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What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages

This is a discussion on What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages within the Galaxy Nexus Hacking & Mods [LTE/CDMA] forums, part of the Galaxy Nexus Development category; I originally posted this over on the Xoom Forums after finding it on another Android site and thought it would be a more detailed explanation ...

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Thread: What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages

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    What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages

    I originally posted this over on the Xoom Forums after finding it on another Android site and thought it would be a more detailed explanation of the subject than others I'd read up to that point. I also liked how it laid everything out in a non-biased manner and let *YOU* the user decide for yourself what was best for you. -fish1552

    ***Any and all apps mentioned in this article are the sole choice of the author (John A.) and are not endorsed by any of the staff here on Galaxy Nexus Forum.***

    -----------------------
    What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages
    By John A., February 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm (modified)***


    What is rooting? Why should I root my Android device?” These are common questions that I get asked quite often. Today’s lesson is to talk to you about both the advantages and disadvantages of rooting your Android devices. But before we get started, a word of caution: rooting or modifying your phone in any way will void your manufacturer’s warranty and possibly “brick” it. What does “bricking” your device mean you ask? Exactly what you think… It means screwing up your phone software so badly that your phone can no longer function properly and is pretty much as useless as a brick. I do not in any way recommend anyone to root their Android device. This article is simply to introduce you to the subject of rooting and present you with both the pro’s and con’s so that you can make an educated decision on your own.

    What is Rooting?

    “Rooting” your device means obtaining “superuser” rights and permissions to your Android’s software. With these elevated user privileges, you gain the ability to load custom software (ROM’s), install custom themes, increase performance, increase battery life, and the ability to install software that would otherwise cost extra money (ex: WiFi tethering). Rooting is essentially “hacking” your Android device. In the iPhone world, this would be the equivalent to “Jailbreaking” your phone.


    Why is it called Rooting?

    The term “root” comes from the Unix/Linux world and is used to describe a user who has “superuser” rights or permissions to all the files and programs in the software OS (Operating System). The root user, because they have “superuser” privileges, can essentially change or modify any of the software code on the device. You see, your manufacturer/carrier only gives you “guest” privileges when you purchase your device. They do this for good reason… they don’t want you getting into certain parts of the software on your device and screwing it up beyond repair. It makes it much easier for them to manage and update the devices if they lock it all down. This way, all the users are running the same unmodified version of the devices’s software. This makes it much easier for them to support the devices. But, for the tech-savvy crowd, only having “guest” privileges on your device is pretty lame and it locks down a lot of potentially useful features.

    What are the Advantages of Rooting?



    Custom Software (ROM’s)


    You may have heard of people loading custom “ROM’s” on their devices. A “ROM” is the software that runs your device. It is stored in the “Read Only Memory” of your device. There are many great custom ROM’s available that can make your Android device look and perform drastically different. For instance, you might be stuck with an older Android device that is stuck on an older version of the Android OS and it is not getting any of the newer updated versions of Android. With a custom ROM, you could load up the latest and greatest available Android versions and bring that antiquated device up to par with some of the newer ones. There are lots of great ROM’s available for many different devices and it is up to you to find the one that best meets your needs.

    Custom Themes

    Themes are basically the graphics that appear on your Android device. Rooting your device allows you the ability to fully customize just about every graphic on your device. You can load custom themes that totally change the look and feel of your device.


    Kernel, speed, and battery

    There are many custom ROM’s and apps available for rooted devices that will allow you to drastically improve the performance (speed) and also extend battery life on your device. A lot of developers tweak the kernels (layer of code that handles communication between the hardware and software) for added performance, battery life, and more.




    Baseband


    Rooting your device grants you the ability to update the Basebands on your smartphone. The Baseband is what controls the radio (frequencies) on your device. By updating to the latest Basebands, you can potentially improve both the signal and quality of your phone calls.





    Latest Versions of Android

    As mentioned earlier, custom ROM’s can allow you to update to the latest version of the Android OS before they are officially released. This is a great feature for those who are tech-savvy and want to stay on top of the latest and greatest software updates before it hits the mainstream crowd. This is also useful if you have an outdated device that is no longer being updated by the manufacturer.


