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a. a complete path through which an electric current can flow
b. (as modifier): a circuit diagram
2. an administrative division of the Methodist Church comprising a number of neighbouring churches
3. English law one of six areas into which England is divided for the administration of justice
4. a number of theatres, cinemas, etc., under one management or in which the same film is shown or in which a company of performers plays in turn
5. Chiefly Brit a motor racing track, usually of irregular shape


The path taken by an electric current in flowing through a conductor through one complete run of a set of wires from a power source, such as a panelboard, to various electrical devices and back to the same power source. The wires used for various circuits are prescribed by codes, such as the National Electrical Code.


A complete wire, radio, or carrier communications channel.

Circuit (electricity)

A general term referring to a system or part of a system of conducting parts and their interconnections through which an electric current is intended to flow. A circuit is made up of active and passive elements or parts and their interconnecting conducting paths. The active elements are the sources of electric energy for the circuit; they may be batteries, direct-current generators, or alternating-current generators. The passive elements are resistors, inductors, and capacitors. The electric circuit is described by a circuit diagram or map showing the active and passive elements and their connecting conducting paths.

Devices with an individual physical identity, such as amplifiers, transistors, loudspeakers, and generators, are often represented by equivalent circuits for purposes of analysis. These equivalent circuits are made up of the basic passive and active elements listed above.

Electric circuits are used to transmit power as in high-voltage power lines and transformers or in low-voltage distribution circuits in factories and homes; to convert energy from or to its electrical form as in motors, generators, microphones, loudspeakers, and lamps; to communicate information as in telephone, telegraph, radio, and television systems; to process and store data and make logical decisions as in computers; and to form systems for automatic control of equipment.

Electric circuit theory includes the study of all aspects of electric circuits, including analysis, design, and application. In electric circuit theory the fundamental quantities are the potential differences (voltages) in volts between various points, the electric currents in amperes flowing in the several paths, and the parameters in ohms or mhos which describe the passive elements. Other important circuit quantities such as power, energy, and time constants may be calculated from the fundamental variables. For a discussion of these parameters.

Electric circuit theory is often divided into special topics, either on the basis of how the voltages and currents in the circuit vary with time (direct-current, alternating-current, nonsinu-soidal, digital, and transient circuit theory) or by the arrangement or configuration of the electric current paths (series circuits, parallel circuits, series-parallel circuits, networks, coupled circuits, open circuits, and short circuits). Circuit theory can also be divided into special topics according to the physical devices forming the circuit, or the application and use of the circuit (power, communication, electronic, solid-state, integrated, computer, and control circuits). See Alternating current, Circuit (electronics), Integrated circuits, Negative-resistance circuits

Circuit (electronics)

An interconnection of electronic devices, an electronic device being an entity having terminals which is described at its terminals by electromagnetic laws. Most commonly these are voltage-current laws, but others, such as photovoltaic relationships, may occur.

Some typical electronic devices are represented as shown in Fig. 1, where a resistor, a capacitor, a diode, transistors, an operational amplifier, an inductor, a transformer, voltage and current sources, and a ground are indicated. Other devices (such as vacuum tubes, switches, and logic gates) exist, in some cases as combinations of the ones mentioned. The interconnection laws are (1) the Kirchhoff voltage law, which states that the sum of voltages around a closed loop is zero, and (2) the Kirchhoff current law, which states that the sum of the currents into a closed surface is zero (where often the surface is shrunk to a point, the node, where device terminals join). Figure 2 represents an electronic circuit which is the interconnection of resistors (R, RB1, RB2, RE, RL), capacitors (C), a battery voltage source (VCC), a current source (is), a bipolar transistor (T), and a switch (S). Functionally Fig. 2 represents a high-pass filter when S is open, and an oscillator when S is closed and the current source is removed. See Amplifier, Capacitor, Current sources and mirrors, Diode, Inductor, Kirchhoff's  laws of electric circuits, Logic circuits; Operational amplifier, Oscillator, Transformer, Transistor

Representation of some typical electronic devicesenlarge picture
Representation of some typical electronic devices
Diagram of electronic circuitenlarge picture
Diagram of electronic circuit

The devices in an electronic circuit are classified as being either passive or active. The passive devices change signal energy, as is done dynamically by capacitors and statically by transformers, or absorb signal energy, as occurs in resistors, which also act to convert voltages to currents and vice versa. The active devices, such as batteries, transistors, operational amplifiers, and vacuum tubes, can supply signal energy to the circuit and in many cases amplify signal energy by transforming power supply energy into signal energy. Often, though, they are used for other purposes, such as to route signals in logic circuits. Transistors can be considered the workhorses of modern electronic circuits, and consequently many types of transistors have been developed, among which the most widely used are the bipolar junction transistor (BJT), the junction field-effect transistor (JFET), and the metal oxide silicon field-effect transistor (MOSFET). See Electronic power supply

Fortunately, most of these transistors occur in pairs, such as the npn and the pnp bipolar junction transistors, or the n-channel and the p-channel MOSFETs, allowing designers to work symmetrically with positive and negative signals and sources. This statement may be clarified by noting that transistors can be characterized by graphs of output current i versus output voltage v that are parametrized by an input current (in the case of the bipolar junction transistor) or input voltage (in the MOSFET and JFET cases). Typically, the curves for an npn bipolar junction transistor or an n-channel field-effect transistor are used in the first quadrant of the output i-v plane, while for a pnp bipolar junction transistor or a p-channel field-effect transistor the same curves show up in the third quadrant. Mathematically, if i = f(v) for an npn bipolar junction transistor or n-channel field-effect device, then i = -f(-v) for a pnp bipolar junction transistor or p-channel field-effect device when the controlling parameters are also changed in sign.


Transistors are basic to the operation of electronic circuits. Bipolar transistors have three terminals, designated as the base B, the collector C, and the emitter E. These terminals connect to two diode junctions, B-C and B-E, these forming back-to-back diodes. The B-E junction is often forward-biased, in which case its voltage is about 0.7 V, while the B-C junction is reverse-biased for linear operation.

Besides biasing of the junctions for linear operation, any state of the two junctions can occur. For example, both junctions might be forward-biased, in which case the transistor is said to be in saturation and acts nearly as a short circuit between E-C, while if the junctions are simultaneously back-biased the transistor is said to be cut off and acts as an open circuit between all terminals. The transistor can be controlled between saturation and cutoff to make it act as an electronically controlled switch. This mode of operation is especially useful for binary arithmetic, as used by almost all digital computers, where 0 and 1 logic levels are represented by the saturation and cutoff transistor states.

MOSFETs have three regions of operation: cutoff, saturated, and resistive. The MOSFET also has three terminals, the gate G, the drain D, and the source S. A key parameter characterizing the MOSFET is a threshold voltage Vth. When the G-S voltage is below the threshold voltage, no drain current flows and the transistor is cut off.

The MOSFET is a versatile device, acting as a voltage-controlled current source in the saturation region and approximately as a voltage-controlled resistor in the resistive region. It can also be electronically controlled between cutoff and the resistive region to make it act as a switch, while for small signals around an operating point in the saturation region it acts as a linear amplifier. Another feature of the MOSFET is that, besides the categories of n-channel and p-channel devices, there are also enhancement- and depletion-mode devices of each category. In practice, for electronic circuit considerations, an n-channel device has Vth > 0 for enhancement-mode devices and Vth < 0 for depletion-mode devices, while the signs are reversed for p-channel devices.

Biasing of circuits

Since active devices usually supply signal energy to an electronic circuit, and since energy can only be transformed and not created, a source of energy is needed when active devices are present. This energy is usually obtained from batteries or through rectification of sinusoidal voltages supplied by power companies. When inserted into an electronic circuit, such a source of energy fixes the quiescent operation of the circuit; that is, it allows the circuit to be biased to a given operating point with no signal applied, so that when a signal is present it will be processed properly. To be useful, an electronic circuit produces one or more outputs; often inputs are applied to produce the outputs. These inputs and outputs are called the signals and, consequently, generally differ from the bias quantities, though often it is hard to separate signal and bias variables. Biasing of electronic circuits is an important, non- trivial, and often overlooked aspect of their operation. See Bias (electronics)

