Jailbreaking an iPhone is nothing like rooting an Android phone, and that's by design

Bootloader Unlocking
Bootloader Unlocking (Image credit: Android Central)

Very few people root their Android phones in 2020. While I'm sure some people will disagree, you just don't need to do it anymore unless you bought a phone with really crummy software from a company that won't give you the software updates you feel you deserve. I'm not saying rooting a phone is a bad thing — in fact I feel that once you paid for a phone, you should be able to do anything you like to it — just that Android is no longer bad enough to make rooting a necessary evil.

But there are enthusiasts that feel very differently, and while they make up just a fraction of a fraction of the two billion Android users, rooting can be frustratingly difficult sometimes. This becomes even more apparent when you see an iOS jailbreak that only requires you to download a file or visit a website or plug your phone in and run a program on a computer. It's that way because jailbreaking is nothing like rooting an Android phone.

More: How to root your Android phone

Don't take my word for it. See what the developer of the extremely popular (and pretty darn good) Android rooting software tool suite Magisk and an Apple developer by day has to say on the subject:

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And he's dead on.

Unlocked Nexus FTW

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

When you jailbreak an iPhone, you are taking advantage of a vulnerability in the system firmware that lets you write to specific system folders. You should never be able to write or copy files to these folders. In essence, jailbreak software, no matter how it's delivered, is just like malware. This is why Apple is quick to patch any jailbreaks.

Jailbreaking an iPhone uses the same sorts of exploits as malware would.

On an Android phone, you're simply adding a user with permissions to access the built-in developer tools. If you build Android from code, you can actually build a pre-rooted system image and everything will still work. Google and other companies may try to block a rooted user from using their software — hello Google Pay and Netflix — but as far as the utilities that run the system are concerned, you're just another user.

That's not to say it's easy unless you own a phone like a Pixel that allows you to unlock the bootloader, because that's where things can get dicey.

The Android OS was designed with a superuser in mind.

Rooting your phone means there is a path for malware to write to system folders. You still have to install the malware and accept the permissions, but the very fact that there is a superuser binary file (that's what makes root work) means your phone isn't as secure as it would be without all that jazz. So companies that build phones and carriers that sell them often make it hard by encrypting access to the bootloader.

The bootloader on these phones is not part of Android and it isn't designed to be monkeyed with. Sometimes someone will find a way to bypass this encryption via commands from a computer. Sometimes someone will leak out the bootloader encryption keys. Sometimes it's a mystery how it happens that someone found a way to get in a locked and encrypted bootloader, but that's all it takes.

More: How can I tell if my phone is rooted?

From there, it's a matter of building a set of specific superuser "tools" and flashing that file through a modified system recovery. Finding a way in can be hard, but once you're in, it can be very easy and very effective, like Mr. Wu's Magisk software, for example. When you reboot, Android just works and the only difference is that you can use those superuser tools to do root-only things like remove bloatware or fix software bugs.

In the end, both rooting and jailbreaking feel like the same thing and you can do all sorts of good and bad things to your phone. But it's important to recognize that Android is cool with it while iOS isn't.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Jfi. Hgf ugg
  • This is really great news!!! I'm sooo excited and I just can't wait to try it...
  • "Your phone your choise" LOL; it's C-H-O-I-C-E!
  • I've never seen the appeal of rooting an Android phone nor jailbreaking an iPhone either. I prefer to use the software as intended for both.
  • Some people just like to tinker with things, because they can. Some people tinker with things to improve them. "I've never seen..." well open your eyes a little
  • I'm not interested in tinkering with my phone and your response convinces me more than ever before that maybe I was wrong to abandon the iPhone and Apple over 2 years ago but I'm writing that wrong in the summer.
  • Hahaha hahaaaaaaa here he goes... HAHAHAHAAAAAA 😂🤣🤣🤣
  • I can understand your hesitation towards rooting, it can make most people that aren't tech savvy, very nervous. And even though this article is more specific to rooting, it actually touches on a few of the other great things about Android. The ability to use your device as you wish, by unlocking the bootloader. Now, obviously, this is OEM dependant. Some companies simply won't let you unlock, but that's not Google's fault, that's the OEM. But for those devices that can be unlocked (most can) it's the freedom to do what you choose, to your device. And to this extent, it can be a godsend to many people who either, aren't able to afford a Pixel(which is the absolute cleanest version of Android you can get, also the easiest to modify), or a high end device from from another OEM that offers consistent updates. This being the case, if you have a mid range device from a few years ago, chances are your OEM stopped supporting it. This is where custom roms and kernels come into play. They can add a significant upgrade to devices otherwise abandoned by their OEM. Also, if nothing else, it allows you to remove excessive bloat(which most devices, other than Pixel, come with) At the end of the day, it's your choice what you do with it, but at least Android affords you that choice, Apple does not. And I'm sorry, but if Im purchasing a device, I want FULL control over it. Whether I choose to take advantage of that, is up to me, but at least I have the choice.
  • I'm definitely not tech savvy but also I'm worried about bricking my phone as well because with the iPhone, jailbreaking it voids the warranty but I'm happy with the software that ships with the phone, whether it's iPhone or Android I don't feel the need to root or jailbreaking my phones
  • Imagine the experience of using a phone with no ads. The power to turn of all ads on the click of a button. Finally some peace and quiet.
  • I actually just use a private DNS for that. I've relocked my P4XL and that works like a charm.
  • Back when I was working, last century, the "big" computers also had a superuser, who could do just about anything. Installing a new version of the op system needed the physical console, but everything else could be done from any terminal, with the right login. We all knew the password but the best guy in the department got saddled with the responsibility, because no body, including him, really wanted to be able to brick a multi-million dollar hunk of iron by mistake. If we couldn't do what we needed to do with our own login, we were beyond our comfort zone. At least then we had vendor support 24/7 who could bail us out. Every once in a while I get the urge to tinker a bit, but then I ask myself "why?". 35 years was enough already.