💉 Frida's Gadget Injection on Android: No Root, 2 Methods

You will learn how to inject Frida's Gadget into Android application (APK) using 2 different methods without having to root your Android device.

💉 Frida's Gadget Injection on Android: No Root, 2 Methods

You have 2 options to inject Frida's Gadget to Android application:

  1. Method 1: If targeted APK contains any native library (<apk>/lib/arm64-v8a/libfromapk.so), then you can inject libfrida-gadget.so as a dependency into the native library.
  2. Method 2: If APK doesn't contain a native library, then you can inject System.loadLibrary bytecode.

Basic use case: you've got a third-party APK (Android application package), and you want to debug/trace/explore/reverse-engineer it, and you have your personal Android phone which you don't want to root. It means you need Frida's Gadget.

How it basically works

Frida Gadget injection

Note: where to get an APK

Google Play doesn't allow you to download APK directly. If you decide to analyze some APK, but you haven't got one yet, you have a bunch of options then: https://www.google.com/search?q=download+apk.

Method 1: Inject a libfrida-gadget.so as a dependency to a native library (JNI) inside of APK

📝 Basically, you need this article: https://lief.quarkslab.com/doc/stable/tutorials/09_frida_lief.html. The reason I've put my own steps here is a lot of caveats aiming to save time in future because of buggy versions of different tools, and because I'd like to escape all unnecessary steps I usually tend to follow.

✔️ For the shared library injection your APK should contain some native library (most probably a JNI library), and the injection is carried out by adding dependency to the native library.

⚠️ If the APK doesn't contain native library then jump to the method #2.


Let's say we want to inject libfrida-gadget.so to<target.apk>/lib/arm64-v8a/libfromapk.so.

  1. Download and unpack frida-gadget >= 12.8.8 for Android for arm64 (or arm32) from here https://github.com/frida/frida/releases.
    wget https://github.com/frida/frida/releases/download/12.8.8/frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so.xz
    unxz -d frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so.xz
    ⚠️ WARNING: Frida Gadget from 12.7.0 to 12.8.7 doesn't bring up the server, and the bug was solved here: https://github.com/frida/frida-core/issues/286.
  2. Download and unpack your target APK.
    # Destination would be a directory "target"
    apktool d -rs target.apk
    ⚠️ WARNING:
    1. Use apktool >= 2.4.1.
    2. -rs is to not decode resources and sources, it will save you time and keep your nerves while compiling the APK back.
    3. unzip/zip doesn't always work - application may not bring up.
  3. Copy frida-gadget to the unpacked APK directory.
    cp frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so target/lib/arm64-v8a/libfrida-gadget.so
  4. Write a Python script (say inject-gadget.py) to inject the frida-gadget using lief (see installation instructions here: https://github.com/lief-project/LIEF).
    #!/usr/bin/env python3
    import lief
    libnative = lief.parse("target/lib/arm64-v8a/libfromapk.so")
    libnative.add_library("libfrida-gadget.so") # Injection!
  5. Run the script - patch libfromapk.so JNI.
    python3 inject-gadget.py
  6. Check the injection succeeded.
    readelf -d target/lib/arm64-v8a/libfromapk.so
    Dynamic section at offset 0xb4000 contains 29 entries:
    Tag        Type                         Name/Value
    0x0000000000000001 (NEEDED)             Shared library: [libfrida-gadget.so]
  7. Re-pack APK.
    # "target" is a directory with unpacked APK of the step 3.
    apktool b target
  8. Sign APK.
    I used "Uber APK signer": https://github.com/patrickfav/uber-apk-signer
    java -jar uber-apk-signer-1.1.0.jar -a ./target/dist/target.apk
    ⚠️ WARNING: Archive should have *.apk extension to make Uber Signer work!
  9. Install APK.
    adb install -r target/dist/target-aligned-debugSigned.apk
    ⚠️ WARNING:
    1. Allow untrusted third-party APK on your phone.
    2. Use -r flag to "reinstall" APK.
  1. Check the frida-gadget presence as described in the following chapter, but shortly:
    frida-ps -U
  2. Trace the application (attach to gadget):
    frida-trace -U Gadget

Pay attention that the Frida's Gadget should start after you trigger some use case in your targeted Android application which loads the native library. The application invokes System.loadLibrary to load libfromapk.so and the latter loads  libfrida-gadget.so. It may happen at any time and not mandatory at the application start. Try to work with an app for a while. For example, if you injected into libcrypto.so, then do some operations which use encryption. And then check again. Basically, application should freeze 💤 at the moment of gadget spawn. Also you can try to inject to another library.

