The Difference Between Jailbreaking and Unlocking

By , Jul 10, 2009

There is a lot of confusion among noobies about jailbreaking and unlocking. One of our readers recently asked for a clear “non geeky” definition of both terms.

If you already know the difference between jailbreaking and unlocking, this article might not be very helpful to you but you may still be able to give us some insights or maybe add your comments and suggestions. If you don’t know what jailbreaking or unlocking means, then read on because you’re just about to get a crash course on iPhone hacking…

What is Jailbreaking?

Definition of Jailbreaking

Jailbreaking is the process by which an iPhone firmware is modified to allow unsigned code to be run to gain access to files that Apple wouldn’t normally let you access. Jailbreaking adds unofficial application installers to your iPhone such as Cydia or Icy (I personally only use Cydia), which let you download many 3rd-party applications previously unavailable through the App Store.

Is Jailbreaking Legal?

Update: Jailbreaking is now officially legal in the US

Yes and no. The legality of jailbreaking is very unclear. Most iPhone owners including myself think that since we own the iPhone, we should be able to do whatever we want with it.

Apple’s lawyers think differently as they consider jailbreaking to be a violation of copyright. I had a phone conversation with Apple’s copyright attorney about a year ago and he admitted to me that they are not capable of going after every jailbreaker out there… To these days, I don’t think anyone has had legal issues with Apple due to jailbreaking.

Why Jailbreak Your iPhone

Jailbreaking lets you install applications that are not approved by Apple. Many of these applications can be very helpful but they will unfortunately never make it to the App Store due to Apple’s restrictions. There are many reasons why you would want to jailbreak your iPhone:

  • install 3rd party applications rejected by Apple for various reasons (ie. nudity)
  • video recording (now available on the iPhone 3GS)
  • changing the look and feel by installing custom graphics and themes
  • free tethering
  • get access to cracked App Store apps for free (not endorsed by me, but still worth noting)
  • be able to unlock your iPhone

Why Not Jailbreak Your iPhone

I can only think of one reason why you wouldn’t want to jailbreak. Jailbreaking your iPhone automatically voids the warranty. This is not really a problem as you can always restore your iPhone in iTunes, putting it back to its factory settings. This will make it impossible for Apple to see you jailbroke your iPhone, thus not voiding your warranty.

In the past, some jailbreak methods were not very stable and sometimes turned your iPhone into an iBrick aka an expensive paper weight. Jailbreak methods are now very stable and I have yet to hear about someone bricking his iPhone while jailbreaking. In other words, jailbreaking is safe!

How Do I Jailbreak My iPhone?

I wrote many tutorials on how to jailbreak your iPhone, depending on what iPhone and what firmware you have. Check them out, follow the instructions, and have fun. You don’t need to have a PhD in computer science to jailbreak your iPhone. It’s very simple and straightforward. If you can download 2 files and click “next” when prompted, then you can jailbreak your iPhone.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

It’s very unlikely that something will go wrong… If you have a problem, simply plug your iPhone to your computer, launch iTunes, and click “restore”. As I mentioned above, it will restore your iPhone to factory settings.

Why Are You Still Reading This?

What? You’re still aren’t sure about this whole jailbreak thing? You’re missing out big time. An unjailbroken iPhone is a plain boring iPhone! Jailbreaking is the best thing that has happened to my iPhone and I seriously can’t live without it.

What Is Unlocking?

Definition of Unlocking

Unlocking is the removal of SIM restrictions on the modem, allowing the use of the iPhone on any carrier. There are 2 types of iPhone unlocks:

  • software unlock: the iPhone is unlocked by a software
  • hardware unlock: modification have to be made to the actual hardware to unlock the phone

Software unlocks are safer because they do not modify your device and can easily be reverted back. Soft unlocks are mostly developed for free by the Dev Team, an international group of iPhone hackers. Hardware unlocks are a little tricky and usually cost money. In clear, if you want to unlock your iPhone, you can do it for free by with a safe software unlock.

Is Unlocking Legal?

According to Wikipedia, “unlocking a phone without the permission or unlocking code from the provider is usually in breach of the agreement with the provider, though most countries do not make specific laws prohibiting the removal of SIM locks. In the United States the DMCA formerly was claimed to criminalize unlocking. However, an exemption that took effect 27 November 2006 specifically permits it.”

Why Unlock Your iPhone

The main reason to unlock your iPhone is if you want to use it with a different service provider (ie T-Mobile). An unlocked iPhone also has a better resell value.

