HOWTO: Run Linux on Android without root

htop running on termux

You can run Linux on your Android tablet or phone!

You might be thinking… “Wait, isn’t Android already Linux?”. Well, yes and no. Andriod is a Linux variant which is now heavily locked down. Mainly this is a good thing. You don’t want an easily connectable Linux system waiting for you, but what if you could do some of the stuff you are used to Linux doing on your mobile device?

There are a few apps on the Google Play App store which let you do just that. Importantly, because they are on the App Store, they don’t need to have ‘root’, ie, you don’t have to jailbreak your phone in order to run these Linux apps.

Debian noroot on the Android Google App Play StoreThe app rundown

It turns out there are whole bunch of Linux apps in the App Store, here are a few, and their pros and cons:

  • Termux. A terminal-based Linux app which runs a barebones Linux install and provides applications such as Bash, SSH, ViM, rsync, Git, Node.js, Python and Ruby. It is possible to add on extension packages using APT, but it should be made clear that you are not using a full install of Debian.
  • GNURootDebian:  Provides a method for you to install and use Debian and its associated applications/packages alongside Android. 
  • Debian noroot: Work on this ceased about 2015, but still seems to work, even on Android Nougat. It offers a full desktop-style experience app and will install a customised Debian Jessie, it requires 900 Mb free on internal storage. Unfortunately A mouse or stylus is highly recommended. Note: If you want to use web browser, open Terminal and run command sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get install iceweasel, likewise if your favorite music player does not work – install package gstreamer0.10-pulseaudio.

So, for any of the above apps, simply head over to the Google Play Store and search for them by name. Install them and you are done!



Debian NoRoot
The barebones look of Debian Noroot.


Apps from Google Play Store that require root

Interestingly enough the App Store still provides apps that although not strictly part of the Google Play App Store policy, you can install on your Android device. However, these do require root permission and usually an SD card or similar.

  • LinuxDeploy: This is the most comprehensive tool I’ve seen, however it does require root access! You can install almost any distribution of real Linux on the device onto your flash card.
  • Complete Linux Installer: Just like LinuxDeploy, this is a very easy way to install a full Linux distro such as Ubuntu on your Android device. Unfortunately it still requires root.


Example of LinuxDeploy being used from start to finish.


It’s still possible to use your favourite operating system on your Android device, but its still not super easy. And I guess it really shouldn’t be easy though, that’s not what your phone or tablet was designed to do. By installing the likes of LinuxDeploy, people have raved about the new lease of life that Linux has given to their previously slow/redundant tablets. Just be sure that you know what you are doing and are prepared to brick your device!



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