I’d like to clear up some misconceptions: rooting doesn’t mean installing a custom ROM like CyanogenMod, and it doesn’t necessarily mean wiping your internal storage. All it means is unlocking your device so that you gain some extra system privileges, giving you the ability to install a custom ROM like CyanogenMod (and do a number of other neat things).
The method for doing this varies from device to device, and could change over time. So, rather than writing a guide that will only be relevant to one type of device and may soon go out of date, I’ll show you how to find the best way to root your specific phone or tablet — assuming there is a way. I’ll also include a walkthrough of how I rooted my HTC Desire, with photos, so that you can see how quick and easy the process can be.
Before you start, make sure you actually want to do this; check our article, To Root or Not to Root, for the pros and cons.
Then, back up your phone. No, this might not be strictly necessary, as rooting doesn’t always involve wiping your phone, but it’s a good idea. Check out our guide, How to Back Up Your Android Device Without Rooting, for the details of how to do this.
Next, you might want to upgrade to the latest version of Android available to you as an OTA update. It’s generally good to be up to date. To do this, go to Settings | About phone | System software updates and press Check now. If there are any new updates, you’ll be given the option to install them. Make sure you’ve got at least 25MB of internal storage free before doing this, or it won’t work; see Clear Storage Space on Your Phone Without Rooting for more.
You’ll also want to make a note of all the information in Settings | About phone | Software information (Android version, Baseband version, etc.). I suggest emailing it to yourself (if you’re using some webmail service like Gmail) so that you won’t lose it. This is useful in case you want to un-root later, or need to get help from the Internet if something does go wrong.
Last thing to do before rooting: charge your phone. You don’t want it to run out of battery at a critical moment.
Finding a Guide
My top recommendation for finding a guide on rooting your device is the Android How To’s section on TheUnlockr.
That site seems to have video guides for every Android phone available — and a couple of tablets, too.
If TheUnlockr’s guides aren’t suitable for you, you should check out the XDA-Developers forum. This is where the top Android experts hang out — they really know what they’re talking about when it comes to rooting!
Trouble is, it’s not really the place for beginner questions, and it can be hard to find the most relevant thread for your phone. So, check out this excellent post on the Android sub-reddit; it contains links to the most relevant threads on the XDA-Developers forum.
If all else fails, just Google something like [root htc desire]. Be extra wary of any methods you find this way, though.
Whatever you do, don’t follow any guide designed for a different device to the one you’re using. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I have an HTC Desire, and that’s basically the same hardware as a Nexus One, so I’ll just follow the Nexus One guide.” Bad idea. You’ll brick your phone. Some devices can’t be rooted (at least not easily); if yours is one of them, then I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do about it.
That’s it! You’re ready to go
Here’s how it went for me, rooting an HTC Desire with a Windows PC. Remember: don’t follow this as a guide, even if you have an HTC Desire. Find a guide using one of the methods above. I’m using this guide to rooting via the Unrevoked method, from TheUnlockr.
I installed and then uninstalled the latest version of HTC Sync.
I unzipped the drivers, powered off my phone, plugged it in to my PC via USB, and held the power and volume buttons to make it enter HBOOT USB PLUG mode.
I installed the HBOOT drivers.
I unplugged and rebooted my phone and loaded Unrevoked. It gave me a dialog box:
I put my phone in USB Debugging mode, plugged it in to the computer again, and clicked OK. Unrevoked worked its magic (which took about five or ten minutes)…
…and that’s it! The whole process took less than an hour, and I spent most of that time just waiting for things to install or uninstall.