Why Not Unlock Your iPhone

If you’re good with your phone carrier and will not use your iPhone internationally, there is absolutely no reason for you to unlock your iPhone.

How Do I Unlock My iPhone?

Before unlocking your iPhone, you will have to jailbreak it. The unlock can either be done from a computer, or directly from the iPhone. Check out my iPhone unlock tutorials for step by step instructions.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

Although unlocks can sometimes mess up your settings a little bit, they are constantly improved to fix errors and bugs. If something goes wrong, you can always restore your iPhone to factory settings.

In Short…

I case you’re still not really sure you understand the difference between jailbreaking and unlocking, let me put it in very simple words. Jailbreaking an iPhone means that 3rd party applications can be installed on it (ie. apps from other developers than Apple). Unlocking an iPhone means that any SIM card can be used on it.

If you have questions or anything you want to say, feel free to leave a comment below or start a new conversation in the forum.

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  • Dev

    I have iphone 3G (unlocked for another carrier) iOS 4.2.

    With this phone I am not able sync the apps with the itunes(10.5.x). I
    can sync the phone for Music, photos etc but when I use the Apps tab in
    the itunes and try to check the sync check box nothing happens.

    I have tried authorizing and deauthorizing the computer.

    Also few of the existing apps those which were working before the jailbreak gets closed within few secs as I launch them.

    Please help me

  • Guest

    I have iphone 3G (unlocked for another carrier) iOS 4.2.

    With this phone I am not able sync the apps with the itunes(10.5.x). I
    can sync the phone for Music, photos etc but when I use the Apps tab in
    the itunes and try to check the sync check box nothing happens.

    I have tried authorizing and deauthorizing the computer.

    Also few of the existing apps those which were working before the jailbreak gets closed within few secs as I launch them.

    Please help me

  • NEVIN

    DOES JAILBREAKING UNLOCK THE IPHONE ALL THE TIME???

  • Pascale

    Hi,
    as your wrote “-Before unlocking your iPhone, you will have to jailbreak it.”
    How can a seller sell me an iphone unlocked but not jailbraked please ?
    thank you so much for your answer.
    Pascale

  • ryan

    by unlocking the phone does this allow free access to ther networks or by being allowed to access them mean that i could sign up with another carrier?

  • Ryan

    Topic was very helpful. Thanks! All i needed to understand was the unlocking part. I am currently jailbroken.

  • gerti

    hello i have 1 iphone 4s and i want to unlock i just do update to iso 6 and dont accept greek sim what can i do to unlock this phone

  • Marcia

    Maybe you already answered this or maybe I’m just not getting it. If I jailbreak my iPhone can I go thru any carrier? What happens to my AT&T bill? Can I get a cheaper provider? Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=613106830 Benoit-G. Hubert

    I Use a Iphone 3GS
    i want to jailbreak it

    Will I lose al the datas that are on the I phone , applications, contacts, music, pictures?
    Will i still be able to use itune o put musics and videos on the i phone?
    Will i lose the message center

    Wil i still use my apple ID to get connect to istore
    Will i still get the latest version of software ??

    Do you know a safe jailbreak software provider you would recomend??

    thanks for early reply :-)

  • JB

    Hi, I have an iphone 4s (ios 6) and I am considering doing a tethered jailbreak; my question is… will I have problems with any installed third party apps if the phone reboots?

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.g.pina Christian Geovanni Pina

    wil im going to buy an iphone 4
    the guy tells me the phone is unlocked
    how do i know that he is telling the true

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindy.o.faith Cindy Osborn Faith

    Question: I have a “factory unlocked iPhone, and just started with straight talk. No internet, email or picture messaging available when I am not at home using my Charter wireless. My iPhone does not have the “Cellular Network Data” Option in the “Settings” under the “General”. It just says “Cellular” and when I clicked on it it just says off or on” There is no place for me to put in APN settings. Does this phone have to be jailbroke to be able to get that “Cellular Network Data” Option?

  • nyreelewisrn@gmail.com

    I have a iPod Touch 2nd Gen, 4.2.1 IOS. I’ve been told that’s the max IOS upgrade. My question is – if i jailbreak my 2nd gen touch, will i be able to run games that are only compatible on a IOS 4.3- …???

  • disqus_3kgqk9UVes

    Hello to all I have a iPhone 3GS unlocked and jeilbroken it work find but I still have iso 4.1 und what to get the 6.1 that my iTunes keeps telling me to upgrade if I upgrade will the phone still be unlocked ?

