February 13, 2012, 4:13 PM — Have you ever looked at someone's iPhone home screen, and noticed that it has five icons in the dock? Or maybe you've seen a classic console emulator running on an iPad? Don't go looking for these apps on the App Store--these features and more are only possible with a hack called jailbreaking.
So how does jailbreaking work, and what does it actually do to your coveted iDevice? Can you jailbreak on other platforms or hardware besides Apple's? What are the risks involved, and is it even legal? Read on as we try to answer all of your jailbreaking questions. And if we don't, feel free to ask more questions the comments!
What Is Jailbreaking?
Jailbreaking: The process of bypassing restrictions on iPhones and iPads to install other apps and tweaks not approved by Apple.
Rooting: A process similar to jailbreaking for hacking Android devices, game consoles, and so on. "Rooting" and "jailbreaking" are often used interchangeably.
Root: The "superuser" on various operating systems such as Android, iOS, and Mac OS X. When you gain "root" access via jailbreaking or rooting, you can access and modify every file on your gadget.
Cydia: A popular "unofficial" app store for jailbroken iOS devices.
CyanogenMod: A custom version of Android available for rooted Android phones and tablets.
Many smartphone, tablet, and game console makers include a layer of Digital Rights Management (DRM) software on their products. This DRM exists either to limit the software you can run on it, or is there for security reasons. Jailbreaking is the process of hacking these devices to bypass DRM restrictions, allowing you to run "unauthorized" software and to make other tweaks to your operating system.
More technically, jailbreaking can be thought of as the process of installing "a modified set of kernel patches (the kernel being the supervisor of the operating system) that allow you to run unsigned code," as saurik explains. It also gives you root-level access, which is otherwise unavailable. The term "root" comes from UNIX, where it is the superuser account that has unrestricted rights and permissions to all files. This provides you with added flexibility, but it also has some inherent dangers (more on that later).