Method 2: Injecting into bytecode

The method is basically described here: https://koz.io/using-frida-on-android-without-root/

Inject a System.loadLibrary("frida-gadget") call into  the bytecode of the app, ideally before any other bytecode executes or  any native code is loaded. A suitable place is typically the static  initializer of the entry point classes of the app, e.g. the main  application Activity, found via the manifest. An easy way to do this is to add the following smali code in a suitable function:
const-string v0, "frida-gadget"
invoke-static {v0}, Ljava/lang/System;->loadLibrary(Ljava/lang/String;)V

➡️ A "suitable place" could be a constructor of a main activity right above return statement which you can find in the AndroidManifest.xml (look for an <application>... <activity>... tag).

# direct methods
.method constructor <init>(Lcom/some/packet/activity/MainActivity;)V
    .locals 0
    const-string v0, "frida-gadget"
    invoke-static {v0}, Ljava/lang/System;->loadLibrary(Ljava/lang/String;)V

.end method
Load libfrida-gadget.so from the <init> function of the MainActivity

Pay attention that in this case Frida gadget will be loaded at the application start, so you have to connect to the one quickly from the computer:

frida-trace -U Gadget


  1. Disassemble
    apktool d -r target.apk
    1. Use apktool >= 2.4.1.
    2. Use -r to keep your nerves at the re-packing stage which is a buggy thing usually (let me drop details here).
  2. Download
    wget https://github.com/frida/frida/releases/download/12.8.8/frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so.xz
    unxz -d frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so.xz
  3. Copy
    cp frida-gadget-12.8.8-android-arm64.so target/lib/arm64-v8a/libfrida-gadget.so
  4. Find a smali file which contains main activity class.
    grep -rn MainActivity
    grep -rn activity
    ⚠️ Your APK may have main activity with a different class name. Try to investigate!
  5. Edit
    1 Edit target/smali/.../A.smali (smali file with main activity).
    2 Add a loadLibrary call there as shown below:
    .method constructor <init>(Lcom/some/packet/activity/MainActivity;)V
        .locals 0
        # Add these 2 lines of code right before return!
        const-string v0, "frida-gadget"
        invoke-static {v0}, Ljava/lang/System;->loadLibrary(Ljava/lang/String;)V
    .end method
  6. Build
    apktool b target
  7. Sign
    java -jar uber-apk-signer-1.1.0.jar -a ./target/dist/target.apk
  8. Install
    adb install -r ./target/dist/target-aligned-debugSigned.apk
  1. Check the frida-gadget presence as described in the following chapter, but shortly:
    frida-ps -U
  2. Trace the application (attach to gadget):
    frida-trace -U Gadget

For more details about each step see description of the method #1.

Check whether injection succeeded

In both cases you need to know whether frida-gadget has been injected successfully.

  1. When Frida Gadget starts, it prints a log with Frida tag.
    adb logcat | grep -i frida
    03-24 13:01:24.561 21645 22797 I Frida   : Listening on TCP port 27042
    If you see an error with Frida tag, it still means that injection succeeded basically, and Gadget is trying to start, but something else is wrong and additional investigation is needed (e.g. see how to fix "Error: Unable to create socket").
  2. When Frida Gadget spawns it tries to create a listening socket on the port 27042. Use adb to connect to device and check the presense of the server.
    adb shell netstat -ln | grep 27042
    tcp        0      0*               LISTEN
  3. Use frida-ps to check whether Frida Gadget created a listening socket on device successfully. Use -U argument to verify your device via USB.
    frida-ps -U
      PID  Name
    -----  ------
    21645  Gadget

Error: Unable to create socket

You may see this error (if not, jump to the next chapter about how to research your application):

F Frida: Failed to start: Unable to create socket: Permission denied

It means that APK doesn't have INTERNET permissions. Check this in AndroidManifest.xml:

apktool d target.apk
I: Loading resource table...
I: Decoding AndroidManifest.xml with resources...
grep INTERNET target/AndroidManifest.xml

You will probably not see the corresponding permission (you see empty output from grep).
Add the next line to AndroidManifest.xml in this case:

<uses-permission android:name="android.permission.INTERNET"/>

And re-pack APK:

apktool b target

What's Next ⏭️

Research what files are being used

For example, I started with a script to trace any request to filesystem which is the basic step to start from.

frida --codeshare FrenchYeti/android-file-system-access-hook -f com.example.app --no-pause

If you want to modify the initial script, then download it from codeshare (e.g. to tracefs.js), modify it, and use like the following:

frida -f tracefs.js -U Gadget

Research data encryption

Often you will need to catch a moment when application starts to encrypt some data, so you could print that data before it's going to be encrypted. You can use my code snippet to intercept Java Crypto API, to print a symmetric key and data right before the final encryption step.

frida --codeshare fadeevab/intercept-android-apk-crypto-operations -U Gadget

This code snippet is a simple and easy point to start, and there are other powerful cryptography interceptors on https://codeshare.frida.re (e.g. https://codeshare.frida.re/@dzonerzy/aesinfo/).

Research more

  1. Go to https://github.com/iddoeldor/frida-snippets and take there anything you need to trace with frida.
  2. https://codeshare.frida.re is an authentic source of Frida code snippets.

And that's it.