Oct 29, 2012
Dec 12, 2023
pyler (pylerSM)
Kevin Cernekee (cernekee)
Aidan Follestad (afollestad)
Frieder Bluemle (friederbluemle)
Felix Yan (felixonmars)
Mickael Despesse (spocky)
Source code


Example code for "How-To SU"

For some outdated background details, see:

Even though its outdated with regards to usage of this library, if you're unfamiliar with writing code for root usage, it is not a bad idea to read it.


Copyright © 2012-2019 Jorrit Chainfire Jongma

This code is released under the Apache License version 2.0.


This library is not under active development right now, as I've mostly moved away from the Android world. While I believe it still works great, if it breaks due to changes on new Android versions or root solutions, fixes may be slow to appear.

If you're writing a new app, you might consider using TopJohnWu's libsu instead. Barring some edge-cases (that I personally seem to be the biggest user of) the capabilities should be similar, but it's likely to be better maintained.

v1.1.0 update

It is now 2019, 7 years since the initial release of libsuperuser, and I have finally gotten around to releasing v1.1.0, and writing an updated how-to. See, I don't need reminding every 6 months.

This update brings support for commands returning an InputStream for STDOUT, as well as adding per-line and buffered STDERR support to various methods.

As Shell.Interactive can be a bit tricky to use and understand callback and threading wise, especially when used from a background thread, the Shell.Threaded subclass has been added. This class maintains its own dedicated background thread, upon which all the callbacks are executed.

Shell.Interactive (and Shell.Threaded) have gained synchronous methods, that may be easier to handle than the asynchronous ones, when used from a background thread. Obviously one cannot use them from the main UI thread, as this would block the UI.

Last but not least, Shell.Pool has been added, which maintains a pool of Shell.Threaded instances for your app to use; created, cached, and closed on-demand. For new users, Shell.Pool is the place to start.

If you're looking at the source of the library, has become way too large and would look better broken up. This is intentionally not done to maintain better backward compatibility with old code, of which there is quite a bit.

Upgrading from v1.0.0 to v1.1.0

No functionality has been removed, but some of the method signatures have subtly changed, and a lot of methods have been deprecated (though they will not be removed). The compiler will certainly tell you about these. Some interface have been renamed, and some methods were added to existing interfaces. All Exception based classes have moved to inner classes of Shell., and all and methods automatically redirect to their counterparts. This is a free speed-up for code using these methods. The redirection can be turned off by calling Shell.setRedirectDeprecated(false) from something like Application::onCreate().

While most code should run the same without issue, you should definitely double check, especially for complicated scripts or commands that set specific environment variables.

Shell.Interactive should work exactly as it always has, but since some threading-related code has changed internally, it is always wise to check if everything still works as expected.

There is no need to migrate existing Shell.Interactive code to Shell.Threaded, unless you want to use the functionality provided by Shell.Pool. Be sure to read about the usage difference between them below.

Last but not least, minSdkVersion was updated from 4 to 5, so we're losing compatibility with Android 1.6 Donut users, sorry.

Example project

The example project is very old, and does not follow current best practises. While PooledActivity has been added demonstrating some calls using Shell.Threaded and Shell.Pool, they aren't particularly good. The old code demonstrating both legacy and interactive modes remains present. Use the mode button at the bottom to switch between activities.


This page is not intended as a full reference, just to get you started off. There are many methods and classes in the library not explained here. For more advanced usages, consult the source code - over 1/3rd of the lines belong to comments.

Some of the below may seem out-of-order, you might want to read this entire section twice.

Blocking, threads, and ShellOnMainThreadException

Running subprocesses is expensive and timings cannot be predicted. For something like running "su" even more so, as it can launch a dialog waiting for user interaction. Many methods in this library may be blocking (taking unpredictable time to return). When you attempt to call any of these methods from the main UI thread, the library will throw a Shell.ShellOnMainThreadException at you, if your app is compiled in debug mode. (Note that this behavior can be disabled through the Debug.setSanityChecksEnabled(false) call).

Methods that may throw this exception include any of the run(...), waitFor...(), and close...() methods, with the exception of closeWhenIdle().

The Shell.Builder, Shell.Interactive and Shell.Threaded classes provide addCommand(...) methods, which run asynchronously and provide completion callbacks. addCommand(...) can safely be called from the main UI thread.

