There are many benefits to be gained from hacking and modding your phone. But it can be a daunting process with a steep learning curve. Many users will find themselves following instructions without really understanding what is happening.
To help you understand a bit more about the issues involved we’ve taken a look at some of the frequently asked questions users have about rooting.
Will I still get OTA updates on a rooted phone?
The answer to this depends on who manufactured your phone. Generally speaking, if you are rooted but still running the original, unmoved ROM then your device should still check and alert you to the availability of over the air updates. Installing them will very likely unroot your phone in the process so you will need to reroot afterwards.
If you have modded your ROM, including relatively simple things like removing pre-installed apps, then the OTA update will probably fail. Reversing the mods should make it work again.
If you’re running the Xposed Framework you will need to uninstall this from within the app for an OTA update to work. If you’re running a custom ROM you will have to install updates from the ROM developer.
Can I install KitKat or Android L on my phone?
If your phone is no longer getting official updates from the manufacturer then you can in theory update it to the latest version of the Android OS using custom ROMs. Older devices, or those with low-end specs, may not run so well, but most devices can be updated with varying degrees of success.
There can be compatibility issues especially with older devices, since developers will need drivers for the hardware components of the phone, and if they don’t exists for that combination of component and OS then the developer will have problems implementing certain features, such as camera support.
In some cases devices use processors that are no longer supported, so cannot be properly updated to newer versions of the OS.
Unless you are able to build the ROM yourself you are reliant on your device having developers who are making the ROMs for you to install. Most mainstream phones will have a few devs working with them, and will be working on ROMs; the cheapest or most obscure handsets may not.
To find ROMs for your phone head over to forum.xda-developers.com and search for your device.
Can a custom ROM stop my apps from working?
Apps that make use of DRM, or require a high level of security, such as banking and finance apps, will often not work on devices that have been rooted.
There are some solutions that enable you to hide the fact that your phone is rooted, but these are by no means fool proof.
Don’t forget that if you need to you can unroot your phone even while running a custom ROM.
I’ve bricked my phone—how can I fix it?
If you flash a lot of ROMs or mods then it is inevitable that you will brick your device at some point.
A soft brick is generally not a problem. This means your phone turns on when you press the power button, but won’t boot. A hard brick, where the phone shows no sign of life when you press the power button, is much rarer and may not be salvageable.
If your phone won’t boot after flashing a ROM the first thing to do is wait. The first boot after flashing can take in excess of ten minutes.
Next, take out the battery or reset the phone by holding the power button in for ten seconds. Restart the phone and boot into recovery mode.
Work your way through the menus to either reflash the ROM; wipe your data (not doing this is a very common cause of a non-booting ROM) then reflash; or restore the Nandroid backup that you should have made before you attempted to flash the ROM first time around.
On many devices you can also use fastboot mode to recover from problems, including reinstalling your custom recovery if that has been wiped.
Why do I need a custom recovery?
Recovery is a small piece of software that runs on a separate partition to the Android OS. Booting into this partition enables you to access all parts of your phone, including the files in the OS.
Recovery is used to back up or update the Android OS and its data.
Every device comes with a recovery. The stock recovery is not a consumer feature so has very limited functions. A custom recovery, which is an essential part of the rooting process, can do a lot more, including flashing a ROM, creating a full backup, and mounting the internal storage or SD card as a drive.
The two main custom recoveries are ClockworkMod and TWRP. They have different interfaces but largely similar feature sets; it doesn’t really matter which you choose.
Do I need to clear the Dalvik cache and data when flashing a ROM?
The dalvik cache is a cache of optimisations that makes your apps run faster (and will be phased out in Android L in favour or ART). You should always clear this when flashing a ROM.
The data and cache contains all of your data, including your files, game save, text messages and so on. You need to back this up before you flash a ROM as there’s always a chance it will be lost if something goes wrong.
Ideally you would always wipe your data before you flash a ROM. If you’re updating to new version of your current ROM then you probably don’t need to, but if you’re moving to a whole new build then you will definitely need to.
If you don’t wipe and your phone won’t boot after flashing, wiping your data and reflashing is the first solution you should explore.
Will rooting or flashing a custom ROM break my phone?
The main thing when hacking your device is to follow the instructions closely.
Make sure the ROM or mod is designed for your specific device before you flash it (and note that some devices have country-specific and international models, so make sure you’ve got the right one there, too).
Also make sure that your phone is either fully charged or, preferably, plugged into a power supply before you start flashing anything.
Rooting and flashing ROMs will likely void your warranty. In most cases you will be able to revert the process before making a warranty claim—Samsung devices being the notable exception to this.