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A guide to rooting your Google Nexus 5 smartphone

Android offers an open and highly configurable experience out of the box, but gaining root access lets you take things one step further. With a rooted Android device you can run more advanced apps, modify the UI, and even install completely new builds of Android with ease. However, it’s not as easy as throwing a switch – you have to work for it a little bit.

Google’s new flagship smartphone, the Nexus 5, offers the most straightforward rooting experience of any modern Android device. Google doesn’t really do anything to stop you from rooting it, but you’ll still have to jump through some hoops. Here’s how to do it.

The very easy way to root the Nexus 5

If you just want to get root access and don’t much care about how the process works, there is a (nearly) one-click solution from noted developer Chainfire. It’s called CF-Auto-Root and you can get it directly from Chainfire’s site for free. This is a zipped folder that includes all the files needed to unlock and root the Nexus 5.

To use it, simply put the files on your computer and connect the Nexus 5 via a USB cable. Boot the phone into the bootloader by turning it off, then holding volume up+down+power. Click on the script file in the CF-Auto-Root directory that matches your desktop OS, and watch the magic happen.

This works most of the time, and that’s really the issue with taking the easy way out. If something does go wrong, you won’t necessarily know exactly what it was. You might even have a mess to clean up before you can try a proper root method. If you’ve got a bit more time, it’s a good idea to do things by hand.

Getting your hands dirty

The best way to root your Nexus 5 is to do it yourself, step-by-step – it isn’t even very hard with this phone. You will be able to check along the way to make sure things are working correctly, and you’ll have a better handle on how to fix problems that might crop up later.

The first thing you need to do is download the official Android SDK from Google. Run the SDK manager and install the suggested components, which will include the Android USB drivers. This should allow your computer to see the device when it is plugged in via USB. On some systems, you may have to change the phone’s USB access mode from MTP to PTP for it to be recognised.

Open a command prompt (or terminal on Mac) from the SDK’s platform-tools folder. It should contain a few files, two of which are ADB and fastboot. Plug in the Nexus 5 and input the following to make sure the device is found:

adb devices (add ./ to the beginning of all commands on a Mac)

The first thing you have to do is unlock the bootloader, which will factory reset the device. Here are the steps to make that happen:

adb reboot bootloader

fastboot oem unlock

You will be asked to confirm the unlock on the phone’s screen by selecting Yes with the volume buttons and confirming with the power button. After a few seconds, the phone will be unlocked and back on the bootloader screen. Next you need to flash the recovery and root. Download TWRP recovery for the Nexus 5 (AKA Hammerhead) from the Team Win site. Drop the file in the folder where you have ADB and Fastboot, then use the following command:

fastboot flash recovery twrp-file-name.img

This should only take a few seconds, then you can use the volume toggles on your device to select recovery and activate it with the power button. TWRP will load, which has a touch interface. Tap on Reboot, then System. TWRP will ask if you want to install the root package – go ahead and say yes.

After rebooting, you will be prompted to install the SuperSU app through Google Play if it is not already present. The app might prompt you to update the SU binary, but it should handle that for you.

And that’s it – you’re rooted. The whole process should take 5 to 10 minutes if you know your way around a file browser.