There are a number of consumer products on the market that have computers in them. They run an operating system but it’s set up in a way that limits what the user can do. Bypassing these limits is commonly referred to as “gaining root access,” and one of the most popular methods for Android right now is Magisk.
So, for those who are not familiar with how this works, the vast majority of operating systems (which is the software that runs on various platforms) in use have a user system in place. If you’re on a Windows device, you’re likely logged into a regular user account. The same is said with Android as well.
This is done for security reasons as a regular user account has various limitations on it. These limitations are put in place so that you, as the user, does not mistakenly delete something you’re not supposed to through regular daily use. It is also great for those who end up will malware on their device.
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That is because the malware will likely have the same restrictions as the user account you’re logged into.
Now, this isn’t always the case. Some malware out there is able to escalate its user privileges via various exploits the device may be vulnerable to. This is why updating your PC and Android device every month with the latest security patches and/or malware definitions is vital to keeping your personal data secure.
Does That Make Root a Bad Thing?
No, that is not necessarily true. The majority of people out there using these products with an operating system installed will never need higher access than what they are given. Granted, Windows users may need Administrator access to perform certain actions and the same goes for Linux as well.
Windows calls this Administrator access while Linux calls this root access, or superuser (SU) access .
So while these two major platforms may have different names for it, we’re talking about the same thing here. Again, most people won’t need this type of access to a product or a device. However, when we want to tinker with them and change things. . .that’s when we are usually required to gain this elevated access.
This is easy on Windows as long as you have the Administrator’s password. Microsoft tied the first account created after Windows is installed with the Administrator’s privileges. Still, your actions will be done under a regular user account and you have to grant Admin permission when doing something beyond the scope of said account.
We see this in Linux too. Installing certain apps, or performing certain actions will require you to temporarily give yourself superuser rights (aka root access) to the product or device so that you can perform that specific task. The thing is, Android is a highly specified version of a Linux distribution.
So there are layers upon layers of additional security features put into these devices. That means gaining root access (even if just temporarily) is much harder than on a Linux device.
Magisk is One of Many Root Methods for Android
Since Android has these safety precautions in place, we have to do a number of things ahead of time before we can install one of the available root methods. I won’t go into detail about what is required here, since I would like to focus on explaining what Magisk is.
One way of showing what Magisk is is by comparing it to other root methods that are available. Please spare me as I will likely miss out on some popular ones (mention them in the comments if I do). But as of right now the three major players in the game are Chainfire’s SuperSU, phh’s SuperUser, and topjohnwu’s Magisk.
SuperSU has somewhat lost its popularity when Chainfire sold it to a Chinese company and stopped developing for it. SuperUser is quite popular and topjohnwu started off using it in Magisk. However, it is my belief that Magisk is the most popular option available right now due to its massive feature set.
The main goal of all three of these root methods is to give you the ability to install and manage which apps have root access.
Not all applications are made with root access in mind. So apps including Gmail, Chrome, Join and others will not benefit in any way from having root privileges. An application has to be specifically designed with root in mind in order for it to leverage it. These apps have a trigger coded in them that will request root access.
So, when you install one of these apps and you have SuperSU, SuperUser, or Magisk installed, then you will see a prompt appear when an application requests root access. This is the ideal solution because you don’t want to give all apps root access (this leads to a highly insecure setup and is only begging to be compromised by malware.
Instead, you want to control which apps have access to root at any given time. You can even choose to permanently or temporarily give root access to certain apps. This, again, is ideal so that you know to only allow trusted apps to have access to root.
I won’t get into the technical aspects of how Magisk works its magic to allow for systemless functionality. Instead, I just want to give you a basic understanding of what Magisk is and how it can benefit you.
Examples of What We Can Do with Magisk and Root
I see people ask what they should or can do once they have root access to their smartphone. For this reason, I have created a specific category for apps that leverage root access to do more with your smartphone. So be sure to check that out if you’re curious what you can do with root.
Personally, I use root access for. . .
- Substratum: For applying a dark them to the apps I use.
- BetterBatteryStats: For monitoring/checking on battery life anomalies.
- Kernel Manager: For tuning the kernel for optimal battery life/performance.
- Servicely/Naptime: For making sure apps allow my phone to go into deep sleep mode (for improved battery life).
- Magisk Mods: Some mods add functionality, others change the UI.
Now, I know that Substratum will work on some devices without root access. Most of my actively used phones are on Pie or higher so I grant it root access so it can apply the themes. BetterBatteryStats is another app that can be used without root but it’s easier to give it root access than to execute some ADB commands.
Not all of my smartphones are using a custom kernel but I will go in and tune certain parameters to save a little battery life. You can also use it to improve performance as well (this typically comes at the cost of battery life though). So as you can see, there is a lot that we can do with root access.
My examples here are just the tip of the iceberg though. There is so much more that we can do that I just don’t have time to go into today.
How to Download Magisk
If you do a Google search for Magisk then you will likely see a ton of results from all sorts of different websites. The root method is so popular that imposter websites with Magisk in the URL are popping up all the time. However, I would only recommend you download Magisk from one of two places.
Most people are likely going to the XDA thread in order to get the latest download link for Magisk and Magisk Manager. However, I try to link to the true source of things whenever possible. Anytime you see me linking to my Android File Host account is when I want to make sure my readers can download whatever it is for months and years to come.
I have seen a lot of my earlier work become obsolete because the source link I used was no longer working. Either the host shut things off, the file had been removed, etc. Seeing this happen time and time again has made me use the AFH account more so that I know those files will be available for a long, long time.
Please, only trust these two sources when downloading Magisk.
How to Install Magisk
Magisk is actually quite easy to install on the majority of the devices it supports. It does seem to be going through a rough patch with the Galaxy S10 series (as of writing this), but I suspect it to be resolved in future updates once topjohnwu has more time to work on a seamless install process.
For everyone else, you just have to know which version of Magisk works with your device and software combination. In most cases, this is the latest version but there are times when that isn’t the case. Due to how things have recently changed with Xiaomi devices, they were unable to use the latest version without it being modded first.
For months the latest version of Magisk was 18x and none of them worked on the newer Xiaomi smartphones. Since Xiaomi was implementing System as Root techniques that some future devices use, those versions of Magisk simply did not support it. Oddly enough, the early 17.x versions did so we ended up using 17.1 and 17.3 until version 19 came out.
So, unless specifically told to in one of my tutorials (or another tutorial), you’ll just want to grab the latest version of Magisk. This will come in a ZIP file and is easily installed by booting your smartphone into a custom recovery (such as TWRP) and installing/flashing it using traditional methods.
That really is all there is to it.
This should root the smartphone and install the Magisk Manager application. In the rare case that Magisk Manager was not installed properly, then you can sideload that from the GitHub page linked above. This recently happened to me with the Redmi Note 7 but it could have just been a bug or something.
In any case, you want to look for that Magisk Manager application after you install the Magisk ZIP file in a custom recovery.
This is the application you will use to manage which of your other apps have access to root. It’s also where you go to download and install a Magisk Module from the official repository. You will even use this manager application to enable or disable downloaded and installed Magisk Modules as well.