The Nintendo Switch is a bit of neat hardware, but what if it could do more? Some people modify and install custom firmware on their switch consoles to install homebrew software. We do not recommend it, but we will explain the process.
Before you rush out to hack your Switch, you should think carefully about whether the risks are worth it.
Why we recommend against Modding
Again, we do not recommend modifying your Nintendo Switch console. Here are some issues that could arise if you do:
You could brick your Nintendo Switch, making it unusable.
Nintendo can ban your account online, removing access to all of your legitimate purchases.
Nintendo may prohibit your Nintendo Switch console from connecting to online services.
If you’re still interested in learning more about the process of modifying a Nintendo Switch to run homebrew software, here’s how people do it.
Why would you want to hack your switch?
The process of installing custom firmware on a console, often called hacking or modding, is very much like a jailbreak on an iPhone. The ultimate goal is to install custom firmware on the device that removes the restrictions from the original manufacturer.
In the case of Apple, this allows you to modify and tweak the iOS operating system, install software from unknown sources, and search parts of the system that you should never have seen. The same is true with Nintendo Switch. You are using a customized version of Nintendo’s firmware. This means, in theory, that it should remain compatible with proprietary games and software while allowing you to use software from sources other than eShop or a cartridge.
“Homebrew” is a term used to describe software supplied by users. This software lets you do things that Nintendo has never approved. The most obvious is to install software from unscrupulous sources, including pirated games.
You can install emulators on a modified switch and play all kinds of classic games from the first home consoles, handheld computers and arcade cabinets. There are certainly problems with more modern and more demanding platforms (like the Dreamcast). However, older platforms, like SNES and Nintendo DS, work well. There’s even a reliable PCSX Switch port, an original PlayStation emulator.
Switch modders have ported entire operating systems to the platform, including Ubuntu Linux, a version of Linux called “Lakka”, which focuses on emulation, and a version of Android.
The homebrew scene literally wore Mario 64 on the switch. It is insane. pic.twitter.com/P8iuGh3g5p
– Tylagaunt (@Tylagaunt) May 8, 2020
Since modifying a console that’s still in development is essentially a cat and mouse game, many homebrew apps focus on protecting the Switch from Nintendo’s long arm. This includes apps to back up and restore backup data, block automatic updates, update your console securely, and facilitate the same jailbreak in the future.
The other reason you might want to think about modifying your Switch is also to have fun! If you get a kick out of taking things apart and seeing how they work, this might be for you. Maybe you like the challenge or want to create your own homebrew apps.
A word of warning
Nintendo Switch modding is not for everyone. The majority of Switch owners who simply want to play a few games should avoid doing so entirely. Anyone who doesn’t understand what they’re doing should also think twice. If you don’t have a good reason to jailbreak, don’t bother.
There is a small risk that in doing so you will brick your Switch. If you only have one console, it’s not worth the risk. If you have a second one that you will not want to lose, then at least you will always have your “main” switch if things go wrong.
Not surprisingly, Nintendo does not like people who install homebrew on their consoles. Not only does it allow you to hack games, but it also allows you to modify game files for an unfair advantage. For example, you can modify backup files to “fix” high scoreboards, or install software like emulators (which Nintendo has been fighting for years). It is also possible that you install malware because homebrews are not approved by Nintendo.
If Nintendo detects custom firmware on your modified Switch, you may be permanently banned from online services. This has serious consequences. You will not be able to access your library of games (legitimately purchased) on the eShop. You will also no longer be able to use Nintendo Switch Online. This means that you will be excluded from online associations and communities in games like Mario Maker 2.
Nintendo has proven to be ready to enforce material prohibitions (console blacklist), as well as account-level bans for various offenses. An account-level ban means that you can “start over” and open a new account on the same console, but you will lose all of your purchases and associated services. A hardware ban means you can never connect this Nintendo Switch console to online services again.
Even if you have a second Switch that you’re ready to sacrifice, it’s a good idea to clean it of any mention of your main Nintendo Account before diving your toes into the homebrew scene.
Is your switch compatible?
Not all Switch consoles can be hacked. In April 2018, a vulnerability was discovered in the custom Tegra X2 chipset used by Nintendo. The problem was recognized by NVIDIA, which provides the chips:
“A person with physical access to older Tegra-based processors could connect to the device’s USB port, bypass secure boot, and run unverified code.”
