Google's Android operating system is riding a wave of popularity that has rapidly eclipsed Apple's iOS, and by the end of 2010 it's expected to overtake RIM's BlackBerry as the world's leading smartphone platform. However, despite the relative openness and flexibility of the OS, your Android phone still isn't as powerful and customisable as it could be. To unlock all of your phone's potential, you'll need to root it.

WARNING: Rooting, adding superuser capabilities to your phone by altering its system permissions, is an advanced technique that the inexperienced or faint of heart should NEVER ATTEMPT. It's hacking, folks, and if done improperly it can destroy your phone. Do not follow any of the instructions in this guide or on any of the linked sites unless you are comfortable with the very real risk of turning your phone into an expensive brick. As of this writing, rooting is not supported by any carrier or manufacturer, and will most likely void your phone's warranty. In short: This stuff is for big kids only. No whining if things don't go your way.

Why root?

Root your AndroidWith that very real and important caveat out of the way, there are a few really good reasons to root your Android phone. The simplest reason is that rooting your handset allows for some cool features that probably ought to be enabled in Android by default, such as on-the-fly screen capture, tethering capabilities (even on phones whose carriers don't allow it) and advanced firewall apps.

Rooting also lets you install custom ROMs that eliminate the annoying crapware many manufacturers and carriers include by default. In addition, custom ROMs can give you the latest version of Android weeks, or even months, ahead of the carriers' sluggish update schedules.

Rooted phones can take advantage of some great performance tweaks, such as CPU overclocking and improved cache management, that can dramatically speed up Android. You can take advantage of these options either by installing a ROM that includes them or by downloading apps from the Android Market that will automatically tweak settings on your rooted phone for you.

It would be a stretch to say that rooting Android is a necessary project for most users. In fact, most people should never even try it on their phones, just as most PC users probably shouldn't attempt to overclock their processors. But if you're an advanced user (or an intermediate user with a taste for adventure) and you know the risks, rooting can help you get a lot more fun and function out of your Android device.

Get root

Until fairly recently, rooting Android was a messy process that required installing the Android Debug Bridge and hacking the phone from a command line. Fortunately, some industrious hackers have produced a few simple apps that can root your device in seconds with the tap of a finger. In this tutorial, I'll discuss two such apps, Easy Root (for the Motorola Droid, Droid X, and Milestone and the HTC/Google Nexus One) and Unrevoked (which supports a variety of HTC handsets).