What Does Jailbreaking Mean?

Jailbreaking, or “hacking” is giving a user read/write access to otherwise locked OS files on your iPhone.

It allows you to “unlock” your iPhone and activate it on another GSM carrier that doesn’t have bad Luke Wilson commercials. It gives you access to app stores like Cydia that offer programs that you won’t see in Apple’s popular counterpart. It’ll even give you the ability to customize the background of your home screen and change the look of your icons and menu colors.

Starting in early fall after the summer 2007 release of the original iPhone, jailbreaking began as a fairly complicated multi-step process. Things have definitely evolved over the last few years and the online jailbreaking community for iPhones is estimated in the millions (if you’re reading this article on this site, that number shouldn’t surprise you) with hundreds of blogs and forums scattered throughout the web dedicated to this crazy thing called jailbreaking.

What Are the Benefits of Jailbreaking?

Up until recently, if you wanted to shoot video with your iPhone, you had to jailbreak and download an app called Cycorder from Cydia that would let you shoot and save video, because your iPhone out of box couldn’t do it. Same with cut/copy/paste, MMS, all only available if you had jailbroken your iPhone.

Your probably wondering well then what in the heck do I need to do it for now? Well I jailbreak mine so I can have the application Backgrounder from Cydia, it allows you to multitask and do things like listen to Pandora while writing emails, something you can’t do with your run-of-the-mill iPhone and iPod Touch.

I also have apps like Winterboard from Cydia that allow me to customize my home screen, change the look of my lock screen, and change the overall theme of my iPhone. I can make my iPhone look completely different than the way it does when you open the box for the first time. So much to the point where people will ask me what kind of phone I’ve got when it’s in an unmarked silicon case.

Another good reason I would say to go for it is that it is easier than ever to jailbreak. In fact, programs such as BlackRa1n by GeoHot make jailbreaking as easy as plug and click.


What Are the Risks of Jailbreaking?

Now, although jailbreaking has become increasingly easier, there are still very complicated risks that go with it. If you have a newer iPod Touch or iPhone 3GS, or if you plan on unlocking your new device, remember what I am about to tell you…

An underground group of programmers known as the Dev Team, for the most part, spearheads all this jailbreak technology more or less without Apple’s permission. Think of the Dev Team as the LA SWAT team with huge awesome guns trying to get into a barricaded building, which is the jailbroken iPhone software.

Every time they find a way in, Apple comes along and puts another barricade up with a software update that closes the entrance they had. Then they have to find another way in. They are currently working on jailbreaks for 3GS and iPod Touch software version 3.1.3, so if you upgrade to the newest version of the firmware, you will lose the ability to jailbreak at this time.

So it’s just a best practice to check the latest firmware version jailbroken (see the Dev Team blog) versus your own (go to Settings > General > Status). Aside from the above mentioned risks, there’s always the chance of your iPhone “bricking” or getting stuck in a non working state.

Several times during jailbreaks, mine would be stuck in phone purgatory for hours. Take just a few moments to browse any iPhone forum with jailbreaking topics and you’re sure to find several comments along the lines of “help! I tried to jailbreak my iPhone and now it’s been stuck on the Apple logo for hours, help!” or “Please help me, after jailbreaking my iPhone my GPS won’t work.”

So things definitely can go wrong, but generally it’s user error. Usually plugging in your iPhone to your computer, starting iTunes, and holding power for 5 seconds, power and menu button for 10 seconds, and then just menu for 20 seconds, tells iTunes your phones fried and it will do a fresh install of your most recent iPhone software. For more information on getting your iPhone out of the constant reboot cycle, read this article.

Is Jailbreaking Legal?

UPDATE: Jailbreaking is now officially legal in the US

Now you’re probably wondering if it’s legal. Um… yes and no! The fact of the matter is that Apple has verbally announced that they believed jailbreaking to be illegal and an infringement on their copyrights by way of complaint to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF last January.

But, the EFF sided with the consumer and stated that the “reverse engineering is a fair use when done for purposes of fostering interoperability with independently created software,” saying that yes, even though jailbreakers are using Apple’s copyrighted code, they are doing so in a way that allows them functionality that Apple doesn’t provide access to on their own.

On top of that, Apple’s legal team is probably too busy dealing with Nokia, Fujitsu, and Psystar to chase after people who are trying to customize their home screens.

