If your phone’s creaky, cracked and out of warranty, rooting it is a nice way to give it an extra lease of life. With a rooted phone, you can use root-only apps to better manage its battery life, or give it a custom ROM to get it on the latest Android version.
There are many ways to root an Android phone, but we’ll do it by using TWRP Recovery. TWRP is a recovery-level UI packed with powerful features that will make your rooted life easier.
Through TWRP you can flash ROMs, kernels and other software, and it also provides a safety net when things go wrong, with great tools for system backup, recovery and partition repair. After flashing TWRP Recovery, we’ll use that to install SuperSU - the tool that gives you root access to your phone.
The method below is safe if followed carefully, but be aware that rooting always carries a risk of crashing your phone or rendering it unusable.
Back up your data
Rooting doesn’t necessarily wipe your Android phone, but if you need to unlock the bootloader or install a custom ROM, your data will be erased. Then there’s the possibility of bricking your phone, as we mentioned.
So, it’s important to backup your data. Google Backup (which you’ll find under Settings > Backup and Reset) saves all your phone settings, passwords and some app data, but it’s quite limited.
Here are some other tips for how you can backup your phone data:
- Helium Backup is capable of backing up your apps complete with all their data. However, it’s not 100% reliable and doesn’t always backup as much as you may want it to.
- From Android Marshmallow onwards, there’s a feature in Google Drive that allows you to save app data. You can see if you have it by going to the Drive app, Settings, then looking for the ‘Manage backup’ option. Tap this to see which apps are being backed up complete with their data.
- Most apps have their own internal backup methods, letting you manually export their data to the cloud then restore it later.
- You can backup all your photos to Google Drive without using any cloud storage space if you choose the ‘High-quality’ setting.
Unlock your phone
There are several things you need to enable on your phone in preparation for flashing TWRP:
Unlock Developer options: Go to Settings > About phone > More, then tap ‘Build number’ seven times. Developer options will now appear on the Settings screen.
Enable USB Debugging: Go to Settings > Developer options, and check the ‘USB debugging’ box.
Enable OEM unlocking: Also under Developer options, check the ‘Enable OEM unlocking’ box.
Install ADB and Fastboot on your PC
Next, you’ll need to get Fastboot and ADB for your PC, which let you control your phone through a command prompt or terminal, and sideload software onto it.
The best way to do this is by grabbing the SDK Platform Tools from the official Android developers’ site. Download SDK Platform-Tools, then extract them to an easily identifiable folder (we’re going with ‘C:\adb’).
Connect your phone to your PC via a USB cable. Make sure that the USB mode is set to ‘Transfer Files’ or ‘Transfer Media’.
Reboot to Bootloader
On your PC, go to the TWRP Devices web page, type your phone model into the box, then on the next page go down to Download Links, pick a mirror, and download the latest TWRP img file to your PC.
After that, open the Command Prompt as administrator, then use the ‘cd’ command to change the default directory to where you extracted the Platform Tools (so for us the command is cd \adb\).
Next, enter the command:
adb reboot bootloader
This should reboot your connected phone to the bootloader.
In the bootloader, it’s crucial that at the top of your screen it says ‘UNLOCKED’. This signifies that your bootloader is unlocked and that you can continue with flashing TWRP.
If your bootloader is locked, you’ll need to follow your smartphone OEM’s instructions for unlocking it. HTC, Sony and Motorola have tools on their websites that guide you through the process, or you can follow a guide for how to unlock the bootloader for your specific device on the XDA developers website. Unlocking your bootloader may wipe your device.
Install TWRP Recovery
Assuming your bootloader is unlocked, once your phone is in recovery mode use the volume buttons to scroll to ‘Fastboot’ or ‘Download Mode’, then press the power button to select it.
Once in Fastboot/Download Mode, on your PC enter the following into the command prompt:
fastboot flash recovery twrp-version.img
Replace ‘twrp-version’ with the exact file name of the .img file you downloaded.
Hit Enter to install TWRP to your phone. Your command prompt should now look a lot like the image above.
To open TWRP, select ‘Reboot to Recovery’ in the Bootloader. To access TWRP and the bootloader in the future, switch your phone off and hold the volume down and power buttons until the Bootloader loads (the buttons you press to do this vary slightly between phones).
Install SuperSU via TWRP
When TWRP first opens, it will ask if you want to ‘Keep System Read Only’. The answer is ‘no’, because this would prevent you from installing custom ROMs and making the most of TWRP’s excellent features.
Tick the box to ‘never show you this screen again’, then swipe across the bottom of the screen.
On your PC, download the latest version of SuperSU and save it to your phone (which should appear in File Explorer as it’s still connected to your PC in File Transfer mode).
Back on the TWRP main menu, tap 'Install', then navigate to the SuperSU zip file you downloaded, tap it, then ‘Swipe to confirm Flash’.
The rooting process will now begin, and should take about a minute.
When the process is complete, tap ‘Wipe cache/dalvik’ then Reboot System.
You’re now rooted
Your phone is now rooted. Not much will have changed on the surface, except that you’ll now see the all-important SuperSU app, which will control all apps and functions that require root access.
If, for example, you decide to use Titanium Backup to backup your phone or remove system apps, SuperSU will let you know that it’s requesting root access, and you’ll need to ‘Grant’ it.
If you want to be absolutely sure that your phone is rooted, you can use an app like Root Checker to confirm.
If you plan on installing custom ROMs or kernel (which let you do things like overclocking and undervolting), it works much the same way as you installed SuperSU - just download the ROM or kernel zip file to your phone then install it through TWRP Recovery.
Looking for a good custom ROM to start with? LineageOS is based on stock Android, and can potentially bump your old phone up by an Android version or two. Here’s our guide on how to install LineageOS.
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Robert Zak is a freelance writer for Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, TechRadar and more. He writes in print and digital publishing, specialising in video games. He has previous experience as editor and writer for tech sites/publications including AndroidPIT and ComputerActive! Magazine.