The exploit is hardware-based, which means that future versions of the Tegra X2 used in the switch have been fixed. If you have a Nintendo Switch manufactured after April 2018, it may not be able to be changed.
To find out for sure, you can check the serial number on the bottom edge of the device near the charging port. Then cross-check your serial number with this thread on GBATemp to see if it can be changed. There are three categories: not patched (exploitable), patched (not exploitable) and possibly patched.
If yours falls into the “possibly fixed” category, you will need to try the exploit and see if it works.
Nintendo Switch Lite and the slightly updated “Mariko” consoles (released in August 2019) have also been fixed and therefore cannot be used with this exploit. If you have an original unpatched Switch, you’re in luck! As this is a hardware exploit (linked to the specific chip used in the console), Nintendo cannot correct it.
Of course, you can also buy a Switch that can be hacked if you don’t already have one. Just use the GBATemp series wire to cross serial numbers with corrected and uncorrected product ranges. You can also test the vulnerability of a console without harming it.
If your Switch currently cannot be fixed, there is little you can do. Keep an eye on the scene, however – hackers are constantly finding new exploits. These include material changes, such as SX Core and SX Lite, for consoles that cannot be hacked using other methods.
Hacking your switch
To hack your Switch, you will need the following:
An uncorrected Nintendo Switch open to exploits
A microSD card of 64 GB or more (4 GB will work, but 64 GB are safer)
An RCM template or other way to ground pin 10 of the right JoyCon (more information below)
A cable to connect your Switch (USB-C) to your computer (USB-A or USB-C) or Android device, if you are using it.
The best exploit to use is known as “fusee-gelee”, which works with all versions of the Switch’s firmware provided your Switch is usable. The other exploits, Nereba and Caffeine, are limited to specific firmware versions.
You can follow the whole walkthrough to hack your Switch via the NH Switch guide, with detailed instructions for most operating systems. However, we will give you a brief overview of the process below.
This exploit uses the exploitable recovery mode (RCM) included with the Tegra X2. To access this mode, press and hold the volume up, power and home buttons. This is not the JoyCon home button, but rather the “hidden” hardware home button.
with the template, you just slide it in and out, there is metal inside the template to serve as a bridge between the pins, that’s all you need to get into RCM pic.twitter.com/NyN7sgFMoi
– dUmbreon (@ Norrls3942) December 20, 2018
To do this, you must ground pin 10 on the right JoyCon rail with an RCM template. There is several ways to make an RCM template, and some are more permanent than others. If you don’t do it right, it could potentially permanently damage or brick your Switch.
After entering RCM, you can download Hekate (a custom boot loader) at the root of your MicroSD card and place it in your Switch. Use your favorite device to inject the payload, partition the MicroSD card, so what download and copy your custom firmware.
Then you will want make a NAND backup and recover the unique keys of your console. These could be useful in case of a problem and you need to restore your Switch.
Finally, you can start in RCM with your RCM template, inject your payload, then use Hekate to launch the custom firmware of your choice.
If you follow the NH switch guide, you end up with Atmosphere custom firmware. You’ll see a Homebrew menu and several custom apps, including the following:
hbappstore: It is a homebrew application store, like Cydia for jailbroken iPhones.
Checkpoint: A game save manager.
NX-Shell: A file explorer.
NXThemeInstaller: This application allows you to install custom themes.
atmosphere update: This app keeps your custom firmware up to date.
Use the “switch” folder on your microSD card to transfer the homebrew .NRO applications that you want to use on your Switch.
Remember that this is an unattached jailbreak, which means that restarting your switch as you normally would bring it back to its previously unshackled state. You will then have to start in RCM, inject the payload, then launch your custom firmware to return to homebrew mode.
Approach with caution
The Nintendo Switch is entering a golden era. We are now in the middle of what should currently be the console life cycle, and the switch is still in high demand.
While Nintendo has been going through an explosive period in the first three years, there are still some great leading exclusives on the horizon, including the sequel to Breath of the Wild, a new Metroid Prime, and Paper Mario: The Origami King, recently announced.
Again, risking your Switch at such a premium moment in the console’s life cycle doesn’t seem to be worth it, unless you have a spare unit to sacrifice. Even then, it would be better to use a cheap Switch clone instead. If you are desperate to change something, how about the Switch dock, instead?