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How to jailbreak your iPhone: A guide in the jailbreaking jungle for newbies and advanced users

Updated on March 1, 2013

How to jailbreak iPhones?

Performing jailbreak of an iOS device such as an iPhone may be easier than it sounds.
Performing jailbreak of an iOS device such as an iPhone may be easier than it sounds.

Entering the iOS jailbreak jungle

With the release of the original iPhone on June 29, 2007, Apple has become one of the most important players on the smartphone market. Succeeding the original iPhone, Apple has released the iPhone 3, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and most recently the iPhone 5. With every new generation of iPhone, Apple not only updates the hardware but also the operating system called iOS. In the intermittent time between iPhone releases, Apple also continuously update iOS to fix bugs, exploits and to add new features.

The large amount of different combinations between iPhone generations and iOS versions is the reason new jailbreakers quickly find the information they encounter to be overwhelming and confusing. The purpose of this hub is to provide some clarity to the jailbreak jungle and discuss how the different iPhone and iOS combinations influence the jailbreaking process.

Why should I jailbreak my iPhone?

Apple is a company which likes control. This is reflected both in their internal company structure but also on the products they release. With iOS, Apple has put strict constraints in what the users and the installed apps are allowed to use and do. In addition, every app that is submitted to the Apple App Store undergoes a thorough screening process, and apps performing operations that Apple do not deem fit in their eyes are rejected.

While the strict control enforced by Apple has led to a secure iOS with very few security incidents, unfortunately, it has the side effect that it also severely limits the user in terms of customizing iOS to add, remove, or modify features. For example, simple things as displaying the date in the status bar of the iPhone as well as having more than 4 icons in the app dock is downright impossible without jailbreaking.

Jailbreaking provides the user the freedom to use their iPhones the way they want to. Simply put, the rules imposed by Apple on the allowed apps in their App Store are just too strict. After having used a jailbroken phone, going back to a vanilla iOS feels like someone has put handcuffs on it. By jailbreaking, the user can install apps that cannot be found in the Apple App Store that, for example, allow customization of the home screen user interface, allow on-off toggles for different radios (3G/Bluetooth/WiFi), or allow the user to enhance the default SMS and phone apps. This is achieved by the jailbreak adding a secondary app source known as Cydia. A perhaps side effect of the freedom a jailbreak provides is that it allows the installation of Apple App Store apps without going through the purchasing step. However, a user should respect the copyright laws and thus I leave it at that.

The purpose of this hub is not to provide an extensive list or to discuss all the possible advantages of jailbreaking, therefore I will not elaborate on this further but rather actually focus on how a jailbreak is achieved rather than why it is done.

Is performing a jailbreak legal and safe?

Jailbreaking your iPhone is perfectly legal as has been confirmed several times over the past years by, for example, the United States Library of Congress, United States Copyright Office and the European Copyright Directive. To be honest, why should it not be legal? A user should be able to use his or her device the way they want it to be used.

In terms of safety, one cannot claim that jailbreaking by itself would make the device unsafe. However, as jailbreaking allows the user to install apps from other sources, it is in theory possible to install a malware, in practice, there have been almost no confirmed reports on this matter. In particular, the main source for apps for a jailbroken iPhone is Cydia, which also employ its own screening process to reject dangerous or suspicious apps.

As jailbreaks have been around ever since the first iPhone generation, the jailbreaking process is also very user friendly, and usually require minimum user inputs, thus it is highly unlikely that the jailbreaker will in some way break his device to an un-restorable state, i.e., bricking the device.

Great! So how do I actually jailbreak my iPhone?

As mentioned above, with the multiple iPhone models available and multiple iOS versions available, the approach for each combination can be slightly different. The user, first of all, has to figure out if their configuration/combination can be jailbroken. I will try to illustrate the possible combinations in the table below.

Summary of the jailbreak to apply for your iPhone and iOS version

iPhone generation
Untethered jailbreak available?
Tethered jailbreak available?
Available tool(s)
iPhone 3GS
aYES! For iOS 4.x.x, 5.x.x, and 6.0.0-6.1.2
YES! For iOS 4.x.x, 5.x.x, and 6.0.0-6.1.2
redsn0w/Absinthe (iOS 5.1.1)/evasi0n (iOS and 6.0.0-6.1.2)
iPhone 4
YES! For iOS 4.x.x, 5.x.x, and 6.0.0-6.1.2
YES! For iOS 4.x.x, 5.x.x, and 6.0.0-6.1.2
redsn0w/Absinthe (iOS 5.1.1)/evasi0n (iOS and 6.0.0-6.1.2)
iPhone 4S
YES! For iOS 5.x.x and 6.0.0-6.1.2
YES! For iOS 5.x.x and 6.0.0-6.1.2
redsn0w/Absinthe (iOS 5.1.1)/evasi0n (iOS and 6.0.0-6.1.2)
iPhone 5
YES! For iOS 6.0.0-6.1.2
NO! (But it does not matter as untethered jailbreak is availalbe!)
evasi0n (iOS and 6.0.0-6.1.2)
Jailbreak matrix describing if jailbreak is possible with different iPhone and iOS combinations.

