Modern smartphones are marvels of technology. With more processing power than desktop PCs of yore, you can find any information in the world, watch the latest episode of Ted Lasso, and take photos that deserve to be framed. But that’s just the beginning – there’s a lot more power under Android’s hood if you’re willing to root your phone. In the early years of Android’s existence, this was a fairly straightforward procedure on most devices. There were even apps and tools that could root almost any Android phone or tablet with a tap and you’d be ready to truly master your device in minutes. As Android has become more capable, the appeal of rooting has diminished somewhat – it is also much more difficult and has more drawbacks.
The advantages of rooting
Getting root access on Android is like running Windows as an administrator. You have full access to the system directory and can make changes to the way the operating system operates. As part of rooting, you install a management client like Magisk – SuperSU was the best option but it has fallen into disrepair. These tools are basically the keeper of root access on your phone. When an app requests root, you need to approve it using the root manager.
In the case of Magisk, you can also use the client to make other changes to the phone via numerous modules developed by the community. Let’s assume you don’t like the system theme on your phone. With root, you can change it. You can also manually back up your app data so you never lose it again. Do you want to change the way your device’s CPU characteristics? This is also possible with root.
If you’ve ever looked at your phone and thought, “I wish I could [some very specific thing]”, rooting could make it happen. Modern tools like Magisk are also” systemless “root managers. This means that changes are stored on the boot partition rather than modifying the system. This makes it easier to revert to a system without root (or make believe apps you’re not rooted) than it used to be in the past.
The Risks of Rooting
Rooting your phone or tablet gives you complete control over the system, but honestly, the benefits are much less than before. Google has expanded Android’s feature set over the years to encompass many of the things we needed root for. With that in mind, there are risks to rooting and you should only do it if you know what you are getting yourself into. Android is designed in such a way that it is difficult to break things with a limited user profile. A superuser, however, can really destroy the system by installing the wrong app or making changes to system files. Android’s security model is also compromised when you are rooted. Some malware specifically looks for root access, which allows it to run like crazy.
For this reason, most Android phones are not designed to be rooted. There’s even an API called SafetyNet that apps can use to make sure a device hasn’t been tampered with or compromised by hackers. Banking, Google Pay, and other apps that handle sensitive data will perform this check and refuse to work on rooted devices. Magisk supports root hiding, but it won’t always work. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse with Google. If losing access to high-security apps is a big deal, you might not want to mess with rooting.
Root methods are sometimes messy and dangerous in their own right. You could lock your device just by trying to root it, and you’ve probably (technically) voided the warranty this way. Rooting also makes it harder (or impossible) to install official updates, and ROMs like Lineage can be difficult to install and have errors once you do. If having root access is really important to you, you may be waiting for faulty software while asking for a new root method or a modified operating system update.
You should do it?
If you’ve been using Android for a while, you’ve probably noticed that getting root access on most devices is a lot harder than it used to be. Years ago there were exploits that could root almost any Android device in minutes, but now it’s much less common. The last essentially universal exploit was Towelroot in mid-2014, but Google fixed it rather quickly. Google often fixes these flaws before even knowing they exist because having active exploits in the system is a very bad thing for most users. These are security holes that can be used by malware to take control of a device and steal data. There are monthly security updates to fix these holes, but on a rooted phone you are responsible for security. If you are going to root, you need to accept that your device will require more frequent attention and you need to be careful what you install. The safety net offered by Google and the device manufacturer will not be there to save you.
If you’re not familiar with Android tools and how to troubleshoot with a command line, you probably shouldn’t dive deep into rooting your phone. Root can be a lot of fun to play with, but it can also lead to a lot of frustration as you try to fix bugs caused by overzealous modding. If you bought your phone with the intention of tinkering, by all means, go crazy.
When something goes wrong (and at some point it will), it’s up to you to fix it. You may be left to sift through old forum posts and ask for help in chat rooms to fix your phone. You have to be willing to face some annoying problems if you want to live the ingrained lifestyle. You also have to look at what you are getting; Android in its unmodified state is much better than before. Ten years ago, people rooted phones to get features like low-power sleep enforcement, permissions management, and screen capture. Unmodified Android can do all of this now. Most people no longer have a good reason to root phones.