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The Basics: Unlocking Bootloader, custom recovery, root and flashing ROMs
Now that we have a subforum, wanted to post the info here. This is just basic information about rooting, unlocking and flashing. Link in my signature will take you to another thread specific to the AT&T, Unlocked, Dev and international models.
What is rooting?
Rooting is the process by which you regain administrative access to your phone. Even though Android is an opensource operating system, you still don’t have full “root access” to do what you please on your phone.
The main reason people root their Android device is for freedom and control, and when you root your Android phone or tablet you gain full control over your system and can tweak it to your liking. Some benefits included:
1) Improved performance - e.g.such as tweaking CPU settings and removing system draining apps
2) Altering system files – boot images, changing recoveries
3) More application choices – Titanium backup, some wifi tether apps, greenify
Risks of rooting
Rooting your phone does come with some risks. The most notable risk is that you will void any warranty that you have on your device. However, you may be able to find the stock for your device, in which case you can reverse the rooting and bring your phone back to stock again. Other than voiding your warranty, there isn’t that much risk involved. Some users occasionally run into problems, the most nefarious of which is bricking your device .Other possibilities include bootlooping. The chances of running into such problems, however, are very slim–provided, that you follow instructions properly.
Source: Rooting for dummies: A beginner's guide to rooting your Android device - Android Authority
What is bootloader and why unlock it?
In literal terms, bootloader is code that is executed before any Operating System starts to run. Bootloaders basically package the instructions to boot operating system kernel and most of them also have their own debugging or modification environment. As the bootloader kicks off before any piece of software on your device, it makes it extremely processor specific and every motherboard has it’s own bootloader. Every Android phone has a bootloader that instructs the operating system kernel to boot normally.
Why is it locked?
A bootloader is usually locked on an Android device because although it’s an open source OS, still the manufacturers want you to stick to their Android OS version specifically designed for the device. In order to apply this concept, manufacturers lock the bootloader. With a locked bootloader on Android devices, it is virtually impossible to flash a Custom ROM and forced attempts void warranty as well as usually end up in bricks.
Why should I unlock?
The explanation to this question is really simple. If you want root, you’d be wanting to flash Custom ROM post-root, and if you want to install a Custom ROM, you’d need to have your stock bootloader unlocked. In simple terms Unlocking the bootloader allows you to install custom Firmware on your Android phone
Warning: Unlocking your phone’s bootloader voids its warranty. It also completely wipes (formats) your Android phone’s internal memory including applications, contacts, SMS and MMS messages etc.
**Just a quick note…. Root can be achieved without unlocking the bootloader but that requires an exploit that is discovered by a developer.**
Source: What Is Bootloader And How To Unlock Bootloader On Android Phones [Complete Guide]
What is a recovery?
A recovery is a small distinct environment separate from Android that allows diagnostic updates, and the ability to perform factory resets. The main purpose of this is to provide a way to reset an Android device when it may be impossible to boot into it.
What is a custom recovery?
Custom Recoveries perform the same tasks as the stock-Android recovery with a few addition features, such as the ability to make full system backups, as well as flash custom roms. Anyone with an unlocked bootloader can install a custom recovery on their device. The 2 major custom recoveries:
Clockworkmod (CWM) and TeamWin Recovery Project (TWRP)
For more information: [Android] What is a Custom Recovery & Why Should I Have One? ~ Freed Up Thoughts
What is a ROM?
A ROM contains the operating system and often additional software which can be “installed” to your mobile device. Most ROM’s provided by the chefs (people who create cutomized ROM’s) just contain the operating system and additional applications.
Please note: A ROM can ONLY be flashed to a device it is made for.
Source: ROM Flashing FAQ for Newbies - Please read first [Updated: 2008/02/22] - xda-developers
Should I flash a different ROM on my device?
It depends on the benefits you will receive. Custom ROMs are the developer’s intent of making your device better. They tweak system settings, files and package applications with the intent of leaving you with a much better device then when you first turned it on.
Are there any risks?
Yes. If you flash a ROM that is not made for your device you run the risk of bricking your device. It is very important that you follow the instructions closely and make sure the custom ROM is made specifically for your device. There are also bugs that can be encountered in the custom ROM as well. Developers count on feedback from users to ensure that their ROM is as flawless as can be. My advice is to actively follow the thread of your developer and the specific ROM so you can keep up with bugs and changelogs for updates.