Shell.Interactive (and its Shell.Threaded subclass) is a class wrapping a running instance of a shell (such as "sh" or "su"), providing methods to run commands in that shell and return the output of each individual command and its exit code. As opening a shell itself can be very expensive (especially so with "su"), it is preferred to use few interactive shells to run many commands rather than executing a single shell for each individual command.

Shell.Interactive (and its Shell.Threaded subclass) uses two background threads to continuously gobble the input from STDOUT and STDERR. This is an (unfortunate) requirement to prevent the underlying shell from possibly deadlocking if it produces large amounts of output.

When an instance of Shell.Interactive is created, it determines if the calling thread has an Android Looper attached, if it does, it creates an Android Handler, to which all callbacks (such as the interfaces passed to addCommand(...)) are passed. The callbacks are then executed on the original calling thread. If a Looper is not available, callbacks are usually executed on the gobbler threads (which increases the risk of deadlocks, and should be avoided), but may also be executed on the calling thread (which can cause deadlocks in your own threading code).

(Didn't make sense? Don't worry about it, and just follow the advice and examples below)

Shell.Interactive vs Shell.Threaded

Shell.Interactive's threading/callback model can be fine when it's used from the main UI thread. As the main UI thread most certainly has a Looper, there is no problem creating a Handler, and the callbacks are run directly on the main UI thread. While this does allow you to directly manipulate UI elements from the callbacks, it also causes jank if your callbacks take too long to execute.

However, when Shell.Interactive is used from a background thread, unless you manually create and manage a special secondary thread for it (a HandlerThread), callbacks run on the gobbler threads, which is potentially bad.

The Shell.Threaded subclass specifically creates and manages this secondary HandlerThread for you, and guarantees all callbacks are executed on that thread. This prevents most deadlock situations from happening, and is consistent in its behavior across the board.

The drawback there is that you cannot directly manipulate UI elements from the callbacks passed to addCommand(...) (or any other methods), but that is probably not what you end up wanting to do in any real-world app anyway. When the need arises, you can use something like Activity::runOnUiThread(...) to call code that adjusts the UI.

Additionally, Shell.Threaded is easier to setup and supports pooling via Shell.Pool (explained further below). The choice which to use should be easy at this point, unless you have some very specific needs.

If you are porting from Shell.Interactive to Shell.Threaded, please note that the behavior of the close() method is different between the two. In Shell.Interactive it redirects to closeImmediately(), which waits for all commands to complete and then closes the shell. In Shell.Threaded it returns the shell to the pool if it is part of one, and otherwise redirects to closeWhenIdle(), which schedules the actual close when all commands have completed, but returns immediately. This discrepancy is unfortunate but required to maintain both good backwards compatibility and support pooling with try-with-resources.

Common methods

Examples follow further below, which make use of pooling. But before pooling can be explained, the common methods you will use with different classes need a quick walk-through.

Common methods: addCommand(...)

The Shell.Builder (used to manually construct Shell.Interactive and Shell.Threaded instances), Shell.Interactive and Shell.Threaded classes provide addCommand(...) methods. These run asynchronously and are safe to call from the main UI thread: they return before the commands complete, and an optionally provided callback is executed when the command does complete:

  • addCommand(Object commands)

  • addCommand(Object commands, int code, OnResult onResultListener)

commands accepts a String, a List<String>, or a String[].

onResultListener is one of:

  • OnCommandResultListener2, which buffers STDOUT and STDERR and returns them to the callback all in one go

  • OnCommandLineListener, which is unbuffered and is called once for each line read from STDOUT or STDERR

  • OnCommandInputStreamListener, which is called with an InputStream you can use to read raw data from the shell. You should continue reading the InputStream until -1 is returned (not 0 as is sometimes done), or further commands on this shell will not execute. You can call InputStream::close() to do this for you. Additionally, if the shell is closed during reading, then (and only then) an IOException will be thrown.

All of these provide an onCommandResult method that is called with the code you passed in, and the exit code of the (last) of the commands passed in. Note that the exit code will be < 0 if an error occurs, such as the shell being closed.

The addCommand(...) calls will not be further explained in this document, consult the example project ( and the library source for further details.

Common methods: run(...)