To be honest with you I’m sure Steve Jobs and company have sat down and gone over the risk/threat of jailbreakers and have discovered how much it really fuels iPhone/iPod touch sales. Don’t believe me? Run a 24 hour poll on your blog and ask if users would still purchase iPhones if they couldn’t be jailbroken in any way.

What to Keep in Mind

But the cat and mouse game with Apple shows no sign of stopping as the Dev Team is furiously at work to break into the latest iPhone software to release to the public. Jailbreaking gives you complete control over your iPhone from customizing to 3rd party apps that didn’t for one reason or another end up on Apple’s App Store.

In fact the Cydia store is home to a lot of misfit apps that fell victim to Apple’s ever popular App screening process. Well, now that you’ve heard some background on jailbreaking, you’ve learned some of the benefits and risks, you may now make the choice, to jailbreak or not to jailbreak, that is the question.

If you decide to jailbreak, generally any app by the Dev Team such as PwnageTool or RedSnow is a safe bet, as long as the versions are compatible with your iPhone or iPod Touch firmware.

Lately BlackRa1n has been working well for me. It was literally a plug into usb port, launch program, click the button. I know Sebastien’s got some great tutorials on how to jailbreak as well as BlackRa1n and other downloads that will get you started.

Still completely lost? Drop a comment or a tweet and myself or Sebastien can lend a hand.

  • Peter Jansen

    Nice one again for new owners or believers :). THX!
    I for one got my new 3GS in September and as soon as 3.1.2 could be jb’d I did it. And soon after that unlock was in order too, so i didn’t have to wait till my subscription with T-Mob started and could use my Voda till it ended. After my 3GS brke down in the rain (Don’t use your iPhone outside in the rain, it’s very sensitive to it) I had mine replaced (at some cost!) and immediately JB’d and unlocked it again. Both phones were done with Blackra1n. And I don’t regret it for a moment. Only drawback is that my first 3Gs had no new baseband. My second one has so it’s thethered. Which means that if the battery goes dead I’ve got to do the whole thing over again.

    • georgia

      what does jailbreaking do?

      • joe goodies

        it makes ur dick smaller

  • George

    Nice! Where were you when i bought my first iPhone? 🙂 BTW What’s that theme shown on a picture above?

  • Albion

    I also jailbroke with blackra1n and honestly recommend to anyone to use it. Don’t understand why 99% of iPhones aren’t jailbroken.
    Nice informative article

  • Reno

    Here comes the Dev Team again with new tools to jailbreak and unlock iphones and I am pretty unsure if I would go for it or not. I am on Blackra1n by GH and haven’t got any trouble with it. Mine is 3GS with the old bootrom which means that I don’t have to restart blackrain just to reboot the device when it went dead. A friend of mine has a new 3GS and also unlocked by Balckra1n and having trouble rebooting which is p****ng her off every time she forgot to recharge before the batt totally goes dead. I think I would stick to BR until it gives me trouble. I don’t wanna scratch when it is not itchy. This device is quite different from any out there. If you mess around especially unintentionally, it’s a real hassle-from restoring to unlocking-and will consume a lot of time and patience. Well I think what’s going on is a battle between the Apple techys and the DevTeam and GH watching on the sideline ready to launch a surprise attack which Apple actually is subjectively allowing to make this device stays interesting. I was the first owner of this device in my place of work and many of us have one now especially doctors. My other 2 that I gave to my wife and daughter are working perfectly well for quite a while unlocked by the DevTeams Ultrasnow. My advice would be any unlock which is working smoothly should be kept like that even there are new ones now until something goes wrong. Thanks folks.

  • Matt

    I love beign jailbroken!

    I would love to know what theme that is!

  • Pete

    I updated my iTouch to 3.1.3. Model MC 2G… Is there any jailbreak now?????


  • Cody Lee

    The waters pretty murky for you pete. Blackrain is just at the 3.1.2 stage, so that wont work. But, If you have a mac and you are SURE you have an earlier boot rom on firmware 3.1.3, you could use QuickPwn from the dev team, but please do some investigating on that boot rom. If it were me I’d either look for a 3.1.2 IPSW to download via itunes and downgrade so that blackrain would work, or hang out for a few weeks and see if Mr. Hotz releases any update to blackrain or see if DEV Team puts out anything more fool proof.

