Warning: next Android update might break quite a few root apps


broken roots

In way more words and technical explanations than I’m comfortable repeating here, Chainfire — the developer who creates one of the best SuperUser (root access) apps out there, as well as gems like 500 Firepaper — has given developers of root apps an ominous warning. According to him, the forthcoming upgrade to Android (whether that be 4.4.3 or some other number Google plans to use) changes things in a way that breaks functionality for a good deal of root apps.

Most of the changes have to do with SELinux and the ART runtime possibly being enabled by default, as well as other developer-centric changes. Long story short, Chainfire has come to the conclusion that the changes won’t necessarily break all root apps, but he’s seen enough to believe that the changes will undoubtedly affect enough of them that this big warning is needed.

He’s already gotten to work on his own SuperSU, and invites developers and advanced users to download the latest version (not yet being distributed via Google Play) and help knock out some of the kinks. He’s also urging developers to re-read the SELinux section of his How-to SU guide, as he’s made some important changes that detail some of the forthcoming changes in the next version of Android.

Chainfire takes special care to remind developers to test their apps against ART, as its possible future status as the default runtime for Android could make it more important than ever to pay attention to. If you’re a developer then be sure to head to the source link for all the detailed explanations and relevant links you can handle.

[via Google+]

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. I gave up on root almost 18 months ago when Google broke it with an OTA update on my Galaxy Nexus (GSM). For me, the benefits of root had faded. I understand why manufacturers don’t want users having root access – it has potential to increase support and warranty costs. To that end, I think Motorola is handling it well, allowing people to unlock their boot loaders (to facilitate easy rooting), while keeping records of the unlocking and voiding the warranty on non-Developer Edition devices.

    But this voiding of the warranty would be entirely unnecessary if manufacturers provided users an equally easy way to restore a device to true factory settings, instead of the pseudo-factory reset we currently have. By allowing users to completely undo any device alterations as part of a pre-warranty-replacement diagnostic, users could modify their devices to their hearts content, without fear of having to shell out hundreds of dollars for a replacement should something go wrong.

    1. Well you have to factor in the costs of allowing this mythical “easy way” of restoration you’re proposing – costs that will necessarily include hiring and training of specialized technical staff who will have to handle the exponential increase in tech-unsavvy new rooters like the 9 year old who did it cos his older brother did it and it was so cool but now he’s getting endless bootloops. And legal costs of dealing with claims like the one from that old retired grandmother who got scammed by this nice kid at her neighbourhood phone screen repair shop into installing a root-only app that stole her credit card details.

      1. You have to factor in the costs of real developers not having an easy way to root and restore back to a verifiable factory authorized image.

        If you make technology and learning inaccessible, then eventually there won’t be anyone who can build your next generation of toys.

        How do you think developers got to be developers?

        1. Huh?

          The OP wants manufacturers to make root and restoring stock easy. I’m pointing out that doing so will increase manufacturers’s costs.

          On the other hand you’re talking about costs to developers. Why should manufacturers bear developers’ costs?

          And even if there is a good reason that they should, your premise is not that reason because neither root nor an easy way to get back to stock is a necessity for developers. Seriously, do you think either Rovio or Gameloft incurs a lot of costs in obtaining root or returning their test devices back to stock firmware?

          1. Not really manufacturers could just use stock android.

          2. what is the point of them even being in business then? google could have simply kept motorola and become like apple. one os, one phone.

          3. Er… Guess why they haven’t.

          4. #1 reason for OEM’s not wanting people to root and use stock Android/ROMS: It takes away from their unique take (read: skin) on Android that they use as a major selling point over other OEM’s.

      2. I don’t buy your argument. There doesn’t have to be a significant cost to design in from the beginning the ability to get back to factory configuration. Probably using a computer, ideally through a web interface and a file downloaded locally so it could work on any OS. Seems trivial actually.

        However, I can see why manufacturers may not want to do it anyway if they are worried that it is possible to damage hardware from changing the software. So the tougher job, but worth doing in my opinion is to separate firmware that controls hardware parameters that really can do damage (perhaps voltage levels, clock rates, etc.) from the desire to simply modify the interface layer. So I don’t mind if I modify the firmware that I void my warranty, but just because I want to run a third party ROM because I think the user experience is better is no reason to take away my warranty.

        1. That’s a fair opinion, and a much better one than Danny’s.

          I suppose, when we’re talking about manufacturers, we have to see things in terms of striking a balance between costs and benefits. Because the consumer-side demand for root is so low in the grand scheme of things, the benefit of providing fixes or a standardized set of tools / workflows in response to that is almost negligible compared to the expected costs.

