What Does Root Mean for Android Phones
Rooting is often performed with the goal of overcoming limitations that carriers and hardware manufacturers put on some devices. Thus, rooting gives the ability (or permission) to alter or replace system applications and settings, run specialized apps that require administrator-level permissions, or perform other operations that are otherwise inaccessible to a normal Android user. On Android, rooting can also facilitate the complete removal and replacement of the device’s operating system, usually with a more recent release of its current operating system.
Root access is sometimes compared to jailbreaking devices running the Apple iOS operating system. However, these are different concepts. Jailbreaking describes the bypass of several types of Apple prohibitions for the end user: modifying the operating system (enforced by a “locked bootloader”), installing non-officially approved apps via sideloading, and granting the user elevated administration-level privileges. Only a minority of Android devices lock their bootloaders—and many vendors such as HTC, Sony, Asus and Google explicitly provide the ability to unlock devices, and even replace the operating system entirely. Similarly, the ability to sideload apps is typically permissible on Android devices without root permissions. Thus, it is primarily the third aspect of iOS jailbreaking relating to giving users superuser administrative privileges that most directly correlates to Android rooting.
Rooting lets all user-installed applications run privileged commands typically unavailable to the devices in the stock configuration. Rooting is required for more advanced and potentially dangerous operations including modifying or deleting system files, removing carrier- or manufacturer-installed applications, and low-level access to the hardware itself (rebooting, controlling status lights, or recalibrating touch inputs.) A typical rooting installation also installs the Superuser application, which supervises applications that are granted root or superuser rights by requesting approval from the user before granting said permissions. A secondary operation, unlocking the device’s bootloader verification, is required to remove or replace the installed operating system.
In contrast to iOS jailbreaking, rooting is not needed to run applications distributed outside of the Google Play Store, sometimes called sideloading. The Android OS supports this feature natively in two ways: through the “Unknown sources” option in the Settings menu and through the Android Debug Bridge. However, some US carriers, including AT&T, prevented the installation of applications not on the Play Store in firmware, although several devices are not subject to this rule, including the Samsung Infuse 4G; AT&T lifted the restriction on most devices by the middle of 2011.
As of 2011, the Amazon Kindle Fire defaults to the Amazon Appstore instead of Google Play, though like most other Android devices, Kindle Fire allows sideloading of applications from unknown sources, and the “easy installer” application on the Amazon Appstore makes this easy. Other vendors of Android devices may look to other sources in the future. Access to alternate apps may require rooting but rooting is not always necessary.
Rooting an Android phone lets the owner modify or delete the system files, which in turn lets them perform various tweaks and use apps that require root access.