  • Cody Lee

    P.S. The theme was the result of “jailbroken iphone” search in google images. I just needed a screen shot to demonstrate how drastic you could change the UI of a jailbroken iPhone. I remember running across it in Cydia at some point though, ended up deleting it because it didn’t have enough icons, of course, nothing has enough icons anymore, 140,000 apps, thats 140,000 icons. sheesh.

  • Matt

    Thats too bad. It would have been awesome if they created this app to just put text labels for all icons instead of the picture. Then all icons would have that “glass” look ot them

  • Albion

    Name of theme is REVEALD. Beautifull theme but it sucks because only few icons

  • didyes12


    I jailbreak my iphone using blackrain last week after instlaling the rock application I download some application but it’s worked only for 5 days then i cannot longer use anymore even some application i did download to apple,so restore my original iphone application…ill try to jailbreak again but its not working anymore..anyone can help me..thanks a lot

  • Matt

    I’m assuming I know the answer to this question already, but, I have a 3GS and got upgraded to 3.1.3, 05.12.01 … So I cannot Jailbreak, correct? And there is no way to downgrade to 3.1.2 so that I could? Would a complete iPhone restore set me back to 3.1.x so that I could jailbreak? Any help is appreciated.

  • Joshua Hudson

    I was told that if i jailbroke my iphone on someone elses pc, that i would lose everything on my phone as in contacts, games, music, pics, etc. As long as i log into itunes under my account i should be fine, correct?
    Please respond, i’ve wanted to jailbreak my phone since i got it but i also dont want to lose everything. Plz help!!

    • Anomounous

      jailbreak with greenpois0n its #1

  • Angicat

    Just a terriffic & well written article! And I agree with the above poster who asked “where were you years ago!?”

    This time around I’m saving the article so the next person who asks me “what’s jailbreaking?” can read it (instead of me explaining it, lol) thanks!

    Now…if you would only write one about my iTunes9.1/blackbreeze/sync issues! 🙂


  • Gene

    I jail broke my 3G right after I bought it I would not upgrade to the 3GS until there was a jailbreak for it. I will not buy the next generation Iphone until there is a jailbreak for it. Can’t wait for the jailbreak for my iPad

    • georgia

      what does jailbreaking do to your iphone?

  • Beatle

    If I jailbreak my itouch, does that mean I void my warrenty? Or is there a way to revert back to normal if I need it fixed for some reason?

    I’d probly do it anyway but I upgraded to 3.1.3 before I knew what jailbreakin was.


  • Juan

    @Beatle: Just restore to stock firmware. Apple can *NEVER* know if a device was previously jailbroken.

  • Juan

    I personally would not own an iPhone/iPad if they couldn’t be jailbroken. It’s my device, I paid for it. It’s my right to tweek the OS how I see fit. :0)

  • Quote: “Jailbreaking, or “hacking” is giving a user read/write access to otherwise locked OS files on your iPhone.”

    It is possible to mount the iPhone filesystem and browse files without Jailbreaking. Jailbreaking has more to do with being able to run unsigned code on the device. Might want to keep that in mind.

  • Beatle

    Cool that’s what I thought. Just confermin. Thanks.

    Ay Ryan, how would one ‘mount’ it. Need software? Work on a pc? And is it only browsing or can ya edit the files too?

  • @Beatle, There is a library (Currently developed for Linux) called libimobiledevice and located at http://www.libimobiledevice.org/

    For Windows, I have heard good news about http://code.google.com/p/iphonebrowser/ however I have not tested it. (Yuck windows)

    PS: Only remembered to check this post comments because of a referrer to my website 😛

  • Logan

    I find that even when you have a tethered jailbreak there is not much of a problem. I’ve had my ipod go into DFU mode a couple of times and all you have to do is plug the thing in a run the program again!

  • Morgan

    Hi all,
    I’m actually a bit new when it comes up to jailbreaking an iPhone. However, I’ve got a new iPhone 3Gs and I loaded the software V4.0.1 so should I try to jailbreak it or you do not recommend doing that?

    Appreciat your prompt response 

  • Hi

    Go ahead and do it

  • Eran Mertens

    I’d like to jailbreak my iPhone 4 running release 4.1 & install MyProfile.
    I recently switched from BB to iPhone and I really miss the different profiles.
    Can you explain to me what are the steps to accomplish this ?