          However if enough consumers raise a stink about such a situation that it becomes a manufacturer priority (perhaps for PR’s sake) to provide a conducive environment for unlocking / rooting and getting back to stock, then manufacturers will eventually have to give them what they want. So it’s a demand and supply issue too.

      3. Any 9-year-old who has an actual smartphone of his own has parents that should rethink some of their decisions.

    2. HTC does that too, but i think there are added costs to supplying technical resources to fixing or “fixing” many issues caused by user error or faulty roms. Could you imagine all the phones being sent into HTC that they have to examine because “Rom ABC” has a few bugs or because the user flashed wrong. Even if there’s a “factory reset easy switch” the numbers of submissions for phones not really broken would still people rise to an unnecessarily high number that would cost them some bucks. And most OEM’s aren’t exactly making it rain.

  2. Exactly why Nexus / Silver is the ONLY way

    1. The only way this whole situation will turn out well is to stop sabotaging developer creativity and functionality for users by breaking root apps (even unintentionally).

      1. Not unintentional, as things go thru extensive testing prior to release.

  3. Welpppp… One of the reasons why the next devices I get, I won’t root… would be the first time ever I don’t root my Android device but its time. Theres no huge benefits to root anymore besides a few mods and tweaks.

  4. I wouldn’t need to root if Xposed didn’t call for it

    1. and adaway :)

      1. For me it’s all about Titanium Backup. I buy a new phone, root it and install TWRP or ClockworkMod Recovery, reinstall all of my apps and settings via Titanium and boom, brand new phone configured the way I like it. That and I don’t lose my place in the games I was playing.

      2. And Android Firewall, Xprivacy, Titanium Backup, FolderMount, Xplore and a variety of other apps.

    2. You wouldn’t need Xposed if your phone came with more options either.

      1. What phone do you suggest?

        1. Whichever one you like best. I was going for irony – I have to root and mod mine before I’m happy too.

          1. Haha yeah the G2 plus the Xposed cleans it up quite nicely

  5. Interesting he would bring up ART. It does have its compatibility issues that even effect stock roms. I have HK Edition of the M8 on Sprint and when i attempted to switch to ART i noticed it broke a couple of things. It would render the Landscape to Camera gesture useless, and broke one of the duo effects that allows you to post stickers on pictures. Of course its poor coding on HTC’s part for the M8 to allow that lil bug. I went crazy trying to figure out how to get it to work, till I reminded myself that ART was some serious Sh!t to be messing with on some phones. Swithed back to dalvik and the gesture came back but that one effect is trashed till an update. I still highly value the option to root. I am dying to get Cyanogenmod on the M8 and see if battery life remains relatively very good even without HTC’s Extreme power saver mode. Another feature is wifi and USB tethering that CM gives me from its rom, that i find very convenient and cost effective against sprints extra 30 Bucks

    1. Those are ART bugs, not HTC’s.

      1. exactly

  6. doesnt make a dif since i cant root my GODDDAMN VZW MOTOMAKER X ON 4.4.2!%!!$^#&%^&**&*%^*$%^$^$!!!!#^#^$%&
    why development on this phone stopped ill never know millions of people must have this phone

    1. Lol yes but you knew Verizon would lock it down.. So everyone went unbranded or developer edition.. Never expect the development community to bail you out.. You have to buy smart.

      1. Oh Verizon.. you crazy kid.

    2. Mistake #1 was expecting a Verizon Wireless phone to be well supported. This phone has a thriving ROM community, blame your carrier and do something about it (e.g. switch).

    3. I’m not even from North America and I know Verizon locks devices down more than an intelligence agency locks down freedom of political expression.

  7. Didn’t we know about this months ago:

    1. That was just one potential issue, this warning is about several.

  8. Good, people who want root can either turn off SELINUX or far better write a config that suits their needs.

  9. Ironically, root often allows apps (Android Firewall, XPrivacy, AdAway, etc.) that increase the amount of security and privacy a user has.

    1. I don’t see Google doing anything that would allow blocking ads, but many of the other reasons people root could be eliminated by adding corresponding features to Android.

  10. ART breaks some stock apps, not just root apps. Although, my N5 is rooted and on ART. I’ve only noticed some non-root apps being broken. All of the root apps I have seem to handle ART just fine.

  11. My Galaxy TabPro 8 is on CyanogenMod using ART, and nothing I tried so far had been broken. Everything runs like a charm (and smoother than under Dalvik).

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