Unleash Android's full potential by gaining root access. We show you how to root your Android phone or tablet, and how to install the latest operating system or install a custom ROM in our beginner's guide on how to root Android.

Android phones are, on the whole, hugely powerful devices. Whether it's the Sony Z5, Samsung Galaxy S6, or LG G4, these phones have the capability to be customised and tailored to their owner’s will. What they often lack is the opportunity. Bloatware, heavy UI skins, and other limitations can stop you from using them to their true potential. There is a solution and here we'll explain how to root your Android phone or tablet. Rooting will give you back control over the look, feel, and behaviour of your device. 

See also: Best Android phones you can buy right now.

You don't have to be a geek, a hacker or a tech expert: this guide is for beginners, and it's not (that) difficult. You just need to be aware of the potential risks and consequences. We'll get to those shortly, but there's nothing to worry about. We'll show how to keep safe, make good use of the new freedom, and even put things back as they were in the first place. Just in case. 

How to root Android phone or tablet: What does rooting mean?

Rooting an Android device is the process of gaining privileged or full control of the operating system, and even the software that runs the operating system. The idea is to get root access hence why it is known as 'rooting'. It's a bit like having a VIP pass at a gig, you can go anywhere you like and do anything you want (within reason).

Rooting an Android smartphone or tablet is effectively the same as 'jailbreaking' an iPhone.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Why should I root my Android phone or tablet?

Android is a mature platform now, and the arguments for rooting that made sense a couple of years ago hold a little less water these days. Google has worked hard to refine the user experience, and the current iteration – 5.1.1 Lollipop – is a clutter-free work of art that feels a long way from the dark days of Froyo and Gingerbread.(We've largely blanked those from our collective memory.)

The problems occur when phone manufacturers lay their own interfaces on top of it. Far from improving Android, they often make things slower, uglier and more confusing. Then there’s the mortal sin of pre-loaded apps, often duplicating the functionality of stock Google versions, and being impossible to remove.

Not only does this take valuable storage space away from the user, but it seems to suggest that this expensive device you’ve paid for doesn’t actually belong to you. If you want that kind of experience then a trip to the Apple Store is probably a good idea, and at least you’ll be able to sell the device for a decent amount of money when you decide to upgrade. 

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. If you want to control every aspect of your device, choosing the access apps have to the web and the very interface itself, then rooting remains a solid option. The process is free, shouldn’t take too long, and in many cases is reversible. 

Of course if you don’t want cumbersome pre-loaded software suites, then there is the more capitalistic approach of not buying a phone from a manufacturer that employs such tactics. Instead you can pick up one of the Nexus range from Google (the new Nexus 5 is rumoured to be released very soon, and a larger Nexus 6 from Huawei is expected to follow on shortly afterwards), or a Moto G, Moto X Play, or Moto X Style from Motorola, all of which arrive with a minimum of bloat. 

But if you already have a differrent Android phone, or have your eye on one in particular, and just don’t aren't keen on the software, then rooting could let you build the device of your dreams. If you want a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of rooting your phone, check out our Why Root Android? feature.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Is rooting Android dangerous?

Rooting isn't a five-minute job. The decision needs a bit of thought. First, rooting your phone will absolutely void your warranty. Manufacturers don’t want you to do it, Google doesn’t want you to do it, and you won’t get any customer support if you run into problems…and you are likely to run into problems. The worst case scenario is you will brick your phone.

This doesn’t mean you grow so frustrated that you'll throw it against the wall - it simply describes the technological abilities your phone will possess if rooting goes wrong. Which is nothing at all. Hence, a brick. 

Security becomes a more serious concern. Many of the reports you read about malicious attacks on Android users will most likely involve rooted devices, or certainly those running software not found on the Google Play Store. So it’s more risky than a standard setup.

But, and this is very important, if you do your research, are not afraid to learn how things work, and don’t mind spending time fixing software problems, rooting can be hugely liberating and give you a device that is truly your own. Just remember, backup anything important before you begin, preferably to a PC or cloud service.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Can anyone root Android?

