We’ve covered jailbreaking before at TechNorms, and it’s a great process. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dive headfirst into unknown waters, jailbreaking your iPod, iPhone, or iPad can actually be fun and rewarding. Considering all the benefits that come with a jailbroken iDevice, it’s well worth the time.
However, a lot of people get confused about one point of reference. The developers of jailbreak tools are always a step or two behind Apple. The latest firmware version, whatever it is, is usually not jailbroken.
For example, iOS 5 just came out. It might take a few days (in some versions, few hours, depending upon the OS update) before anybody finally cracks it. Writing a jailbreak for each new firmware takes some time.
That’s why a lot of people choose, instead of waiting, to downgrade their firmware.
What’s a downgrade? It’s when you trick your phone into thinking that it’s in trouble and then restore it using an older version of iOS. Once you’ve restored to the older version, you can then jailbreak your iDevice. Here’s how to downgrade.
Step One: Know Your Device
The first thing is to understand exactly what device and firmware version you have. If you don’t know off the top of your head, there’s an easy way to check. Turn on your iDevice and go to the Settings app. From there, tap General, About, and look under Version. You should see a number like 4.3.5 or 5.0.
Here’s the thing - you might not even need to downgrade your iDevice to jailbreak it. If the firmware version is 4.3.3 or lower, then you’re good to go. Any firmware at 4.3.3 or lower has already been jailbroken and completely cracked.
Even if your firmware is 4.3.4, 4.3.5, or 5, you still don’t technically have to downgrade. You can perform what is called a “tethered” jailbreak with redsn0w. What that means is that redsn0w will crack your iDevice, but it must be connected to a computer every time it boots.
This kind of sucks. If you carry around a laptop or are dead set on getting those shiny new features in iOS 5, go ahead and do a tethered jailbreak. However, if the idea of being unable to boot without your PC is unappealing I recommend downgrading.
That’s the real point of downgrading. iOS versions 4.3.3 and below are untethered jailbreak solutions. Use those and your iDevice will boot flawlessly, no PC needed. I’ve used tethered and untethered jailbreaks, and untethered is much better.
Step Two: Download the Firmware
Now’s the part where we essentially gather the ingredients. It’s kind of like cooking. In order to restore your iDevice to a new firmware, you have to have that firmware saved to your PC.
Download the correct firmware for your iDevice from legendary iPhone hacker GeoHot. (Update: No longer available)
I linked to 4.3.3 because that’s the latest and greatest firmware available, but feel free to Google other versions and downgrade to those. 4.3.3 is recommended, though. You can also use a site such as iClarified that provides links to earlier firmware.
Once that’s done, store the firmware somewhere you’ll remember. It doesn’t matter where, just as long as you can find it.
Step Three: Block Apple
Typically, Apple tries to put safeguards into place to prevent people from doing this. However, there are ways around their iron-fisted rule. If you try to downgrade without this step, iTunes will recognize what you’re doing and reject it.
However, there is a way to fix it. You have to change something called the hosts file, an essential part of your computer that controls incoming and outgoing internet connections.
Open Windows File Explorer and navigate to C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc. Right click on the file labeled “hosts.” Copy and paste the hosts file to your desktop.
This copied file is a backup in case something goes wrong. If your computer starts breaking down, replace the modified hosts file with the original backup.
Now open the hosts file (not the backup). Use Notepad. At the end of the file hit enter and add two lines:
Now save your hosts file. This will block Apple from receiving firmware updates from iTunes and let you downgrade your iDevice in peace. Sorry, Tim Cook.
Step Four: Backup
In my experience, downgrading is a pretty painless process that goes off without a hitch. However, it’s still a good idea to prepare for the worst and make a backup.
Open iTunes and plug-in your iDevice. Right click on the name on the left row and select “Backup”. iTunes will save a total backup of your iDevice with its data and everything to your PC. If anything goes wrong, this is your Plan B. Just plug-in your device, right-click and select “Restore From Backup.”
Step Five: DFU Mode
The technical side of this next step gets complicated, but here we have explained the process in layman’s terms, don’t worry and read on. Next step is to put the iDevice into panic mode. When it tries to restore itself, the restoration will be with the new downgraded firmware instead of the real one.
So, here’s what to do. Connect your iDevice to your PC. Keep iTunes open but turn off your device. Now hold down the power and home button at the same time for ten seconds. After that hold down only the home button.
This might take a couple tries, but eventually you’ll set your iDevice into DFU mode, which is like panic mode for iPhones and iPads. You’ll know it works if your computer installs a driver for “DFU Mode.”
Step Six: New Firmware
Now you should get a popup in iTunes saying that an iDevice in recovery mode has been connected to this computer. Click “OK” and you’ll be presented with the “Restore” button. Don’t click it.
Instead, hold down Shift and left click the “Restore” button. This will open up a new window. Essentially what you’re doing is choosing the firmware that iTunes will use to restore the iDevice. Navigate to wherever you stored that downloaded 4.3.3 firmware and choose that.
iTunes will give you a message about restoring your device to the desired firmware and verifying the update with Apple. This is your cue to giggle because iTunes will actually contact the servers of Saurik, one of the biggest figures in the jailbreaking world.
Your iDevice should look something like this, although hopefully with fewer bubbles in the screen protector.
Now iTunes will do its thing. Just let it run, and before long you’ll have a factory-new iDevice running the new firmware.
Step Seven: Jailbreak
Congratulations! You’ve taken your first step into a larger world. Now you can look into what jailbreak tool might work best for you. Whatever one you pick, enjoy that untethered jailbreak.
Have you successfully downgraded? Share your success in the comments.