Installing TWRP on Sony Xperia SP

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In order to install LineageOS (ex-CyanogenMod) on a friend’s Sony Xperia SP, I had to flash a so-called “recovery image” (TWRP, specifically). Instructions from the manual didn’t work for me, but eventually I found a solution that I describe below.

IMPORTANT! 1. Please read the whole post before executing any commands, lest you miss something. 2. I’m not an Android expert and I can’t be sure that this will work for everyone. It worked for me though.

The problem

The official LineageOS installation guide suggests to flash TWRP into recovery partition, but that fails:

$ sudo fastboot flash recovery twrp-3.2.1-0-huashan.img
target didn't report max-download-size
sending 'recovery' (11922 KB)...
(bootloader) USB download speed was 13905kB/s
OKAY [  0.893s]
writing 'recovery'...
(bootloader) Flash of partition 'recovery' requested
FAILED (remote: Partition not found)
finished. total time: 0.905s

As TWRP site explains, Sony phones indeed don’t have one. The ROM has to be flashed into “FOTA kernel” partition instead. This requires root access to the phone.

I ended up using TowelRoot for that. I clicked the big red lambda (λ) to download tr.apk, then ran adb install tr.apk to install the app. Turned on the Wi-Fi (the app needs it to check if the phone is rootable), pressed the button, and that’s it.

Installing TWRP

Now the second catch: installing the image into FOTAKernel partition didn’t help at all. It flashed all right (i.e. dd gave no errors), but I couldn’t get into recovery no matter what buttons I pressed.

Thanks to a thread on XDA-Developers, I found that I needed to flash a different image. There are links to twrp-3.x.x-x-boot-huashan.img and in the top post there; download both. The -boot- one needs to be flashed into the boot partition:

$ sudo fastboot flash boot twrp-3.2.1-20171218-boot-huashan.img
target didn't report max-download-size
sending 'boot' (12955 KB)...
(bootloader) USB download speed was 13891kB/s
OKAY [  0.971s]
writing 'boot'...
(bootloader) Flash of partition 'boot' requested
(bootloader) S1 partID 0x00000003, block 0x00003000-0x0000cfff
(bootloader) Erase operation complete, 0 bad blocks encountered
(bootloader) Flashing...
(bootloader) Flash operation complete
OKAY [  3.321s]
finished. total time: 4.291s

Upon reboot, the phone went straight into TWRP. That scared me at first, because I couldn’t boot into Android anymore; but it turned out okay in the end.

At this point, I also flashed the same image into the FOTAKernel partition. XDA post mentioned this, but I don’t know if it’s really necessary given I somehow booted into TWRP already. Here are the commands:

$ sudo adb push twrp-3.2.1-0-huashan.img /sdcard/twrp.img
twrp-3.2.1-0-huashan.img: 1 file pushed. 15.5 MB/s (12208597 bytes in 0.752s)
$ sudo adb shell
~ # dd if=/sdcard/twrp.img of=/dev/block/platform/msm_sdcc.1/by-name/FOTAKernel
23844+1 records in
23844+1 records out
12208597 bytes (11.6MB) copied, 2.841966 seconds, 4.1MB/s

Note that ADB here is provided by TWRP, not Android, and I suspect TWRP contains its own su. So maybe I could’ve done without rooting the stock Android at all. Too late for me to experiment with that, though.

With all of that done, I finally had working TWRP and could flash LineageOS. Upon reboot, I found that the phone no longer boots straight into TWRP, but into Android (as it should). The recovery combos work too, so looks like I didn’t break anything. Yay!

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