Root Explained

As anyone familiar with this blog knows, I have a Samsung Galaxy S3. And is it rooted. Before that, I had a Motorola Droid X2. And it was rooted.

I don’t make a big deal of it; I know that most people neither know nor care about rooting. However, sometimes it comes up in conversation, so I thought I would explain rooting and some if the commonest questions here.

What is rooting?
Rooting is enabling “Root Access” to the system areas of your phone’s operating system. It is the equivalent of running as “Administrator” in Windows.

Is Rooting the same as Jailbreaking?
Not exactly. While Jailbreaking may include rooting, it also includes altering your iDevice so that you can get your apps from sources other than Apple’s App Store. Apple do not want you to do this. Unlike Apple, Google have no problem with this: while Android devices are locked to The Android Market (I still cannot bring myself to call it the “Play Store” with a straight face), clearing a checkbox in your device settings (usually under “Developer Options”) will allow loading of apps from other sources (such as Amazon’s Appstore).

Is rooting insecure?
Only if you’re stupid. There is much talk about the potential for malware on a rooted system, as a badly-behaved app can do far more damage to a rooted system, but only if that app is explicitly granted root access. Unlike Windows Programs or Apple apps, every Android application has to specify what permissions it requires when you install it.

Permissions1

  A visual inspection is enough to identify any funny business — like a game that requires the ability to make calls, for instance — and you have the opportunity to refuse to install it.

Permissions2

And while you can configure apps to update automatically, if permissions change you have to manually upgrade. If an app tries to access functions that it isn’t supposed to have, Android will shut it down, and in exceptional cases, Google can remotely remove misbehaving apps. Also bear in mind that not every program needs root access — programs that want root access have to request it from you; you can grant it on a one-time or permanent basis.

Root Request

The bottom like is that as long as you are paying attention and thinking about what you are doing, you are fine.

Is rooting dangerous?
There is a small but distinct possibility that a botched attempt at rooting your phone will “brick” it, leaving you with an unusable phone and a hefty bill for its replacement. But that usually has more to do with your hardware supplier’s efforts to prevent you from rooting than with the rooting process itself. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you root with confidence — if you are skilled enough to install Windows on a PC’s Hard Drive, you probably have the necessary skills to root your device.

Doesn’t rooting void the warranty?
In theory, yes. In practice, “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Phone companies ted to discourage users from rooting, and they often trot out the “warranty void” line to scare users away. But most devices can be returned to “stock” (out the box, unrooted) configuration just as easily as they were rooted in the first place. So if you have to take your phone in for warranty service, simply return it to stock, and it will be difficult — if not impossible — for them to tell that it was ever rooted.

This is as it should be. In my opinion, rooting should not be a good reason to deny warranty coverage unless it was the rooting that caused the problem.

So why doesn’t my phone carrier/supplier want me to root?
In a word, money. Rooting diminishes your Carrier’s control – and profitability. So carriers will have a tendency to steer you toward purchasing their products and services over the (invariably better and often free) competition. Locking down the phone is an effective way to do this.

At the time of writing, my carrier just rolled out a system upgrade that fixes a few minor bug, adds a few “shovelware” features I neither need nor want, removed Google’s “universal search”… and adds a “Google Security Patch” that just happens to break root. Thanks but no thanks.

Should I root?
Generally, if your device does everything that you need, the answer is “no”. Rooting is not for everyone: You have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. You have to care about it enough to keep backups and do research. If you want to just use your phone for basic stuff and will buy what they are selling you without question, don’t bother rooting – stay with stock. Mind you, if stock is what you want, you probably need an iPhone…

So why root?
There are many things that you can only do if your device is rooted. For instance, on some devices, you cannot take a screenshot unless the device is rooted. Here are my reasons for rooting:

  • Backups! Titanium Backup can backup and restore your apps and data/ This comes in useful if a new version of an app does not work on your phone and you have to roll back to an earlier version. you can backup and restore individual apps and their data. This is particularly useful if you are moving a game to another phone and want to keep your settings and high score. As far as I can tell, the Android Mark… er… play store cannot do this.
  • Remove Camera Click: There are times that you may want to take a candid shot without your camera making a loud “Click!” to alert them of the fact. Phone companies will not generally allow this feature, but once your phone is rooted it is easy.
  • Remove bloatware/shovelware/crapware. My carrier (Verizon) loves to bundle “useful” (i.e. profitable) apps, such as VZ Navigator, Blockbuster, Slacker or City ID, to name but a few) into the phone that cannot be removed (left in place but rendered inoperative) or uninstalled… unless, of course,  you have rooted your phone.
  • Replace that garish vomit-and-epileptic-fit-inducing Verizon LTE boot animation with something a little more stylish (i.e., anything else).

There are many other reasons too root, but these are mine. As you can see, none of them represent criminal behavior, nefarious purposes or a clear and present danger to National Security.

Now you know.

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Comments

  • JRT Studio (@JRTStudio)  On January 7, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Haha – you are correct, the “Play Store” is such a silly name for Google to move to.

    I believe you are right on the money. Rooting an Android device (as long as you know what you are doing) is much better than a stock device. You clearly covered, “what’s in it for me”, about rooting and reasons why it is advantageous to do so. This is the kind of information potential rooters would not get from Wikipedia.

    Good post. Do you have any recommendations for folks to where they should go to begin the rooting process?

    • Wizard Prang  On January 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM

      Thank for the good words. My go-to spot for rooting info is XDA Developers. (http://forum.xda-developers.com). There are sub-forums for most common devices there. Be warned though that these are deep waters; the information is highly technical and the natives are intolerant of those who don’t do their homework, so do your reading and research before you ask questions.

  • Wizard Prang  On January 11, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    “Rooting is enabling “Root Access” to the system areas of your phone’s operating system. It is the equivalent of running as “Administrator” in Windows.”

    Upon reflection, this is not quite true, so a word of clarification is in order:

    When you run as Administrator in Windows, every program you run inherits your Admin privilege. This is why running as Admin is so dangerous.

    When you run an app in Android, it runs with the privileges it was explicitly given when it was installed.

Trackbacks

  • […] for the solution to this problem, and I found it in the form of “rooting”. I have already written on this subject of rooting, so I will not bore you with the details. Any road up, with a little research, a lot of reading and […]

  • […] to say, I refused and uninstalled this digital interloper. Fortunately since I am one of those disgusting folks who roots my phone, and takes regular backups I was able to back down to the previous version of Hotmail (before […]

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