Rooting and Jailbreaking
The terms “rooting” and “jailbreaking” refer to the same thing: the process of obtaining full administrator-level control over a smartphone or tablet's operating system. Why would you want to do that? Well, there are some advantages, but a few potential pitfalls as well. Here's what you need to know...
Should I Root or Jailbreak my Mobile Device?
Let's start with a bit of terminology. If you have an Apple device, such as the iPhone or iPad, it uses an operating system called iOS. Almost all other smartphones and tablets (such as Samsung's Galaxy family, the Motorola Droid and RAZR, the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets) run the Android operating system. Both have their good points, but we won't be quibbling over which is best in this article.
With administrator privileges on an iPhone, iPad or on an Android-based smartphone or tablet, the user can overcome restrictions imposed by vendors and carriers; remove unwanted apps and add apps from "unauthorized" app stores; and even replace a phone’s operating system with another, customized version.
For Android devices, we use the term “rooting” while Apple iOS users call it “jailbreaking.” The difference arises from iOS users’ perceptions of the tighter restrictions that Apple places on iOS; it feels like a jail. For example, iOS won’t permit “sideloading,” the installation of apps downloaded from any site other than the Apple App Store; Android devices may allow installation of apps downloaded from places other than Google Play. The iOS bootloader is locked, preventing installation or booting of any OS other than iOS; many vendors leave Android’s bootloader unlocked.
After either jailbreaking or rooting, a user is said to have “root access” to the device. Even though the terms sound rather sketchy, rooting or jailbreaking are 100% legal. Apple, Amazon, Verizon and AT&T would love to change that, but the worst they can do (for now) is void your warranty. And since they accomplish the same basic goal, for the remainder of this article, “rooting” means “jailbreaking,” too.
User-installed apps do not have administrator privileges in iOS or Android. This is a security feature that prevents malware from taking full control of a device. Non-malicious but poorly coded apps may also do harm to a rooted phone. This is one reason why rooting a phone voids its warranty.
Rooting leaves phones vulnerable to exploits or accidental damage, although further customization can restore the degree of protection that the user wishes. For example, a user might configure the OS to give administrator privileges only to apps that the user explicitly specifies.
Why Root or Jailbreak?
A common reason to root a phone is to replace its OS with a later version or a third-party’s customized version that gives the user control over previously inaccessible features. Such OS kits are available in downloadable packages called ROMs. Replacing an OS with a ROM is called “flashing a ROM.” ROM-flashing an obsolete phone can extend its useable life. Carriers are often slow to roll out OS updates; users of rooted phones can get the latest OS version earlier.
Here's a more specific example: Some users with the Amazon Kindle Fire tablets feel limited by the highly customized Android operating system on that device, and don't want to be locked into the "ecosystem" that is imposed on them by the manufacturer. On the Kindle Fire, the Android OS is almost unrecognizable, and many features are hidden. users can't access the Google Play app store, if they want to download Gmail, Google Maps, or hundreds of thousands of other apps found there. They're limited to what's in the much smaller Amazon App Store.
Rooting the Kindle Fire, and installing a generic Android interface, gives much more flexibility. One could even install the Nook app on a Kindle Fire, to make it possible to read ebooks from Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon titles. The same sort of thing applies to iPhone and iPad users, who may want to install apps from sources other than the official Apple app store.
And then there's the bloatware issue. Many Android smartphones come with a boatload of apps that are installed at the behest of the mobile carrier. Verizon, AT&T and other mobile providers hope you'll use the paid services lurking in these apps, and they cannot be removed from the phone, like normal apps.
Other reasons to root a phone include being able to perform a complete device backup; enable tethering or hotspot functionality; and extend battery life by tweaking previously inaccessible settings.
Rooting is not for everyone. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can turn your phone into a useless paperweight. It can leave you exposed to malware and poorly written apps. If you don’t care to tinker with geeky details, you shouldn’t bother rooting or jailbreaking your phone. If you want to learn how more, check out The Ultimate Guide to Rooting, Jailbreaking, and Homebrewing Your Devices.
Have you rooted or jailbroken your mobile gadget? Tell me about your experience. Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 8 Jul 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Rooting and Jailbreaking (Posted: 8 Jul 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved