I am starting this thread to help cut down on the noob questions that are irritating our devs and potentially driving them away (less bhundven, who has already left xda).
I know that there is already a thread like this by mad_fitter, but his is outdated. I will start the guide in the second post.
I was a noob, as we all were at one time, and I did a lot of reading in order to get my phone rooted and flashing my first rom (Bionix Frost, back in the good ol' Froyo days ) and the more I read, the more I see the devs getting irritated with the noob questions and I know that if we lose our devs (especially raver) we are screwed as a phone community. I'm not trying to make the noobs feel bad, I remember being one and being so eager to get stuff done I would essentially demand things from devs, then i learned my lesson and started reading and reading and learning and learning and now I flash new roms all the time with no issues. Lesson: READ
And that's the reason I'm writing this, hopefully questions can be asked here (and ultimately, the guide will be good enough that no one will have to ask questions, and they can just read the guide).
I have made this guide inherently redundant. I have posted steps to certain things in two different sections as they are used in different situations and I don't want to force you guys to bounce back and forth between posts.
If you find that my guide is helpful, PLEASE click the "Thanks" button!
CWM -> Clockwork Mod Recovery, this is the utility you will use to flash all of your roms, kernels and modems. DO NOT FLASH CWM THROUGH ROM MANAGER!!!! USE THE ONE-CLICK!!!
ROM (Read Only Memory) -> in the traditional sense, a ROM was unchangable (read-only) memory within your computer. One example is that some older computers used ROMs to store the OS on a chip. In order to change the OS, the chip(s) had to be physically replaced. ROMs, as they pertain to your phone, contain the necessary file systems, OS, and apps for your phone to function. Stock ROMs are those released by Samsung though you may find variations of those flashable through means other than Kies Mini (ODIN, CWM, Heimdall). Custom ROMs are the creation of a developer or developers that modifies the stock ROMs.
Stock ROM - A ROM released by Samsung for your phone. This is considered stock as it contains no post-release modifications. This is the ROM officially supported by Samsung on your phone. Official stock releases include the T959VUVKD1 (Android 2.2 Froyo) and T959VUVKJ6 (Android 2.3 Gingerbread) ROMs.
Kernel -> the kernel is the core of an OS. It is responsible for memory management, scheduling, managing other system resources, among other things. (thanks to stephen_w for this definition as well as the definitions for "ROM" and "Stock ROM")
Modem ([Mo]dulator [Dem]odulator) -> helps your phone interpret wireless signals sent from your cell network and wireless routers and also send data back to them (flashing different modems can help improve your cell reception) (thanks FB)
Bootloaders -> these are the files that allow your phone to boot into the system, recovery mode and download mode. These are the equivalent to the BIOS of a computer (once again, thanks FB)
Download Mode -> this is what you need to boot the phone in order to flash through ODIN or Heimdall
Recovery Mode -> this is what you need to boot the phone in order to flash things through CWM (there is a default Samsung recovery, however, you CANNOT flash roms, etc. through that recovery)
ODIN/Heimdall -> these are computer based flashing utilities. ODIN is a leaked Samsung program which ONLY works on Windows, where as Heimdall is an open-source utility developed by Glass Echidna that can be used on Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.
ext4 (EXTensible Filesystem, Version 4) -> ext4 is the filesystem that you will be running on the /system, /data and /cache partitions of your phone's OS IF you have converted to them through the Voodoo Lagfix menu of CWM (we will cover this later).
Bloat[ware] -> this is a set of applications that either the carrier (in our case T-Mobile) or the manufacturer (Samsung) ships the phone with pre-installed. Most of these apps can be removed with on issues, but be careful before trying to remove them.