    Backing up your device

    The ability to easily backup all of your Apps and Data is one feature that is sorely missed on the stock build of Android devices. But if you root your device, backing up everything on your device (both apps and data) becomes a simple task. Having Titanium Backup or My Backup Pro is a must have app for anyone who has rooted their devices and wants to backup and restore their phones. Both are available from the Android Market.




    Unlocking Additional Features

    By rooting your Android device you also gain the ability to unlock some features that your carrier may charge for. One example is enabling free WiFi and USB tethering, which many carriers charge money for. Now, I’m not suggesting you do this. But I did want to make you aware of the fact that it is possible to do this. However, your carrier may catch on to the fact that you are using your device as a free WiFi hotspot and figure out a way to charge you for it. So use this feature at your own risk!




    What are the Disadvantages of Rooting?

    OTAs and System Updates

    You may find that after rooting, updates provided by Google or through Toshiba's Service Station may not work if applied. Some updates may revert you to non-rooted status, cause a boot-loop or brick your device. To apply these updates, you may need to "unroot" / "return to stock" (out-of-the-box state) to apply the update(s). This is where (after rooting again, of course) having a backup to restore can be very helpful.

    Bricking

    The number one reason not to root your device is the potential risk of “bricking” it. As mentioned earlier, “bricking” your device means screwing up your phone software so badly that your phone can no longer function properly and is pretty much as useless as a brick. You would likely need to purchase a new Android device since the manufacturer of your device will void the warranty after any attempts at rooting.

    Boot looping

    This is when the device shows the boot animation, etc then reboots to do it all again to infinity. If this happens, it's typically because of something the end-user has done. Examples include: Applying an incompatible update, incorrectly rooting, etc. This is NOT a normal byproduct of a successfully rooted device.




    Security


    There is an increased risk of unknowingly installing malicious software when you root an Android device. Root access circumvents the security restrictions that are put in place by the Android OS. There isn’t really an effective way to tell just what the application intends to do with that “superuser” power. You are putting a lot of trust into the developer’s hands. In most cases, these applications are open source and the community can take a look at the source code to assess the risk. But, nevertheless, the risk is there.

    Fortunately, malicious software on rooted devices hasn’t really been a [big] problem as of yet. But I thought it was worth mentioning since this could be a potential risk in the future. I’d recommend installing an Anti-Virus and Security App just to be safe. Lookout Mobile Security seems to be one of the best ones available at the moment. Having the "SuperUser" app installed from the Market helps restore some control back to you the user. While Lookout isn't currently compatible with any Tablets just yet, it serves as example of a security software. However, if you'd like to "side-load" it on your Thrive then this link may be of some assistance: https://support.mylookout.com/entrie...laxy-tab-10-1v

    LBE Privacy Guard - https://market.android.com/details?id=com.lbe.security


    This app works differently from Lookout and appears to be compatible with Tablets according to the Market. I use it on my phone daily to grant / deny permissions to apps on my own terms. This is a good app to have installed for when Lookout says an app is safe but it turns out otherwise. There's no foolproof app out there to detect everything but between the two, I like this one the most.

    Benefits:
    - Protect your privacy by controlling the permission of each application to access your sensitive data.
    - Block malicious operation from Mal-wares and virus like apps.
    - Block unwanted network traffic if you don’t have a unlimited data plan.
    - Decide whether you want an app to know your location when an option to turn that off isn't provided.
    - Find out which application is trying to steal your privacy by checking the security log.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    From another forum post, I thought it included some good information to add to this thread:

    additional info credited to jdoo over on the Xoom Forums:

    "This should probably be said....

