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The Always Up-To-Date Guide to Rooting the Most Popular Android Phones

We love Android, but rooting your phone can give you the opportunity to do so much more than your phone can do out of the box—whether its wireless tethering, speeding it up with overclocking, or customizing the look of your phone with themes. Here's how to root some of the most popular phones with minimal effort.
Rooting, for those of you that don't know, means giving yourself root permissions on your phone. It's similar running programs as administrators in Windows, or running a command with sudo in Linux. With a rooted phone, you can run more apps (like backup or tethering apps), as well as flash custom ROMs to your phone, which add all sorts of extra features. If you're on the fence about rooting, check out our top 10 root-only apps that make it worth the hassle.
There are a ton of different Android phones out there, and while some rooting methods might work for multiple phones, there is no one-size-fits-all guide for rooting every phone out there. As such, we can't show you how to root every phone in existence, especially since we can't test every method. So we're going to post methods for the ten most popular Android phones among our readers and the ones you voted as the five best, and keep it updated as new phones come out. If your phone isn't on the list, be sure to check the Where to Go if Your Phone Isn't Listed section for suggestions on where you can find more info pertaining to your specific device.

Glossary of Rooting Terms

As you learn more about the rooting process, you'll probably run into a bunch of terms that can be confusing. Here are some of the most important ones and what they mean.

Rooting Terms

  • Root: Rooting means you have root access to your device—that is, it can run the sudo command, and has enhanced privileges allowing it to run apps like Wireless Tether or SetCPU. You can root either by installing the Superuser application—which many of the below root processes include—or by flashing a custom ROM that has root access included.
  • ROM: A ROM is a modified version of Android. It may contain extra features, a different look, speed enhancements, or even a version of Android that hasn't been released yet. We won't discuss ROMs in depth here, but if you want to use one once you're rooted, you can read more about doing that here.
  • Flash: Flashing essentially means installing something on your device, whether it be a ROM, a kernel, or something else that comes in the form of a ZIP file. Sometimes the rooting process requires flashing ZIP file, sometimes it doesn't.
  • Bootloader: Your bootloader is the lowest level of software on your phone, running all the code that's necessary to start up your operating system. Most bootloaders come locked, which keeps you from rooting your phone. Unlocking your bootloader doesn't root your phone directly, but it does allow you to root, then flash custom ROMs if you so desire.
  • Recovery: Your recovery is the software on your phone that lets you make backups, flash ROMs, and perform other system-level tasks. The default recoveries can't do much, but you can flash a custom recovery—like ClockworkMod—after you've unlocked your bootloader that will give you much more control over your device. This is often an integral part of the rooting process.
  • ADB: ADB stands for Android Debug Bridge, and it's a command line tool for your computer that can communicate with an Android device you've connected to it. It's part of the Android Software Developers Kit (SDK). Many of the root tools below use ADB, whether you're typing the commands yourself or not. Unless the instructions call for installing the SDK and running ADB commands, you won't need to mess with it—you'll just need to know that it's what most of the tools use to root your phone.
  • S-OFF: HTC phones use a feature called Signature Verification in HBOOT, their bootloader. By default, your phone has S-ON, which means it blocks you from flashing radio images—the code that manages your data, Wi-Fi, and GPS connections. Switching your phone to S-OFF lets you flash new radios. Rooting doesn't require S-OFF, but many rooting tools will give you S-OFF in addition to root access, which is nice.
  • RUU and SBF: ROM Upgrade Utilities (for HTC phones) and System Boot Files (for Motorola phones) are files direct from the manufacturer that change the software on your phone. RUU and SBF files are how the manufacturers deliver your over-the-air upgrades, and modders often post leaked RUU and SBF files for flashing when the updates haven't been released yet. They're also handy when downgrading your phone, if a rooting method isn't available for the newest software version yet. You can flash RUUs right from your HTC phone, but Motorola users will need a Windows program called RSD Lite to flash SBF files.

Rooting Methods

We won't go through the nitty gritty details of each method, since we can't test them ourselves, but we will tell you what you need and what each method entails. Before rooting, we recommend you read up a bit more on your phone, and we've provided some links for further reading at the end of each description. Click on your phone's thumbnail below for more.

Where to Go If Your Phone Isn't Listed

Just because your phone isn't listed doesn't mean it isn't rootable (in fact, some of the above methods might work on other phones). Pete's rooting tool, which roots the Droid X and Motorola Atrix, also roots a number of other Motorola phones, from the Cliq to the Droid2 and 3 to the Droid Bionic. Similarly, HTC's official unlocking method will unlock the bootloader of nearly any HTC phone, though you'll need to look up more information on how to flash a recovery to your specific device. It also isn't the easiest method, so if your phone has a one-click tool available, it's usually better to use that because it's quicker, will give you S-OFF, and won't leave a digital "watermark" on your phone that permanently voids your warranty. Lastly, SuperOneClick is a great one-click app that roots a ton of phones, especially older ones, so do a bit of googling and see if it works for yours—because it's just about the easiest root method out there.
The best way to research your phone, though, would be to check out the All Things Root section of your phone's forum at Android Forums. If you find your phone's subforum and click on All Things Root, there's almost always a sticky post with info on rooting methods, ROMs, and other special troubleshooting tips that could apply to your specific phone. Looking up your phone on the XDA Developers forums is always a great idea too, and the CyanogenMod Wiki often has lots of information on rooting and flashing ROMs as well (even if you aren't flashing CyanogenMod). With a bit of research, you should be able to find at least one guide that works for your specific device.
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