How to Understand Android root terms and procedures

September 8, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Hacks, Android Tutorials, Beginner's Guide to Android

How to Understand Android root terms and procedures

Be sure to read our introductory article before proceeding.

So you took the plunge and rooted your Android phone. Congrats. Now get to work understanding what that means.

First things first: realize that Android devices are different. Before doing anything, make sure it is compatible with your device. That means Rogers Dream owners shouldn’t assume that something that works on a G1 will work for them, too. Same goes for Magic, Hero, Galaxy, and so on. If you used the one-click rooting method, you probably have Cyanogen’s custom ROM installed. (You can check by going to Settings > About phone and look for “Mod version”). Stick with this for a while. Cyanogen’s ROM is one of the best and most popular, and it can be updated over the air by the CyanogenMod Updater app.

Important Things To Know

Understanding ROM’s and builds

Where to Download ROM’s

Using Recovery image and Nandroid back-ups

Understanding Hero ROM’s, SPL and Radio

Installing Apps on an SD Card

Related Tutorials

Understanding ROM’s and builds

A ROM is essentially a custom version of Android. They are developed by independent geniuses smarter than you and me. Each tweaks, combines, or optimizes Android to offer something standard versions lack. Within ROM’s, you have what are known as builds (basic branches of Android code) that offer certain features and characteristics.

Think of it as a crude metaphor for Microsoft Windows. There’s XP, Vista, and Windows 7. All three are Windows operating systems and can typically run the same programs, but there are major differences between them. Within each OS, there’s further distinction between Vista Home, Vista Pro, and Vista Ultimate. Likewise, one ROM can spawn multiple versions. For instance, there are several flavors of Drake’s Hero ROM..

Each developer creates his ROM with its own purpose and feature set. Just because something works in Cyanogen’s ROM doesn’t mean it can work in Drake’s (or more specifically that they want to implement the feature at all).

Be advised that some ROM’s require a wipe (erases all information stored on your phone) before or after installation. This is done when you enter the recovery mode and perform a “factory data reset.” Developers will say if a wipe is necessary whenever you flash (load/install) a ROM.


Where to Download ROM’S

ROM’s can be downloaded from and the XDA Dream Development forum. Understand that XDA is full of smart, well-meaning people willing to help; however, they take exception to lazyness and repetition. Any question you ask has probably been asked 10 times already, so try to search or read the Wiki before asking a question. Trust me. You’ll notice that ROM threads begin with the “[ROM]” tag.

Read AndroidSpin’s ROM summary or their great ROM Database to decide which ROM you want. ALWAYS read the instructions before attempting to load a ROM. Each contains critical instructions or requirements that can cause big trouble if not followed correctly. Be sure to read change logs/release notes (plainly stated notes written by developers to explain updates). They will reveal important information and point out new features.

Before loading a ROM, perform a backup!

Using Recovery images and Nandroid back-ups

You may remember the recovery image from the one-click process. You’ll also use the recovery image to change ROM’s, apply themes, backup your phone state, and perform other functions. To launch the recovery image, turn off your phone and reboot by pressing Home and Power at the same time.

Performing a backup is typically a good idea when you enter the recovery image to load a ROM. I try to backup my phone at least once every 3 times I update to a new ROM. Nandroid will backup your phone’s state, allowing you to return to the settings/state saved to your SD card. If something goes wrong, it can be your best friend. The Cyanogen recovery image that came with one-click thankfully has Nandroid built-in, allowing easy backup/restore.

Understanding Hero ROM’s SPL and Radio’s

Give me Hero on my G1! Easy there, kiddo. You’re not there yet. You may be inclined to jump into Hero right away, but you’ve got some reading to do. Do you know what is an SPL? I didn’t think so. Certain ROM’s – including those that load Hero onto a G1 – require a Hard SPL (second program loader) and new radio. The radio controls communication aspects of the phone (3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.)

WARNING: You can brick your phone (mess it up beyond repair) if you do not install a radio before the SPL. You also need a PVT board. In order to find out if you have a PVT board:

  1. Turn off your phone
  2. Go into fastboot (press Camera and Power button at same time)
  3. Then you should see “PVT” or “DVT” at the top
  4. Exit by pressing the Call, Menu, and Power buttons at the same time

Do not try to load the radio/SPL if you have a DVT board or you will brick your phone.

Read the directions of your desired ROM and see if the developer requires it. I recommend holding off on loading Hero until you read all the recommended documentation that comes with what ROM you select. A good tutorial on how to flash an SPL is located here.

Installing Apps on an SD Card

I don’t know about you, but this was the biggest factor in my decision to root my G1. Space! Thankfully, several ROM’s include this feature as long as you have a second partition on your SD card. Read our tutorial on how to install an SD card here.

That’s all I can tell you for now. I will repeat that everything you do requires care, patience, and understanding before attempting anything. Good night and good luck!

Related Tutorials

How to Update your Cyanogen Mod Android phone

How to install themes on a rooted Android phone

How to create a second partition to install apps on an SD card