What Is ADB for Android and What Can You Do With It?

You may have heard the term ADB before without really knowing what it actually means. Essentially it’s a tool from Android that will give you new options when using your device.

What Is ADB for Android and What Can You Do With It?

Just to set the record straight before we launch into it, ADB stands for Android Debug Bridge, but if you’ve already rooted your Android device you’ll probably know that. If not, I’ll give you a quick overview of what ADB is all about. ADB is intended for developers to help them find and fix bugs in Android apps they are building (hence, the name).

ADB is a command line utility from Google that allows you to access and control an Android device from your computer via a USB connection.

What can you do with ADB?

Using ADB you can copy files from your computer to your phone (and vice versa), install and uninstall apps, run shell commands plus a bunch of other fun stuff. Some reasons you may want to use ADB are to back up and restore your device or install apps to your SD card by default.

To do anything with ADB you will first need to know the right commands (what do you need to type or paste into the command window). Developers and more techy Android users will know and understand what the various commands mean, but if you’re a casual user, you needn’t worry about that – you probably won’t use ADB without a set of instructions for what you’re trying to do anyway.

Some useful ADB commands

There are lots of lists of adb commands online but here are some of the main ones, along with what they do:

adb devices

Checks what devices are connected to your computer.

adb reboot recovery

Reboots your Android device into recovery mode.

adb push [source] [destination]

Copies files from your computer to your Android device.

adb pull [source]

Copies files from your phone to your computer.

adb install [filename.apk]

Installs APKs (apps) on your phone.

adb shell [command]

Opens a terminal and runs commands on the Android device itself.

adb backup

Creates a backup of your Android device and stores it on your computer.

adb restore

Restores your Android device from a backup.

BONUS: How to install ADB for use with your Android phone or tablet

Step 1: Download Android SDK Tools

ADB comes as part of Google’s Android SDK, which you can download here. On the page, find where it says ‘SDK Tools Only’. That’s the part you want as it includes ADB.

Choose the right .zip file for your platform, i.e. Windows, Mac or Linux, and download it. When it’s finished, unzip it to wherever you want.

Run the SDK Manager .exe file and make sure you only select ‘Android SDK Platform-tools’. Click install. When the install is complete you can close the SDK manager.

Installing Platform-tools with Android SDK Manager

Step 2: Enable USB debugging on your Android device

You won’t be able to use ADB unless you enable USB debugging on your device. To do this, pay a visit to your phone or tablet’s settings. First tap ‘About phone’, then scroll right down until you see ‘Build number’. Tap on that 7 times. Congratulations, you are now a developer! At least, you are according to the message that will now pop up.

Tap ‘Build number’ 7 times to unlock ‘Developer options’

Doing this should reveal a new option in the settings menu, called ‘Developer options’. Tap on that and you will see the option to enable USB debugging. Do so.

Enable USB debugging to use ADB

After this setting has been enabled, you will now see a message asking ‘Allow USB debugging’ when you connect your phone to a computer. This will pop up every time you connect unless you check the ‘Always allow from this computer’ box.

Step 3: Check ADB works

Inside the folder where you installed the SDK tools, find and open the ‘platform-tools’ folder. Once in this folder, hold down ‘Shift’ and right-click inside it, then select the ‘Open command window here’ option.

Open a command window to use ADB

Next, use a USB cable to connect your Android device to your computer. In the command window you just opened, type the following:

adb devices

This command will tell you which devices you have connected. If everything is working correctly, you should see your Android device listed.

If you don’t see your device (assuming you remembered to plug in the USB cable), you might need to install some drivers. Each manufacturer offers downloadable drivers for their phones and tablets, so the easiest thing to do is to visit the website of whomever made your device, e.g. HTC or Motorola.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the right drivers, try it again. Go to your ‘platform-tools’ folder and open up a command window, type in:

adb devices

Hopefully this time you’ll see your device listed. Now you’re all set to start actually using ADB.