The case for (or against) rooting your Android device
Several tools and apps existed that could root the majority of Android phones and tablets in just a few minutes.
However, as Android evolved, gaining root access has lost part of its shine, but also became a much more challenging task.
So, how is rooting today going to help you? Maybe the risks outweigh the benefits? And why is it so hard to root certain devices? Read on to find out.
What are the the Pros of rooting your Android device?
Acquiring root access in Android is similar to running Windows through an admin account. You have unlimited rights into accessing the system directory and altering core function of the OS itself. Part of the rooting method is the installation of a usage manager, with SuperSU being the most popular at the moment.
These tools safeguard your phone’s root access; every time an app requests access at this level, the root manager prompts for your approval.
But, what kind of rights does root access grant you? For starters, you will be able to hide or uninstall any annoying apps that are built into the system, which you would like to remove but can’t under normal circumstances.
Rooting your device enables you to run tools like Titanium Backup, through which you can completely remove or hide the said app. The same tool can also perform manual backups of application or game data, which you can then transfer to other devices.
Remote accessing your device is another task that requires root in order to become available. Another useful feature that needs rooting is ad-blocking software because it manipulates the OS’s hosts file to prohibit access to a list of known ad servers.
Finally, there is Xposed Framework, which is a category of its own. You need to root your device in order to install Xposed, but after that, it takes over without asking your approval in order to perform low-level functions, such as UI modification and system-level additions. Although getting Xposed to work on Lollipop took a while, there are now builds available that are adequately stable.
What are the the Cons of rooting your Android device?
Since root access grants total control of the operating system to the user, it’s obvious that careless actions can have dire consequences. By design, Android is resilient to misuse through a normal user profile. As a SuperUser, though, it’s not hard to break things by installing suspicious apps or by altering system files.
Moreover, rooting inherently violates Android’s security model, because apps with root access have elevated governance over your system. In any case, extra caution is required when you install stuff to your device.
The new method patches the whole system directory as a single task, so the presence of unexpected files or any modifications will result in a verification failure, cancelling the update.
Besides Nexus devices, almost all other Android devices that receive an OTA update will see their root wiped out, and the root method blocked from re-installation. If root is something you can’t live without, chances are that you will be stuck on older versions of the OS, with no options to update, and you’ll be forced to wait for a new rooting method to emerge, or a modified (pre-rooted) update.
Why is it so much harder to root Android devices now than before?
If you have had a fair amount of experience with Android so far, you should have noticed that it’s now way harder to root newer devices than what it used to be. A few years ago, there were tools and apps available that could universally root almost any device in a matter of minutes, but that’s a thing of the past now. Since the Towelroot exploit in 2014, there hasn’t been another universal root-granting patch.
Android has evolved into a more secure OS, requiring more work to circumvent that security in order to acquire root access. This exchange has resulted in root exploits of increasing complexity. Thus, rooting now may require side-loading of files over USB, extensive use of the terminal, or outright flashing of modded files.
It is so hard to discover, test and create such exploits, it’s no wonder that many popular devices are still impossible to root at the moment. That doesn’t mean that such exploits don’t exist, but they cost too much in terms of effort and time to be handed to the community for free. For instance, if you are a regular visitor of XDA, you might have noticed the so-called “bounty threads,” where users donate large amounts of money for a working root method.
Although this strategy bears fruit from time to time, nevertheless it remains too hard to claim these donations; moreover, a solid exploit of the sorts actually cost a lot more than a few thousand dollars.
It is a common secret among Android security testers and researchers that forensic and security firms are actively looking for non-public exploits. This means that a modder could make several times more money than collecting an XDA bounty, by selling an exploit to such companies. For instance, a universal rooting method like the ones used a few years ago, could well worth dozens of thousands. And most people wouldn’t pass on such an opportunity for pennies.
So should you do it?
If you’re a fan of tinker with tech toys, you should take this into consideration when you buying a phone. Don’t choose something (praying) root method will be released soon. Quite often you will be waiting for an exploit patch.
Devices that are relatively friendly to root like Nexus phones and tablets are always a sensible choice. They have boot-loaders which can be unlocked, and then rooted very quickly. They also have system images which can be downloaded very easily to restore your device if the root goes wrong. The usual warning about using care installing apps still applies.
If you’re not familiar with Android in-built tools, and how to diagnose and repair issues with it’s command line, research beforehand (better to be prepared). Rooting your devices can be a lot of fun, and really change the way your devices functions. But it can also lead to frustration, or in the worst cases financial cost, as you try to fix issues caused by modding.