Unlock Bootloader on Samsung Galaxy Phones and Tablets

Unlock Bootloader on Samsung Galaxy Phones and Tablets

If you’re venturing into software modifications such as Rooting, installing custom recoveries, flashing custom ROMs, or anything else in between, then you will first need to unlock your Samsung device’s bootloader.

In this guide, I will walk you through the steps to properly unlock the bootloader on Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets. I will be covering all the aspects of the process in detail, from enabling OEM unlocking, all the way to disabling the new VaultKeeper service.

I am pretty sure you’d be excited to jump on. But let me ask you to slow down a bit. Before getting to the instructions, I want to talk about the bootloader on Samsung devices and the unlocking process, and share some of the key information regarding it. I encourage you to read ahead, especially if you’re someone who is new to the scene. Even if you’re not, you might learn a thing or two apart from what you already know.

Introduction

Samsung is known for complicating things when it comes to custom development. Almost every year, the manufacturer introduces at least one of their special new security features, which in most cases, affects the custom development process directly or indirectly.

Yes, such features play important role in terms of overall device security, but it also tends to discourage the developers.

Think of it as this way, the developers always have to keep up with new Android versions and any core changes introduced by them. Like A/B partitions, Boot Image Header versions, etc in the past. Then it’s the OEM-specific changes that are done to the code. It’s quite a lot to handle, to say the least.

And on top of all this, we have Samsung, which is known to implement its own flavored code into the mix. Magisk’s creator John Wu has called out Samsung on several occasions. Here’s one where the developer pointed out how the AVB implementation on Qualcomm Galaxy devices was broken, detailing some of the bugs he found.

Here’s another. When AndroidPolice did a piece on why Samsung devices still don’t support seamless updates, John Wu jumped in with his opinion, stating that “Samsung is definitely THE worst for modding”.

Anyways, I (or John) am not discouraging you from buying Samsung devices. For an average customer, I think they are great devices with a crisp-looking display and powerful hardware. I am just trying to provide you with some context of what you’re dealing with.

The Bootloader on Samsung Galaxy Devices

Have you wondered why you cannot flash partition image files with Fastboot to a Samsung device in the first place? or why is there no “Fastboot Mode” to begin with?

That’s because Samsung (again!) chooses to use its own flavored bootloader implementation. I came around this very interesting discussion on Reddit from a few years ago. A fellow Redditor (u/aliniazi) in that thread stated that Samsung uses its own layered bootloader system. Hmm.. that’s interesting as I never knew that myself and neither am I sure if it stands correct, but it does make sense.

Samsung Galaxy devices have their own “Download Mode” (or “Odin Mode”). If you’re not yet familiar, Download Mode is a special interface that allows your device to communicate with a computer for flashing official firmware and custom binaries (such as Magisk-patched AP firmware) through Odin or Heimdall tool.

Samsung and Bootloader Unlocking

First stage: For a long time, users could root, install custom recoveries like TWRP, and flash custom binaries to Samsung Galaxy devices without having to unlock the bootloader at all. I think that’s not a common exception.

Second stage: Later on, starting with Galaxy S7 (I think) the devices included the OEM unlock (or OEM unlocking) switch, which needed to be enabled in order to flash custom binaries. It seemed like just flipping a switch in the Settings menu was all you needed to do to get started with software modding.

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In my opinion, that’s not exactly a good approach either. It was never clear to me if turning on OEM unlock back then actually unlocked the bootloader. Or did it enable the bootloader to accept custom binaries and the bootloader was always unlocked?

Third stage: Moreover, Samsung introduced RMM/KG state around the same time, leading to the missing OEM unlock issue. If triggered, the Prenormal RMM/KG state would prevent the device from booting if a modification was detected.

Upon which, you’d need to restore the stock Samsung firmware and wait for a period of 7 days before you could attempt to flash custom binaries again. Thanks to some awesome developers at XDA, a patch was provided to bypass KG/RMM state when dealing with modifications.

So up until this stage, you didn’t have to actually unlock the bootloader to get started with things like rooting, custom ROMs, recoveries, etc.

Fourth (current) stage: This brings us down to the current scenario. With the launch of the Galaxy S10 series and devices thereafter, Samsung finally introduced a proper way to unlock the bootloader.

The good part about it was that the bootloader on Samsung Galaxy devices can be unlocked on the device itself, without needing a computer. It’s comparatively convenient than using Fastboot to unlock the bootloader in the case of Google Pixel devices or using a dedicated tool like Mi Unlock Tool in the case of Xiaomi devices.