  • Guest

    My iPhone 4 is running 6.1 (10B141) with Modem Firmware 3.0.04. Jailbreak was successful and Cydia running great. I need an unlock solution ASAP! Currently locked to Verizon.

  • Nick

    I have factory unlocked iPhone 4s with iOS 6.1. And I relly want to install Cydia. Do I still need to Jailbreak it? And if I jalbreak it, am I still able to update iOS by iTunes?

  • Paula Lagunilla

    Hello! Thank you for the article, it was very helpful. I am currently looking for an iPhone 4s (apparently iPhone 4 is not guaranteed to have international coverage) to use in another country, and I thought I had to buy an unlocked phone, but I will try to unlock it myself with your tutorials. This will save me a lot of money, thanks again!

  • pattydukes95

    Ok so I am getting my iPhone unlocked from someone on eBay but my iPhone isn’t jailbroken but the listing didn’t say it had to be jailbroken to be unlocked….I am confused now

  • http://www.facebook.com/jatinder.rattu.3 Jatinder Rattu

    thanks it is very clear

  • Payton kaze

    Use evasi0n for ios6 jailbreaking

  • Jom Jose

    Hi friend,I have an IPhone 4 cdma (verizon) .. I want to unlock the phone can you guide me??? please.. searched a lot..still have confusions.. Please mail to getjom.jose@gmail.com

  • James

    I have acquired a iphone 4s and think it has been locked by the carrier how can i unlock this so i can put my sim card in?

  • AKKI

    Thanks A lot for the information….

  • Abi Tamil

    Nice article.

  • Nadine

    I bought a jailbroken iphone….and i am afraid if i sync it with my pc i will lose the jailbreak and my stuff!!!!any idea what can i do? Thanks

  • harry

    I unlocked my iphone 5 using Evasi0n. Would it work with any other carrier anywhere in the world? Do we need to run another application for unlocking once it’s jail-broken? Would appreciate your reply.

    Thanks

  • santosh singh

    My phone phone is factory unlocked
    Can I change it to jailbreaked one??
    Please tell me
    How can I change it to that?(if needed)
    Thank you

  • http://www.facebook.com/tarasimmons09 Tara Simmons

    Hey! I live in the U.S. and have an iPhone 4 with AT&T but I will be living in China for the next year and I really want to be able to take my phone. In order to do that, I will use a SIM card from a carrier there, most likely China Mobile. Will I need to both jailbreak and unlock my phone in order to do that? Would a SIM card from China work on my phone?

  • S Khanna

    Thanks for clearing the confusion between Jail broken and unlocking. One more question : is there any difference between jail broken or LCD broken. I am looking a phone to buy at amazon and it says:PLEASE NOTE:LCD IS NOT BROKEN). This is a Verizon phone that has a clean ESN for reactivation with Verizon and its factory unlocked”. So if its Verizon phone, can I use it to any other career?

  • FrenllyFresh

    Hey!!!! I have a question??
    So.. If you unlock your iphone can you update the iOS ??? Please reply

  • desire etiennette

    Sorry, I just want to update my firmware, I am jailbrojen, I am on 4.1 bb 5.13.04 it’s a 3 gs. iPhone . I have sssh saved, I would like to be on 5.1.1 to get new apps. Thank you. But ITunes did not detect my iPhone. Please give us a hand.

  • Suyash Kumar Tiwari

    So, if I am using an unlocked iPhone, its already jailbroken and its warranty is void ?

  • Jaspreet Singh

    hi am jaspreet singh . i have a iphone 4 . version 6.1.3 (10B329) . IMEI no. :- 01 283800 392003 9. but i am live in india. and am not use on sim card.i want this phone factory unlock. Pliz you help me. i like iphone 4. Pliz you unlock my phone .

  • Robyn Ovrick

    I bought an AT&T iphone 4 to use with Straight Talk. I don’t like
    my
    service and simply want to start over with another carrier that doesn’t
    use SIM cards. My question is, what do I need to do to my iphone 4 so
    that I can resell it? It was brand new and I’ve only used it for 5 days.
    I kept the AT&T sim card, I don’t know if that will make a
    difference or not. Thanks.

  • DOLLYB

    I’m retired in Honduras and my granddaughter in Virginia upgraded her iPhone 4S to a 5. Her carrier is Verizon. She gave me her 4S so we could communicate better (faceTime,etc. When I inserted a sim card from a provider in Honduras I realized it was locked. Can I unlock it to use primarily in Honduras?