so, you are in luck. After gaining root access on your device, simply download ROM Manager from Android Market. It will automatically flash the recovery after the download process finishes. Easy as pie.

Note: If anything goes wrong in the process, PhoneDog is not at all responsible for anything that may happen to your device. Attempt at your own discretion.

Can I revert back to the stock recovery?

In a perfect world, yes. Assuming the developer has created a backup of the stock recovery image, you have nothing to worry about. Just make sure you download the backup (or create one yourself) and put it in a safe place. It isn't always easy finding a backup of a stock file months after you've rooted and flashed a custom recovery.

My advice would be to do your due diligence and make sure there is a reversal method before jumping into it. You can never be too cautious, and it's always a good idea to know what you're getting yourself into and having a Plan B if things go south. As always, remember to have fun. And if you have any questions about rooting, modding, or Android in general, feel free to ask me on Twitter (@PDCasper).


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