Considering the risks involved with rooting our advice is that you should only do it on your device if you can survive if something goes wrong. If you already have doubts then it's probably best to leave things well alone. We said this was a beginner's guide - which it is - but that doesn't mean rooting is suitable for everyone.

If you're keen to learn about rooting, use - or buy - an old, cheap phone to practice on before moving up to your main device.

How to root Android phone or tablet: How do I root Android? Step-by-step guide to rooting Android

The first thing to know is that there isn’t a ‘root my phone’ button on your device. It’s also not entirely clear whether your particular handset can be rooted easily. So before you begin thinking about custom ROMs or root-enabled apps, you’ll need to research your specific Android phone or tablet.

A good search term is ‘[model name] how to root’. More often than not you’ll probably find a link to a website called XDA Developers, which is undoubtedly the best resource for this sort of thing. Here you may well discover that there are many variants of your handset, each with different identifying numbers and codes. European models tend to vary from their North American cousins, as do the ones from other parts of the world.

To find your exact unit go to Settings on your phone and navigate through General>About Phone, then check the Model number. On some Android variants you might find this in the Hardware Information option on the About Phone menu.

You’ll also want to know which flavour of Android you’re running, so visit Settings>General>About Phone, and check the Android version. Again some phone will have this under Software Information. 

Another thing you’ll need to do before you can root your phone, no matter which method you use, it to turn on Developer mode. To do this go to Settings>General>About Phone,  then tap on the Build number several times until you see a message saying that you are now a developer. Then when you return to Settings>General you’ll see that Developer Options has appeared on your menu, tap this and ensure that USB debugging is turned on.

Armed with your handset model information you should be able to track down the method that exists to root your phone. While we were writing this guide we used an old LG G3 that we had in the office, and found a couple of different tools that were recommended. The most appealing was OneClickRoot, which is a website that promises a simple process for rooting a number of Android phones. You visit the site, find your phone, download the free software, then connect your phone to your PC and run the root process. There are a number of other downloadable Root tools to choose from, such as SuperOneClick, Unlock Root, Z4Root and Universal AndRoot, but you'll need to check if your device is supported.

The potential hazards of trying to root a phone showed up straight away for us, as the OneClickRoot method didn't actually work. Our phone appeared on the list, it matched the model number, but when we tried to root a message appeared saying our device wasn’t eligible yet, but would hopefully be added in the future. There was a chat option, but we decided to carry on our search. We tried another piece of software that was recommended on several sites, but this time the program wouldn’t actually run on our PC, even after several attempts and multiple copies being downloaded. 

We mention this because the path to rootedness can be filled with this sort of frustration. It’s very much a community effort, run by enthusiasts, and therefore you can expect to spend lots of time on forums if things don’t turn out as you’d hoped. Of course, you might try any of the above and find it works first time, which would have been our experience if we’d started with Stump Root.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Using Stump Root

This clever bit of software actually allows you to root your phone without the need of a PC. First you need to go to stumproot.org where you tap on the option to Download Stump root V1.2.0. Once this is done open the app drawer on your phone, find the File Manager and navigate to your downloads folder. You’ll see the Stump-v1.2.0 apk, which you tap to install. Google presents a very scary ‘don’t use this app as it bypasses security’ message, but this is normal for rooting a device. Install the app, then on the main screen hit tap the Grind button and Stump Root will automatically root your phone. Now all that needs to be done is to reboot and you’re good to go.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Is my phone rooted? How do I know if my phone is rooted?

When you first turn on a rooted phone there isn’t much to differentiate it from an unrooted one. A quick way to make sure is to download the free Root Checker app from the Google Play Store. Just tap the Check button in the top right hand corner of the installed app, and it will do a short scan of your system and confirm whether you have Root Access or not.

Many Chinese phones come pre-rooted, for example.

How to root Android phone or tablet: Why do people root Android?

One of the first apps to download from the Google Play Store is SuperSU, which allows you to control the permissions that root apps have, alongside a variety of other settings. Depending on how you rooted your device, SuperSU might already have been installed, or you might find an alternative called KingRoot on your system which does many of the same things.

