The USB Debugging Mode in Android has always been shrouded in mystery. While seeing an alert flash whenever a device was connected to a USB port led some to assume that it could be a media transfer protocol, others judged its name and concluded that it was a troubleshooting mechanism. Techspirited solves this enigma, to which only Android app developers and enthusiasts previously held the answer.
Interesting Piece of Trivia
Enabling this mode (USB Debugging) on a device that runs Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and above is a slightly tricky task, as the page is actually hidden. To enable it, one has to first open Menu → Settings → About Phone. On this page, one needs to find Build Number and tap on it seven times.
The message “You are now a developer!” will flash at the bottom of the screen, following which the Developer Options page will be available in the Settings menu. It is on this page that one can enable or disable USB Debugging.
Apart from app developers and hardcore Android enthusiasts, not too many people know of the functionality and full potential of the USB Debugging Mode option on their Android smartphone or tablet, although almost everyone has encountered this term more than once. As the word ‘debugging’ is synonymous to ‘troubleshooting’, it is commonly assumed by a number of people that USB Debugging is a feature used to resolve mobile issues by connecting it to a computer via a USB data cable. While this notion is partially correct, USB Debugging serves higher purposes too.
The various versions of Android have also handled how the feature of USB debugging is offered to users in different ways.
In previous versions (Android 2.3 [Gingerbread] and prior), the toggle switch (or check box) for this feature was hardly difficult to locate, as Developer Options was an openly tweak-able setting.
In Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above though, the system warns users that USB Debugging is a domain mainly reserved for developers, and prompts them to confirm that they really wish to enable it.
The newer versions have topped even this, by keeping the option itself hidden from the Settings menu.
If this air of mystery that surrounds this enigmatic feature has caught your intrigue, and left you wondering what USB Debugging can actually enable you to do, we have, below, the key to this conundrum. We have also provided an easy guide to enabling the feature on your smartphone, Android-version-wise.
Features of the USB Debugging Mode
Facilitating Testing of Newly Developed Apps
Android app developers create their software on their computer or laptop, by making use of a platform called the Android SDK (Software Development Kit). It is an environment that contains the tools that one needs for this purpose.
The Android SDK, however, is actually an emulator. To actually test how a program would work in Android, the software must be transferred to an actual device as opposed to run in a simulated environment.
In the USB Debugging Mode, these apps can be moved (or copied) from the coding environment to the actual Android device, via the USB connection.
Allowing Users to Root Their Device
The Android OS is open-source, and has a file structure similar to Linux/Unix. It allows users who dare, to modify and code the firmware itself at the root level. Quite often, enthusiasts, developers, and software testers take to “rooting” their Android device, so as to gain access to the privileged Android settings and functions.
Whether with the help of easy apps that do the task, or manually, it is the USB Debugging Mode that gives users access to the Android OS from an external medium, thereby allowing them to root their device.
Sometimes, things can go horribly wrong while trying to mess with a device’s firmware, causing them to get “bricked” (a term that implies that the smartphone or tablet becomes as redundant as a brick, and can henceforth only be used as a paperweight). Luckily for rooted devices, the USB Debugging Mode facilitates restoring the device to working condition.
Accessing the Deepest Levels of the Android System
An interface is required, which can bridge the gap between the SDK development environment on the computer and the Android device itself so that a proper channel for communication exists between these two.
This task is fulfilled by the USB Debugging Mode, by initializing the ADB (Android Debugging Bridge) daemon that performs this bridging function, as soon as it is enabled.
Once the communication bridge is set up, a number of system features of the device on the base system level can be accessed through the command line terminal on the SDK, which is loaded on the computer.
This also includes troubleshooting any firmware or software issues that the Android device may be facing, and access to the media storage of the phone.
How to Enable the USB Debugging Mode on Your Android Device
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and Below
To turn on the USB Debugging feature on any smartphone or tablet that runs Android 2.3 or a previously released version, open Menu → Settings → Applications → Development, and tap the box next to USB Debugging (make sure it is checked).
Newer Versions of Android
As mentioned previously, the Developer Options setting is hidden in devices running Android 4.2 and above. Once it is made visible by following the aforementioned procedure, the method to enable USB Debugging is the same.
On a device running any version of Android above 2.3, open Menu → Settings → Developer Options and mark a check in the box located next to USB Debugging. In the dialog box that opens, asking you to confirm that you truly wish to enable this mode, tap on the button labeled OK.
While USB Debugging seems to hold the key to giving users unlimited control over their Android device, it can also be the biggest security threat they could face, especially if the device in question is rooted. On a rooted phone, through the USB Debugging gateway, one can bypass screen locks and other protective features, and obtain confidential information stored on the phone.
With great power, comes great responsibility, and therefore, the righteous thing to do is to use your knowledge and Android’s structural loopholes to enhance your user experience with your device rather than to break into a smartphone or tablet belonging to someone else.
We hope we were able to shed light on the utility of the USB Debugging Mode on Android devices.