Debloating My Android Phone with ADB

Written at 2024-01-16
Discussions: (hackernews)

My mother recently mentioned that her phone is continually opening certain windows and prompting her to use services she doesn’t need. After checking her phone and doing some online research, I found out that many others have also complained about this issue.

Apparently, she was referring to pop-ups triggered by a pre-built program called “SIM Menu”. This program basically allows operators to send notifications and even generate pop-ups on your phone. And the frustrating part is that most of these pop-ups seem to promote irrelevant services. If you accidentally click “OK” when one of these pop-ups appears, you get charged by your provider. It is a carefully set up trap designed to make you accidentally subscribe to their unnecessary services and pay money.

Since I prefer simplicity and like to have control over the tools I use. I was already thinking about removing the bloatware on my phone that came pre-installed and can’t be deleted through the interface. Hell, even some of the fundamental apps, like a gallery or file manager, are filled with ads. It gets on my nerves. So, I was already planning to learn how to remove these bloatware and the situation I described earlier was the final straw for me.

I’ve searched for tools to debloat Android phones and found adb, Android Developer Bridge. It’s basically a program which allows you to directly create a shell session for your phone, similar to connecting to a remote server via SSH (the only difference is that instead of connecting through the internet, the connection is made via USB).

Since Android is essentially an OS based on the Linux Kernel, the shell you connect to will most likely be a variant of the sh dialect. So, for those who are familiar with working in UNIX environments, its very convenient to remove or install packages and customize your phone this way.

In this essay, I document this process of removing bloatware from my phone as a reference for future use. Hopefully, you find it helpful as well.

Enabling USB Debugging Mode

While it is possible to establish an ADB connection to your phone over Wi-Fi, I chose to use ADB through a USB connection as using Wi-Fi involves certain security risks. For instance, others on your Wi-Fi network could potentially connect to your phone, especially if your phone doesn’t have proper security settings. Not to mention that you would need to set up your phone using ADB through a USB connection first before initiating a Wi-Fi connection anyways. Which kind of makes using WiFi seem more pointless as the reasons for preferring Wi-Fi over USB are usually just convenience or not having a USB cable available.

To connect your phone using adb via a USB connection, you need to enable USB Debugging mode on your phone. I won’t go into the specifics of this process as it varies by phone. But for my own phone, I simply navigated to the “About” section and tapped “MIUI Version” multiple times to switch into Developer Mode. Then, I searched for the “USB Debugging” option and enabled it.

Connecting to your phone via a Shell Session

Once you’ve installed adb, you can view the manual by typing adb help. You can also refer to the online documentation.

To connect to your phone via a shell session, simply type adb shell and you’re good to go. Most standard UNIX commands such as ls, cat, echo, grep, and more can be used.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to enter a shell session just to run specific commands. You can also use the adb shell <cmd> pattern to run your particular command <cmd>. This approach simply creates a shell session, executes your command, and closes the session, while forwarding the stdout to your current shell session.

Uninstalling Bloatware

The Command Line Interface (CLI) tool used in Android for interaction with the Android Package Manager is pm. This tool basically allows you to list, install, or uninstall software packages.

To list the currently installed packages, execute the following command:

pm list packages

To view only the default apps on Android, enter this command:

pm list packages | grep 'android'

At this point, I would advice you to search for other unwanted pre-installed apps known to come with your phone’s brand as well as android packages which are known to be bloatware. Take a list of these apps for future reference so you can easily repeat this process if you need it later again.

To delete a specific app from your phone, you first need to identify its package name. You can accomplish this by searching for it on the internet. However if you can’t still find it, you should be able to locate the app’s “apk package code” directly on your phone. This process can vary depending on the phone you’re using, so I suggest you look up how to find package codes for applications on your specific phone model.

Also, be careful to not to delete anything critical for your system to work. Do not delete a package if you are not sure that it is not something system critical.

Once you get the, you can just run the following command in the adb shell:

pm uninstall --user 0

Here, --user 0 specifies the user for which you want to uninstall the package. User 0 is typically the device’s default or primary user. When I have run the command pm uninstall without this, it would say package is successfully deleted but the package would still remain on my phone.

Keep in mind that we could have also used the following command:

adb shell pm uninstall --user 0

Or even:

adb uninstall --user 0

Automating the Process

Remember that I told you to make a list of the packages you remove. This was for to make the debloating process easier if you need to do it a second time on your phone.

I use a specific git repository for this purpose. In this repository, I have a file named bloatwares.txt that contains the package names of certain prebuilt applications for Mi, Xiaomi, Android, and third-party applications.

If I ever need to debloat my phone, or anyone else’s, all I need to do is to run the following command:

cat bloatwares.txt | xargs adb shell pm uninstall -k --user 0


If you haven’t already started, I strongly encourage you to consider debloating your phone. Install adb on your computer, connect to your phone using it, identify packages that seem unnecessary, and free your device from the unwanted ‘guests.’

Go ahead and take back at least a partial ownership of your phone by getting rid of these intruders!