Wait, that’s not it. Magisk’s creator John Wu pointed out that Samsung introduced another one of their “special features” again, known as “VaultKeeper“. VaultKeeper service in Samsung devices is basically another lock on top of the OEM lock that would automatically relock the bootloader after the /data partition is wiped (which happens when you unlock the bootloader).

To deal with this, users will need to go through the initial setup and connect the device to the internet after unlocking the bootloader. After doing so, VaultKeeper will change the bootloader status from “locked” to “unlocked”.

And that sums up the current status of bootloader unlocking on Samsung Galaxy devices. With that aside, let us now move on to the instructions and guide you on how to properly unlock the bootloader on Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets.

Which Devices are Supported?

This guide is applicable to all latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets launched alongside or after the Galaxy S10 with the new VaultKeeper service. If you own a device launched prior to that, you could simply enable OEM unlocking and get going.

Below is a list of some known Samsung devices that could utilize this guide.

  • Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, Galaxy S20 Ultra, and Galaxy S20 FE
  • Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+, and Galaxy S10e
  • Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra
  • Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+
  • Galaxy Tab A 8.4 (2019)
  • Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (2019)
  • Galaxy Tab A7 10.4 (2020)
  • Galaxy Tab S5e
  • Galaxy Tab S7 and Tab S7+
  • Galaxy Tab S6 and Galaxy Tab S6 Lite
  • Galaxy Z Fold 2
  • Galaxy Z Flip
  • Galaxy Fold

Again, this is not a complete list.

Your Samsung Galaxy device may support this new bootloader unlock method and VaultKeeper service if:

  • It was released around the same time as the Galaxy S10 or after that.
  • It was launched with Android 9 Pie, Android 10, or Android 11 out-of-the-box.

Before You Proceed

Requirements: The only thing you’ll need to follow this tutorial would be your Samsung Galaxy smartphone/tablet itself. However, you may also need a compatible USB cable and a computer in order to enter Device Unlock Mode/Download Mode on more recent devices.

Take a backup: Unlocking the bootloader of your Samsung Galaxy device will erase all the data stored on it. It includes the installed apps and their data, messages, call logs, photos, videos, music, and everything stored on the device’s internal storage.

So, make sure to take a complete backup of all your important data beforehand. The easiest way to do so is by using Samsung’s own Smart Switch software. If you feel handsy, you can do it manually as well. For guidance, see our Android backup guide.

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Important Notes:

  • Only unlocking the bootloader of your Samsung Galaxy device will not trip the KNOX counter.
  • However, flashing a custom binary such as TWRP or Magisk patched AP firmware will trip it. This may have an effect on your device’s official warranty, so make sure that you check with your regional Samsung support if you’re concerned.
  • Furthermore, apps like Secure Folder, Samsung Pay, etc rely on KNOX integrity to function. Once KNOX is tripped (that’s after you flash a custom binary), such apps will stop working.
  • Samsung Galaxy devices with a Snapdragon chipset that are sold in the USA and Canada come with a non-unlockable bootloader. The only way to unlock the bootloader on US Snapdragon devices is by using a paid service such as SamPWND or UNSAMLOCK.

How to Unlock Bootloader on Samsung Galaxy Smartphones and Tablets

The process of unlocking the bootloader on Samsung Galaxy devices is a tried and true one. In brief, you first have to enable OEM unlocking, then boot the device into Unlock Mode and unlock the bootloader, and finally finish the initial setup and verify the bootloader status to disable VaultKeeper.

Easy enough? No? Don’t worry, the instructions below will take you through the complete process in detail. I have split the instructions into 5 major steps so that it’s easier for you to understand.

Let’s start!

Step 1: Enable Developer Options on your Samsung Galaxy device

The OEM unlocking option that’s needed for bootloader unlocking resides inside the “Developer options” menu in your device Settings. This menu is hidden by default on all Android devices running Android JellyBean and above to prevent the users from accessing them unknowingly.

To enable Developer Options on your Samsung Galaxy device:

  1. Go to the app drawer and open the “Settings” app.
  2. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and select “About phone” or “About tablet”.
  3. Tap “Software information”.
  4. Repeatedly tap on the “Build number” section 5 (five) times.
  5. Enter your device’s lock screen PIN/Password/Pattern when prompted.
  6. You should now see the “Developer mode has been enabled!” toast notification on the screen.

Step 2: Turn ON OEM Unlocking inside Developer Options

To unlock the bootloader, it is very important to first turn on the OEM unlocking option on your Samsung Galaxy device.

Now that you have turned on Developer Options, navigate to “Settings” > “Developer options” on your device. Then scroll down until you find “OEM unlocking” and press the toggle next to it. You should then see a prompt on your device’s screen to “Allow OEM unlocking”, so select “Enable”.

