Root for beginners: What is it, and why would I want it?

Android_tree_roots

Here at Pocketables, we deal a lot with Android, mostly because it is a popular and powerful mobile OS. In discussions about Android here and elsewhere, you have probably heard about how great "root access" and "rooting" is.

Unfortunately, most of the time no one actually explains what these mystical things are, leaving many Android users confused about what "root" really is. Even when explanations are provided, the information is scattered around different forums and blog posts, making it difficult to piece together.

Well, today we are here to clear away the confusion, explain what root is, and examine the benefits it offers users, all in one place.

What is root?

Perhaps the best place to start when explaining root is the name. As many of you know, Android is based on Linux, which is a popular free and open source operating system. Much like Windows, in Linux you can setup user accounts for different users. In Windows, you can set users as either normal users or system administrators. User accounts are restricted, but administrators can do anything on that computer. The root account in Linux is much like the administrator account in Windows. If you have access to the root account, you become the administrator (superuser) or owner of the system.

Root on an Android device works much the same way. When you buy a device, you have access to a regular user account. This restricted account allows you to use the phone normally, install applications, and change some settings. Normal access will provide plenty of power for most users, but power users like to have superuser or root access to their devices. 

What are the benefits of root access?

When you have root access, it means that you really own your device and can do whatever you want with it, instead of being restricted by carriers and manufacturers. Being able to do what you want with your device comes with a number of advantages.

Here are a few of the many things you can do when you have root access.

  1. You can remove preinstalled bloatware apps from carriers, which use valuable disk space and battery life.
  2. You can backup all your settings and apps for easy restores with applications like Titanium Backup.
  3. You can install custom ROMs, which are basically different versions of Android. They come in many flavors and can be either bare bones versions of the latest Android version, heavily themed builds that are suited to a particular use, or anything else the developers may build. 
  4. You can change core system settings, like processor speed and the system font on your device.
  5. You can use your data plan to tether for free, instead of paying fees to carriers.
  6. You can backup your entire OS, so you can try new ROMs and revert if something goes wrong.
  7. You can flash custom boot animations and themes on your device.
  8. You can install any number of root only apps, such as tools for screenshots and apps for tethering.
  9. You can apply custom tweaks from developers, like special flash builds that allow you to watch Hulu.
  10. You own your device and can do whatever you want without being restricted by anyone.

Is rooting legal?

By now you may be thinking, "Wow, rooting sounds cool and useful. But it also sounds a little shady. I wonder if it is legal."

The short answer to that question is yes, rooting is completely legal. The longer answer is that last year the US copyright office ruled that jailbreaking or rooting a mobile device is not in violation of copyright law. However, things like free tethering could violate your contract and get you into trouble with your carrier, so you should still be careful. 

Are there disadvantages to rooting?

Even though rooting is not illegal, it does have a few disadvantages. Most importantly, stores will usually refuse to honor a warranty if your device has been rooted. It is possible to unroot a device and take it in for repair, but your warranty has still technically been voided even after the device is unrooted. 

I'm sold. How do I root my device?

There are a few ways to go about rooting an Android device. Tools like unrEVOked and one-click root apps will often root devices with minimal interaction from the user.

However, if you are having trouble with one-click solutions or your device is not supported, check out the universal rooting tutorial that will be posted tomorrow.

If you have any questions about root access and rooting, feel free to ask in the comments.

Pocketables does not accept targeted advertising, phony guest posts, paid reviews, etc. Help us keep this way with support on Patreon!
become a patron button - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

Google+ | Twitter | More posts by Aaron | Subscribe to Aaron's posts

Avatar of Aaron Orquia