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What is a Custom Recovery on Android and, Why would I need one?


Ever wanted to install a custom Android ROM or a third party version of the Android system like CyanogenMod? You will be instructed to install a custom recovery also.
Almost all Android devices come to you with a preinstalled recovery software. This can be used for several tasks like restoration to factory defaults, updating the operating system and to perform diagnostics. 🙂 


Android’s Stock Recovery

As I mentioned previously, the Android recovery software is usually referred to as the “stock recovery”. There are mainly two ways to boot the recovery system. First method is by pressing device specific buttons just like your phone or tablet boots. The second method is issuing an adb command which boots the device to recovery mode. The recovery menu contains options that help you to recover your device. As an example you will be able to reset your device to its factory defaults via this menu. Similarly the recovery mode can be useful to flash OTA update files. And also you can flash a new ROM to your device or re-flash the factory default ROM after booting to recovery mode.

Custom Recovery Basics

A custom recovery is a third party recovery software. Flashing the custom recovery onto your device will replace the defaults and stock recovery software with a third party customized recovery software. The process is quite similar to flashing a custom ROM like CyanogenMod. Conversely it replaces the recovery environment instead of replacing the device’s Android operating system.
The custom recovery environment is same as the stock Android recovery plus some additional features. They usually have the ability to create and restore device backups. And also custom recoveries allow you to install custom ROMs. Recoveries like ClockworkMod provides a “ROM Manager” app also that allows access to many of these features from a running Android system. Please be aware that the app requires a custom recovery installed to function properly.

Popular Custom Recoveries

ClockworkMod and Team Win Recovery Project are the most popular custom recoveries as of today. ClockworkMod recovery (CWM) is able to create and restore backups of a device’s complete file system which often referred as NANDroid backups. And also it provides a ROM Manager with a file browser that facilitates easy browsing and installing custom ROMs via ClockworkMod recovery and to manage and restore backups. Similarly CWM has many other advanced features that will be helpful if you are working witj custom ROMs.

Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP) is also a popular recovery environment which is a touch-based one. Unlike other recovery environments which controlled by the volume and power buttons of the device, TWRP can be controlled by tapping on screen buttons. Additionally Team Win Recovery Project supports themes and offers ROM installation and backup features also.

When and Why to install a Custom Recovery

Custom Recoveries are most useful when you are installing custom ROMs. Because they offer backup, restore and ROM-flashing features that you need. First you have to unlock the bootloader of the device to install a Custom Recovery.
You can create full device backups even without installing a custom ROM. Actually Android has a way to create full device backups. But it is a hidden feature and requires an adb command.
If you really need powerful backup features or if you are having problems with custom ROMs, you can install a custom recovery. But that is not always necessary. As an example, installing CyanogenMod via CyanogenMod installer will install ClockworkMod Recovery also. The installation guides for custom ROM usually includes flashing a custom recovery. Or else you can flash a custom recovery and continue using the stock Android system if you just want those backup features.

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