Running Linux apps on Android without rooting your phone

Phone as Linux PC

Article from Issue 249/2021

UserLAnd lets you run Linux applications on your Android phone – all without replacing Android OS.

Smartphones are getting more and more powerful. Is it time to start thinking of a smartphone as something more like a tablet or a real computer? Is it possible to set up an Android phone with a full version of Linux – connected to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse?

Android OS is based on a modified version of the Linux kernel. In theory, a hardware-compatible Linux should be able to run on systems that Android OS runs on, but the Android developers at Google have added lots of proprietary drivers and bits. Additionally, the complexity of the communication hardware means that Android has drifted quite a distance from what we think of as a conventional Linux. Still, the power of the GPL means that Android OS is available to the community in source code form [1], and of course, developers all over the world are always tinkering with Linux to make it do useful things. A number of independent distros have evolved to provide mobile alternatives based on both the Linux kernel and the Android kernel (see the box entitled "Linux on Android Distros").

A full install of a mobile-based Linux on your smartphone provides a complete escape from Google's walled garden and offers access to the wide range of applications provided with Linux. But it also comes with some risks. You'll need to root your phone to replace the factory-installed OS, which will almost certainly void the warranty. If anything goes wrong, you might not be able to restore the original system.


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