If the OEM unlocking toggle is missing:

  • Make sure that your Samsung Galaxy device is connected to the internet and re-check. The device needs to communicate with Samsung servers for identification.
  • Samsung Galaxy devices that are sold in the USA with a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC come with non-unlockable bootloaders (officially). And so, the OEM unlocking option does not exist on such devices.

Step 3: Enter Device Unlock Mode

Turning ON OEM unlocking enables a special mode known as “Device Unlock Mode”. This mode can be accessed while booting into Download Mode and you will be utilizing it to unlock the bootloader on your Samsung Galaxy device (it can be used to relock the bootloader as well).

Now, there are two methods that you could follow to get your Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet into Download Mode.

  • This method is generally what we usually follow. It involves pressing a dedicated physical key combination while the device is turned OFF. Well, this method is also hard to demonstrate as the key combination may vary from device to device.
  • The second method is by executing an ADB command from your computer. If you’re experienced with ADB or couldn’t find your device’s specific key combination to enter Download Mode, then this is the method I would suggest using.

Below is the link to our detailed guide that will help you boot your Samsung Galaxy device into Download Mode using the said methods:

Access Device Unlock Mode

After you have done this, your Samsung Galaxy smartphone/tablet should show a blue-colored “Warning” screen as shown in the image below.

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I usually like to refer to this “Warning” screen as the Bootloader Mode. This is because this screen gives you the option to boot your device into other modes, just like the Bootloader/Fastboot mode on other OEM devices.

This screen will list three options/actions for you:

  1. Volume up: Continue
  2. Volume up long press: Device unlock mode
  3. Volume down: Cancel (restart device)

Generally, you would press the Volume Up key to enter Download Mode to flash firmware binaries using the Odin tool. But since we’re here for unlocking the bootloader, long press and hold the Volume Up key to enter Device Unlock Mode on your Galaxy device.

Step 4: Unlock the Bootloader on your Samsung Galaxy Device

Once in Device Unlock Mode, you should see a confirmation prompt to unlock the bootloader. On the top, you should see a short warning message along with the information that unlocking the bootloader will perform a factory data reset and erase all your personal data from your device to prevent unauthorized access.

At the very bottom of the screen, you will see the following two options:

  • Volume up: Yes
    Unlock bootloader (may void warranty)
  • Volume down: No
    Do not unlock bootloader and restart device

I suppose you know what to do here. Press the Volume Up key to finally unlock the bootloader on your Samsung Galaxy smartphone/tablet.

Once the bootloader is unlocked and a factory data reset has been performed, your device will automatically reboot into the operating system.

During the initial phase of the booting process, you should see an obligatory warning message notifying you that the bootloader of your device is unlocked. Do not worry, it’s normal and you’ll get used to the message in a while.

Before you ask, the only way to remove this warning message is to relock the bootloader. And that’s not what you’re here for, right?

The first boot after unlocking the bootloader may take a few minutes. So be patient.

Step 5: Verify Bootloader Status and Disable VaultKeeper Service

Now while you may think that your device’s bootloader is completely unlocked, it’s actually not. Remember, how I mentioned the VaultKeeper service will relock the bootloader after a factory reset? No? Go back and read the “Samsung and Bootloader Unlocking” section.

To properly unlock the bootloader of your Samsung Galaxy device, you need to disable the VaultKeeper service from relocking the bootloader again. To do this, go through the initial setup and connect your device to the internet. You do not necessarily need to log into your Google or Samsung accounts, but you can do that as well if you want.

Once you have finished the setup, enable “Developer options” on your device (See step #1 if you don’t remember how). Then go to “Settings” > “Developer options” and find the “OEM unlocking” option (if it’s missing, close Settings and re-try). You should see the “OEM unlocking” option greyed out in an ON position stating – “Bootloader already unlocked”.

And…that’s it!

Final Words

So by now, you have learned how to properly unlock the bootloader on Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets by disabling the VaultKeeper service.

The part of the unlocking process where you deal with VaultKeeper is extremely important and is also something that the users could easily miss, which may result in the bootloader being relocked.

Unlike most other OEM Android devices, the bootloader on the latest Galaxy devices can be unlocked without the need for a computer, which is definitely a plus in my opinion

That aside, with your Samsung Galaxy device’s bootloader now unlocked, you can move onto things like rooting with Magisk, installing TWRP custom recovery, and more. And in case you need guidance for that, you could refer to your device-specific tutorial published on this blog (Use the search form).

If you have any questions regarding bootloader unlocking on Samsung Galaxy devices, or encounter any problems while performing the instructions, let me know through the comments. When asking for help, please make sure to provide as much context about the situation as possible, like the device name/model, installed Android version, at what point did you face the issue, etc.

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