How to root Android phones and tablets (and unroot them)

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

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How to prepare your Android device for rooting

Galaxy S8 Plus how to root android
Galaxy S8 Plus Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

One of the easiest ways to root an Android device is by using an app, and a number of rooting apps have garnered attention over the years — KingRoot, Firmware.mobi, Kingo Root, BaiduRoot, and One Click Root are amongst some of the most reliable. These services will usually root your device in the time it takes you to brush your teeth. But some of them only support devices running older versions of Android, so you may need to do some shopping around to find one that works for your device. If you’re looking to root an even older device, you may need to check CFRoot’s older site.

While it used to be that rooting Android versions from Android 7.0 Nougat upwards was more difficult, as the verified boot service would check the device’s cryptographic integrity to detect if your device’s system files had been tampered with, inhibiting legitimate rooting apps. Thankfully, rooting apps have caught up with the curve, and rooting newer versions of Android is much easier than it used to be.

If your phone isn’t compatible with a one-click rooting app, you’ll have to spend a little time researching alternatives on Android forums. The best place to start is XDA Developers Forum — look for a thread about your phone or tablet and you’re likely to find a method.

Preparing for root

Back up everything you cannot live without before you start. You should also always back up your phone’s current ROM before you flash a new one.

You will also want to ensure that your device is fully charged before you begin.

You will need to turn on USB debugging, as well as OEM Unlocking. Do this by opening Settings on your device. If you do not see Developer Options toward the bottom of the Settings screen, follow these steps to activate it.

  1. Tap on About Phone and find the Build Number. The exact path depends on your phone, but it’ll usually be found with other software information.
  2. Tap on the Build Number seven times and the Developer Options will appear on the main page of the Settings. You may need to confirm your security passcode to enable this.
  3. Tap on the Back key to see your new developer options.
  4. Tap Developer Options.
  5. Check to enable USB Debugging.
  6. Check to enable OEM Unlocking.

Installing the Android SDK Platform Tools

It used to be that rooting involved downloading Google’s entire Android development kit. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore, and all you need is the Android SDK Platform Tools.

Download and install the Android SDK Platform Tools from Google’s developer site. There are choices for Windows, Mac, and Linux. These instructions are for Windows machines. Extract the zipped files. When asked what directory to install the software to, we recommend that you set it to C:android-sdk. If you choose a different location, make sure you remember it.

Installing device drivers

To ensure your computer can properly communicate with your smartphone or tablet, you will need to install the appropriate USB driver.

Devices from some manufacturers come with the drivers included in the phone’s software, so all you need to do to install the appropriate USB driver is attach your phone to your PC by USB cable. OnePlus is an example of this, but it’s worth connecting your phone first to see whether USB drivers will automatically install.

Otherwise, here is a list of drivers from the most popular manufacturers:

Follow the installer’s instructions. Once the drivers are installed, proceed to the next step.

Unlock your bootloader

Before you get started, you need to unlock your device’s bootloader. The bootloader, simply put, is the program that loads the device’s operating system. It determines which applications run during your phone or tablet’s startup process.

Some manufacturers require you to obtain a key in order to unlock the bootloader. Motorola, HTC, LG, and Sony provide step-by-step instructions on how to do so, but a word of warning: They require you to register for a developer account.

Unfortunately for users of Huawei and Honor devices, those phones’ bootloaders can no longer be unlocked. Huawei rescinded the ability to request unlock codes in July 2018. If you still want to root your Huawei or Honor device, you’ll need to use a third-party service like DC-Unlocker.

Once you have taken those steps, you can embark on the unlocking process. You will need to put your device in fastboot mode. It’s different for every phone, but on most devices, rebooting the device and holding down the Power and Volume Down buttons for 10 seconds does the trick (HTC phones require that you hit the Volume Down key and press the Power button to select it.)

Once you have booted into fastboot, head to the folder you previously unzipped your Android SDK files to. Then open your computer’s command prompt by holding down Shift+Right Click and choosing “Open a Command Prompt Here.” If your device requires a code, you will get a long string of characters. Paste it into the box on your device manufacturer’s website, submit the form, and await an email with a key, file, and further instructions.

To unlock your device’s bootloader, connect it to your computer and place it in fastboot mode again. Pull up the command prompt by typing cmd into your Start menu.

For Google Nexus and Pixel devices, the commands are easy:

  • Nexus phones: Type “fastboot oem unlock” (without quotes) and hit enter
  • Pixel phones: Type “fastboot flashing unlock” (without quotes) and hit enter

Motorola’s command is a little different:

  • Type “oem unlock UNIQUE_KEY” (without quotes), replacing “UNIQUE KEY” with the code you received

So is HTC’s:

  • Type “unlocktoken Unlock_code.bin” (without quotes), replacing “Unlock_code.bin” with the file you received.

Confirm the unlock, and you’re one step closer to rooting your Android device.

Some manufacturers and carriers don’t sanction bootloader unlocking, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Try searching the XDA Developers forum for workarounds and unofficial solutions.

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