  • Bigkief

    Does jailbreaking void my warranty in any way

  • sue Woznuk

    I have just jailbroken my iphone 4 for the first time, i am wondering when the new ios 4.2 comes out, and i update to it, do i need to jailbreak again, and if so will i have to buy all my apps again? thanks!

  • georgia

    what does jailbreaking do to you iphone?

    • Anomounous

      it gives u loader and using loader download Cydia its a app store with only free apps

  • vt

    how to know which firmware version to download for my 2g iphone?

  • Josh

    I need big time help. I tried to jailbreak my iphone 4 which has the 4.2.1. Now I used greenpoison and something didn’t quite work. It did the jailbreak, I could boot up the iphone, install the cydia store, but then cydia was just initializing perpetually. All I could find in terms of help here was to restore the iphone, so I plugged it into my mac and clicked restore in itunes. Bad move apparently because it started the restore, loaded the firmware, but at the end of the process it gave me an error. Now my phone shows the “connect to itunes” screen and itunes rejects my connection saying that it detects an iphone in recovery mode. Is there anything at all that I can do? I’m pretty desperate right now.

    • Anomounous

      try holding home and power botons and when the screen goes black let go of the power and plug it in

  • Bridget

    I have been seriously considering jailbreaking my iphone lately. Before I do, however, I am trying to find out what restrictions doing so imposes. Can you still sync with iTunes afterwards? Still download apps and music from iTunes? I’m guessing you can’t upgrade the software but I’m not sure. I’ve read a bunch of articles on jailbreaking but none address what is different after besides being able to get unauthorized apps. Please let me know soon, I’m actually pretty excited about doing it. Thanks alot for all the info.

    • Anomounous

      if you jailbreak it with greenpois0n you can still use itunes and the app store JBing(jailbreaking) just gives you a different app store.

  • Anomounous

    heres the website for Greenpois0n:http://greenpois0n.com/

  • Don Shannon

    Hi all,
    I am in love with itouch, and have been considering i-phone to replace my wireless phone. increased cost in plans make it prohibitive.

    I had no idea they could be broken….
    If I get this app, and then apple blocks, does the ‘repair’ represent a repurchase of the jailbreak software, or is the fix part of the original purchase?

    how long has it typically taken from time to block to time to fix?
    Is the latest version of Iphone 4have a jailbreak or is it currently blocked?

    How do I stop apple from ‘blocking’ simply reject the upgrade availability?

    What concerns are there for ‘virus’ applications etc.? What practices are in plce at cydia to protect from that?


  • Carrie

    I stopped reading when I read that you couldn’t listen to Pandora and do other things…maybe for the first time Verizon got something write, but I just bought my Verizon iPhone and I can listen to Pandora while I’m on Safari, writing messages, and even playing Words With Friends, which I couldn’t do with my iPod. But maybe that is just Verizon’s iPhone in an attempt to leave people with less reasons to jailbreak.

    Given Apple’s and Verizon’s skittish nature when it comes to their products being tampered with, even verizon voids your warranty with 3rd party apps gone awry, and for some insane reason their own updates that are installed too early! I’m wondering how crucial this jailbreaking business really is. I probably will do it eventually but I think i’ll wait til I can afford to buy another one out right for $800 or at least closer to my next upgrade time

  • ei

    what happens if you have a 3gs and you unfortunately downloaded ios4.2.1 in the process of jailbreaking… for use with a foreign sim card and now the phone is not working?

  • Dip Dungles

    As mentioned before if I try to jb on a separete pc (one that doesn’t have my itunes installed) would it affect the process? Only reason I ask is because I am sitting at work and bored out of my mind and wanted to do this since 8:30 AM.

  • KayLee

    someone told me that if u did this u would get everything on apple store for free is this true and also wat is the chance my ipod would broken and never work

  • Behdad

    Please somebody help me!
    I have ipod touch 2g and I jailbroken it with green poisen but it’s not jailbroked yet.what should I do?!!!
    Ow!and 1 more question! I have no app store in my itunes 10!
    WHAT SHOULD I DO?!!!!!!!!!!

  • hadka

    can someone halp me how to intall jailbreak

  • lanh

    no one help him

  • lanh

    ok help him

  • JOE

    will these work on the ipad 2 with ios5