The Shell.Interactive, Shell.Threaded, and Shell.PoolWrapper classes provide run(...) methods. These run synchronously and are not safe to call from the main UI thread: they return when the command is completed:

  • int run(Object commands)

  • int run(Object commands, List<String> STDOUT, List<String> STDERR, boolean clear)

  • int run(Object commands, OnSyncCommandLineListener onSyncCommandLineListener)

  • int run(Object commands, OnSyncCommandInputStreamListener onSyncCommandInputStreamListener)

As before, commands accepts a String, a List<String>, or a String[].

It should be obvious that these are simply the synchronous counterparts of the asynchronous addCommand(...) methods.

Instead of calling a callback interface with the exit code, it is returned directly, and instead of returning a negative exit code on error, Shell.ShellDiedException is thrown.


The Shell.Pool class provides shell pooling. It will create new shell instances on-demand, and keep a set number of them around for reuse later (4 by default for "su" instances, 1 for non-"su" instances).

Shell.Pool.SH and Shell.Pool.SU are pre-created instances of Shell.PoolWrapper for "sh" and "su", providing get() and the earlier mentions run(...) methods for the pool.

The get() method can be used to retrieve a Shell.Threaded instance from the pool, which you should later return to the pool by calling it's close() method.

The run(...) methods, instead of operating on a specific Shell.Threaded instance you manage, retrieve an instance from the pool, proxies the call to that instance's run(...) method, and then immediately returns the instance to the pool.

Sound complex? Maybe, but it all comes together so you can sprinkle calls throughout as many threads as you wish (barring of course the main UI thread), running simultaneously or not, with instances being created, reused, and closed automatically. All of this without you ever having to worry about managing the instances, and only having to catch a single Shell.ShellDiedException.


It is assumed all the code following is run from a background thread, such as Thread, AsyncTask, or (Job)IntentService.

Running some basic commands:

try {
    List<String> STDOUT = new ArrayList<String>();
    List<String> STDERR = new ArrayList<String>();
    int exitCode;

    exitCode ="echo nobody will ever see this");
    // we have only an exit code

    exitCode ="ls -l /", STDOUT, STDERR, true);
    // exit code, and STDOUT/STDERR output

    exitCode ="cat /init.rc", new Shell.OnSyncCommandInputStreamListener() {
        public void onInputStream(InputStream inputStream) {
            try {
                byte[] buf = new byte[16384];
                int r;
                while ((r = >= 0) {
                    // do something with buf

                    // if we decide to abort before r == -1, call inputStream.close()
            } catch (IOException e) {
                // shell died during read

        public void onSTDERR(String line) {
            // hey, some output on STDERR!
    });"logcat -d", new Shell.OnSyncCommandLineListener() {
        public void onSTDOUT(String line) {
            // hey, some output on STDOUT!

        public void onSTDERR(String line) {
            // hey, some output on STDERR!

} catch (Shell.ShellDiedException e) {
    // su isn't present, access was denied, or the shell terminated while 'run'ing

When running multiple commands in quick succession, it is slightly cheaper to get() an instance and close() it when done, and using the returned instance. But keep in mind if there is a longer period between your calls, and another thread wants to call su, the shell you have not close()'d yet cannot be reused by that thread:

try {

    // get an instance from the pool
    Shell.Threaded shell = Shell.Pool.SU.get();
    try {

        // this is very useful
        for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
  "echo nobody will ever see this");

    } finally {
        // return the instance to the pool

} catch (Shell.ShellDiedException e) {
    // su isn't present, access was denied, or the shell terminated while 'run'ing

If you're targeting API >= 19 and Java 1.8, you can use try-with-resources with Shell.Threaded::ac(), which casts the instance to a Shell.ThreadedAutoCloseable:

try {

    // get an instance from the pool, automatically returning it at the end of the try block
    try (Shell.ThreadedAutoCloseable shell = Shell.Pool.SU.get().ac()) {

        // this is very useful
        for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
  "echo nobody will ever see this");


} catch (Shell.ShellDiedException e) {
    // su isn't present, access was denied, or the shell terminated while 'run'ing


For more advanced usages of root, such as running Java/Kotlin code as root directly, please see my libRootJava library.


Nullity and thread annotations have recently been added.

Please note that all methods that may be problematic on the UI thread have been marked as @WorkerThread. Some of these methods can be called from the UI thread without issue in specific conditions. If so, those conditions should be noted in the method's javadoc.


Root build.gradle:

allprojects {
    repositories {
        maven { url '' }

Module build.gradle:

dependencies {
    implementation 'eu.chainfire:libsuperuser:1.1.1'