    If you have to ask about rooting - you should do yourself a huge favor and research what the risks are. potentially bricking your phone, per the link above = one of the risks, but that link (and I have to admit, to not reading all five pages) doesn't really go into any detail on potential security risks. I attended an Android dev class a couple of weeks ago - and one of the fun things we learned about, is how to take advantage of device capabilities, when a user has either granted rights to our process, or rooted their device- giving same. For example, it wasn't too difficult to snap pictures from the device, without the user knowing what was happening. It was a snap to package up that picture, and fire off email, or even put things into the background, so the email could be sent off later. At that point - we had control of the data on the device (even by-passing encryption) and could grab what we want, and send it to who we want, when we want. Seriously -- it does nobody a service, to only talk about advantages of rooting, without at least mentioning... that there are very real potential risks.

    That said -- even installing an application you side-loaded (or off an appstore/market) without paying attention to the warnings you are presented with can present much the same risk. Things like allowing full internet, or GPS Location, or Contacts to an application you are installing can expose you to malicious software. I am not so sure everyone scrutinizes these warnings enough... asks themselves, "Hmm.. i wonder why this game needs access to my Contact list?" Point is -- applications ask for permissions when you install them... and many (most?) folks don't pay attention, and just click through saying "Yes". So there is danger with a non-rooted device too. The risks are lower though. Rooted phones circumvent security restrictions put in place by Android. Worse - there is no real way of telling what an application intended to do with root level access.

    /nanny mode off. . . carry on "

    So hopefully this thread will give you an even spread of information both pro and con for rooting to help you make a better decision on whether or not it is something you want to undertake.
    -----------------------------------------------------------

    ***The original article credit goes to: John A. of Droid Lessons and can be found here in it's entirety: What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages | Droid Lessons
    Last edited by fish1552; 04-02-2012 at 11:51 AM. Reason: gramma/spelling fixes
    wicked, Bazar6, lakis and 6 others like this.

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    Thanks for posting this up fish!

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    Awesome! Thanks, fish!

    Tapatalk'd

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    Awesome. This is going to be very helpful for people

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    Excellent post! This will be my first official long-term Android device, and I look forward to taking advantage of some of the features rooting has to offer. However I am cautious, because I have very little experience in this realm. Looks like I came to the right place!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Killuminati View Post
    Excellent post! This will be my first official long-term Android device, and I look forward to taking advantage of some of the features rooting has to offer. However I am cautious, because I have very little experience in this realm. Looks like I came to the right place!
    Whatever you do, don't feel like you have to root. A lot of us talk about it a lot, but the Android experience can be enjoyed stock too. So make sure you understand the risks/rewards before making that decision.
    I'll probably be stock for a while on mine unless I can't do something I want to do because of it. But then, I've said that for both my OGDroid and my Xoom.

    Sent from my OGDroid using TapaTalk.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fish1552 View Post
    Whatever you do, don't feel like you have to root. A lot of us talk about it a lot, but the Android experience can be enjoyed stock too. So make sure you understand the risks/rewards before making that decision.
    I'll probably be stock for a while on mine unless I can't do something I want to do because of it. But then, I've said that for both my OGDroid and my Xoom.

    Sent from my OGDroid using TapaTalk.
    I also plan to keep mine stock for awhile, until possibly reliable performance upgrades are available. After all, this is the first ICS phone, and it will get the most frequent updates from Google. I think one of my priorities will be turing this phone into a mobile hotspot, but like you said, there are risks/possible charges involved with such devious behavior lol. And I heard theres an app you can download that will essentially do the same thing?

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    Quote Originally Posted by fish1552 View Post
    Whatever you do, don't feel like you have to root. A lot of us talk about it a lot, but the Android experience can be enjoyed stock too. So make sure you understand the risks/rewards before making that decision.
    ...
    Excellent point, we agree on this completely. IMO a lot of people make the mistake of diving in head first and that's where so many run into issues.

    I too will be enjoying the stock experience for a little while first, I want to see what ICS brings to the table on its own.

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    I agree totally as hard as it's going to be to have a stock phone a lot of updates will surly drop so it will be in best interest to wait
    Edit: Fish great write up

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    Quote Originally Posted by fish1552 View Post
    Whatever you do, don't feel like you have to root. A lot of us talk about it a lot, but the Android experience can be enjoyed stock too.
    Yes! One can be just as obsessed with a stock phone as with a rooted one.


    Sent from my DROIDX using Tapatalk

 

 
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