There are some very useful apps that require root access, and now you can use any of these on your phone. If you really want to gain complete governance over your system then Device Control is an excellent app that has options for a whole manner of deep settings such as speed limits on your CPU, internal temperature controls, and the Tasker which allows you to create rules for how your phone behaves in different circumstances. This last one is incredibly useful, but can be intimidating to make sense of at first. We recommend searching for a few tutorials online, and before you know it you’ll be whizzing around the interface. Device Control requires another app, Busybox, to work properly, but you’ll be taken to the right place to install it when needed.

Backing up your phone is another very handy feature, and this can be achieved by downloading Titanium Backup app from the Google Play Store. Once installed you can use Titanium to make backups of your user data, applications, or both. To do your first full backup tap on the Backup/Restore tab at the top of the app, then tap Menu>Batch action>Backup all user apps + system data, then tap the green tick.

If you want to fine tune your system and customise its behaviour even further, but don’t fancy heading down the more nuclear Custom ROM route, then the Xposed Framework offers many of the advantages of custom ROMs, but without the hassle. It’s not a standard app you’ll find in the Google Play Store, so you’ll need to search for it online - just go to the XDA Developers site - then install it, and download some of the many tweak packs that actually do the adjusting. Popular options include Tweakbox, and the MoDaCo Toolkit.

How to root Android phone or tablet: How to install Custom ROMs to Android

One of the main reasons many people root their phones is to install custom ROMs. These are replacements for the operating system on the devices, and are often updated versions of Android that the manufacturers haven’t made available. The most famous ROMs are Cyanogenmod and Paranoid Android, both of which offer excellent alternatives to the bloat heavy offerings of many mainstream Android flavours. Installing a custom ROM is another risky venture, which should again only be undertaken with the knowledge that problems could occur. Non optimised ROMs could cause hardware issues, drain the battery quicker, and mean some apps don’t work properly anymore.  Then of course there’s that old ‘brick’ issue. 

Usually before you install a custom ROM you’ll need to create a Custom Recovery. This will allow the device to make a backup of your system, install ROMs, and provide a way to get going again if things go wrong. The most common types are Standard Recovery (this is a part of every Android phone), ClockworkMod (CWM) and Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP).

Apps such as TWRP Manager, ROM Installer and ROM Manager have the ability to create these Custom Recovery features, and they also provide a way of downloading ROMs and installing them on your device. As flashing a custom ROM can be a fairly tricky business, you will certainly need to visit sites like XDA Developers or the excellent Cyanogenmod, where you can search for the detailed steps that you will need to follow in order to flash the Custom ROM. It’s extremely important that you follow the steps to the letter, and read them several times before you begin. Otherwise you can quickly end up with an expensive paperweight on your desk.

We used TWRP Manager to install a dedicated ROM on our LG G3 that we downloaded from the CyanogenMod site.

The sequence for installing custom ROMs is essentially this

  • Root your phone
  • Find the version of the ROM for your specific device and download it to your phone
  • Download TWRP Manager or another ROM manager app
  • Use the ROM manager to create a Custom Recovery
  • Backup your existing ROM and data
  • Use the ROM manager to boot into recovery mode
  • Wipe the existing ROM
  • Flash the new ROM
  • Reboot your device

Creating a backup of your existing ROM means that if you don’t like the new one you install, or you want to put your phone back to its original state, you can use a ROM manager to restore the backup.

One thing to consider is that CyanogenMod and other ROMs don’t come with the Google Play Store as standard, and you’ll need to visit the CyanogenMod or relevant ROM builder’s site to find instructions for installing the service. It isn’t difficult, certainly not now that you’ve gotten this far, but it still involves downloading software and using the Recovery mode to install it on your system.

How to unroot Android phone or tablet: Return to factory settings

If you’ve finished experimenting with ROMs and Root access, then there is a simple was to take your phone back to the way it was when you began. Open up the SuperSU app, go to Settings and then select the Full Unroot option. Hopefully now your device will return to its unrooted status.

If this doesn’t work then you can still unroot your phone, but it will involve researching your particular handset and maybe asking a few questions on the XDA Developers forums. They’re a friendly bunch though, so it’s not a bad way to spend some time.