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DIY: jailbreaking iPhone and back again

Do you wish you had more control over your iPhone? Do you wish you could have Live Wallpapers, widgets or a custom keyboard? Jailbreaking is the solution you're looking for.

As much as millions of people worldwide love their iPhones, there are some who wish that Apple would hand over some of the control. The iPhone is built on a solid software platform, but there is limited room to customise the phone beyond the basic options offered in the settings. If you want more control, or the option to install apps that replace core Apple-designed functions like the keyboard, the browser or the notifications system, then you're going to want to jailbreak your iPhone.

This victorious-sounding process refers to the owner of the phone gaining root system access, bypassing the security that Apple put in place to stop you from doing this and allowing you to install apps that are not available on the App Store. This may sound like hard, complex work, but, thanks to teams of enterprising software developers, the process could not be simpler.

You've got to break free?

Jailbreaking relies on software exploits discovered by enterprising software modders, and the process is frowned upon by both Apple and your telco. Because of this, jailbreaking your phone will void your warranty. The process of jailbreaking is extraordinarily simple, but, if something goes wrong in the process, you won't be able to visit the Genius Bar for assistance. Before you begin following this guide, make sure you at least know how to back-up your data in iTunes and restore the most recent backup, in case something goes wrong.

To do this, plug your iPhone in to the computer you have it synced with. Select the iPhone under "Devices" on the left of the screen, and make sure that you are looking at the "Summary" tab and that the "Sync with this computer" option is checked. Press "Sync" to create a backup of your phone, if you haven't done this recently.


(Credit: Chronic-Dev Team)

To successfully jailbreak your phone, you are going to need to use one of the jailbreaking tools created by small teams of iOS hackers. There are half a dozen or so similar tools, but for this exercise we're going to use the Absinthe 2.0 untethered jailbreaking tool, as it is among the simplest we've come across, and it supports the most recent version of iOS at the time of writing.

You'll notice the term "untethered" used to describe Absinthe. This refers to the fact that once the exploit is applied, you won't have to reapply it every time you reboot your phone. Tethered jailbreak tools are also available, and will require you to jailbreak each time your phone is rebooted. This may be a good option for users who want to test the waters with jailbreaking, with an easy way out afterwards.

Each version of a jailbreak tool is divided into a number of sections based on iOS device types and the version of iOS that these devices are running. Make sure you download the version that correlates with the iPhone you are using. We tested Absinthe using an iPhone 4 with iOS 5.1.1 installed.

Absinthe 2.0 is a ridiculously easy tool to use. After you download and unzip it, you simply run the executable, plug your phone in and click the start button. This process takes a couple of minutes to complete. Afterwards, you will find everything exactly as you left it, with the addition of the Cydia app-store icon. To make the most of your new-found freedom, start browsing the Cydia store for packages to further modify your iPhone experience.

Help! Freedom was not for me

If you complete the steps above, and then decide that jailbreaking is not for you, the good news is that it is very easy to reverse. Simply plug your phone in to iTunes and restore the last backup image you saved before you installed the jailbreaking tool.

To do this, plug your phone in, select it under "Devices", then hit the Restore button found under the Summary tab. A few moments later, you should be back to where you started. This process will even back-up your phone, so that it restores all your files and apps exactly as you left them, minus any jailbroken tools or features you may have installed.