How to read the jailbreak table

In the above table, the average user should really only be concerned with the column of "Untethered Jailbreak". An untethered jailbreak refers to a jailbreak that allows the device to reboot without the need of a computer. A tethered jailbreak, on the other hand, requires the iPhone to be connected to a computer every time it reboots, which is not practical for most users for obvious reasons.

Now that we have a basic knowledge of which devices can be jailbroken, the user needs to identify their iPhone model and their iOS version. The iPhone model should be known by the user. The iOS version can be found by:

  • Tap the Settings app
  • Tap General
  • Tap About

Look for the line which states the version.

Performing the jailbreak

After having identified that their device can be jailbroken, performing the jailbreak is as easy as downloading and running the appropriate tool as given by the table above. The tools themselves are available for

  • Absinthe (Windows) (Mac OS X) (Linux)
  • redsn0w (Windows) (Mac OS X)
  • evasi0n (Windows) (Mac OS X) (Linux)

The jailbreak tools will provide the user with on-screen instructions, with most operations handled automatically (automagically!). The user should connect their iPhone to the computer through the USB cable. For iOS versions older than iOS 6, after starting the jailbreak tool, the user will be prompted to put their device into Device Firmware Update (DFU) mode which can be achieved by:

  1. Turn off your phone completely.
  2. Press and hold the power button as well as the home button for 10 seconds.
  3. After 10 seconds, release the power button, but keep holding the home button.

If the above steps are performed correctly, the phone should then enter the DFU mode which will be automatically detected by the jailbreak tool. If the phone turns on, then it did not enter DFU mode. In that case, just do the process again while trying to better hit the 10 seconds mark in step 2.

Once the jailbreak tool detects that the phone has entered DFU mode it can start to run and upload the code required to jailbreak the phone, which in essential is exploiting a vulnerability of the phone. The whole process should take less than one minute and when the jailbreak process has completed, the iPhone will automatically reboot.

When the iPhone comes alive again, it will have been jailbroken!

Using the evasi0n tool for iOS 6.1.1, 6.1.2, 6.1, 6.0.2, 6.0.1 and 6.0 devices, such as the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad 4, iPad Mini and other devices shown in the above table, the process is slightly different. The device never needs to be put into DFU mode. Instead the jailbreak can be performed when the device is running. The only user action required is to start the Jailbreak app that will be added to the home screen during the jailbreaking process while using the evasi0n tool. The detailed procedure is described in an article that can be found here.

Related articles about jailbreaking your iPhone

  • Achieving an untethered jailbreak is now possible using the evasi0n jailbreak tool is relatively straight forward. However, there are some important points that need to be considered during the jailbreak process. A walkthrough of the untethered jailbreak process along with useful hints and tips can be read about in this article.
  • On January 28, 2013, Apple released its iOS 6.1 operating system. As with all iOS releases, significant changes are made that will affect the users. The important changes and updates made are highlighted in this article.
  • Shortly following the release of iOS 6.1, Apple released iOS 6.1.1 which fixes a critical bug only affecting users on iPhone 4S. This is discussed in this article.
  • An outstanding major bug that affected Microsoft Exchange users was not fixed with iOS 6.1.1 which caused Microsoft Exchange to be more or less useless for iPhone/iPad and iPod Touch users running iOS 6.0.x. This bug was fixed in iOS 6.1.2 and is discussed here.
  • With the release of evasi0n, it is now possible to perform untethered jailbreak for the iPhone 5 and iOS 6. However, there are numerous of scam sites out there that lures users to install viruses or doing surveys instead. Read more about it here.
  • The true status of iOS 6.x.x jailbreak for iPhones and iPads as disclosed by well known and famous jailbreak hackers is discussed in this article.

How to jailbreak your iPhone: Conclusion and summary

As we see, provided that jailbreak is available for your iPhone model and your iOS version, the whole process is very simple and straight-forward. Therefore, I strongly encourage those who are slightly interested in jailbreaking to try it. I can personally say that I have used my jailbroken iPhone 3GS for more than 2 years now and I have never encountered any issues with it. Currently, I cannot imagine using an iPhone that has not been jailbroken, which is the reason that I only recently updated my devices to iOS 6.1.x following the release of the evasi0n untethered jailbreak tool.

Happy jailbreaking!

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    • XCan profile image

      XCan 5 years ago

      Heyas GeorStephanie and thanks for dropping by. I will keep on developing the hub to add more details and examples that should answer your question more fully.

      But in the meantime I can say that jailbreaking is highly unlikely to cause damage to your phone. If you for some reason encounter a problem after a jailbreak, then you can always simply restore your phone to its original settings as usual, which will remove the jailbreak. Jailbreaking by itself does not change the overall workings of the operating system (iOS), it only makes it possible to install apps from sources other than Apple App Store.

    • GeorStephanie profile image

      GeorStephanie 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom

      Nice hub!

      What i wanted to ask is that I have heard that jailbreak can cause damage to your phone, is that true?