Analog versus digital circuits

Electronic circuits are also classified as analog or digital. Analog circuits work with signals that span a full range of values of voltages and currents, while digital circuits work with signals that are at prescribed levels to represent numerical digits. Analog signals generally are used for continuous-time processes, while digital ones most frequently occur where transistions are synchronized via a clock. However, there are situations where it is desirable to transfer between these two classes of signals, that is, where analog signals are needed to excite a digital circuit or where a digital signal is needed to excite an analog circuit. For example, it may be desired to feed a biomedically recorded signal, such as an electrocardiogram into a digital computer, or it may be desired to feed a digital computer output into an analog circuit, such as a temperature controller. For such cases, there are special electronic circuits, called analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. See Analog-to-digital converter


An important concept in electronic circuits is that of feedback. Feedback occurs when an output signal is fed around a device to contribute to the input of the device. Consequently, when positive feedback occurs, that is, when the output signal returns to reinforce itself upon being fed back, it can lead to the generation of signals which may or may not be wanted. Circuit designers need to be conscious of all possible feedback paths that are present in their circuits so that they can ensure that unwanted oscillations do not occur. In the case of negative feedback, that is, when the output signal returns to weaken itself, then a number of improvements in circuit performance often ensue; for example, the circuit can be made less sensitive to changes in the environment or element variations, and deleterious nonlinear effects can be minimized. See Control systems, Feedback circuit

Digital circuits

The digital computer is based on digital electronic circuits. Although some of the circuits are quite sophisticated, such as the microprocessors integrated on a single chip, the concepts behind most of the circuits involved in digital computers are quite simple compared to the circuits used for analog signal processing. The most basic circuit is the inverter; a simple realization based upon the MOS transistor is shown in Fig. 3a. The upper (depletion-mode) transistor acts as a load “resistor” for the lower (enhancement-mode) transistor, which acts as a switch, turning on (into its resistive region) when the voltage at point A is above threshold to lower the voltage at point B. Adding the output currents of several of these together into the same load resistor gives a NOR gate, a two-input version of which is shown in Fig. 3b; that is, the output is high, with voltage at VDD, if and only if the two inputs are low. Placing the drains of several of the enhancement-mode switches in series yields the NAND gate, a two-input version of which is shown in Fig. 3c; that is, the output is low if and only if both inputs are high. From the circuits of Fig. 3, the most commonly used digital logic circuits can be constructed. Because these circuits are so simple, digital circuits and digital computers are usually designed on the basis of negation logic, that is, with NOR and NAND rather than OR and AND circuits. See Digital computer, Integrated circuits

Digital logic gates and their symbolsenlarge picture
Digital logic gates and their symbols


Because most signals in the real world are analog but digital computers work on discretizations, it is necessary to convert between digital and analog signals. As mentioned above, this is done through digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters. Most approaches to digital-to-analog conversion use summers, where the voltages representing the digital bits are applied to input resistors, either directly or indirectly through switches gated on by the digital bits which change the input resistance fed by a dc source.

One means of doing analog-to-digital conversion is to use a clocked counter that feeds a digital-to-analog converter, whose output is compared with the analog signal to stop the count when the digital-to-analog output exceeds the analog signal. The counter output is then the analog-to-digital output. The comparator for such an analog-to-digital converter is similar to an open-loop operational amplifier (which changes saturation level when one of the differential input levels crosses the other). Other types of analog-to-digital converters, called flash converters, can do the conversion in a shorter time by use of parallel operations, but they are more expensive.

Other circuits

The field of electronic circuits is very broad and there are a very large number of other circuits besides those discussed above. For example, the differential is a key element in operational amplifier design and in biomedical data acquisition devices which must also be interfaced with specialized electronic sensors. Light-emitting and -detecting diodes allow for signals to be transmitted and received at optical frequencies. Liquid crystals are controlled by electronic circuits and are useful in digital watches, flat-panel color television displays, and electronic shutters. See Biomedical engineering, Light-emitting diode, Optical detectors, Transducer


Because some circuits can be very complicated, and since even the simplest circuits may have complicated behavior, the area of computer-aided design (CAD) of electronic circuits has been extensively developed. A number of circuit simulation programs are available, some of which can be run on personal computers with good results. These programs rely heavily upon good mathematical models of the electronic devices. Fortunately, the area of modeling of electronic devices is well developed, and for many devices there are models that are adequate for most purposes. But new devices are constantly being conceived and fabricated, and in some cases no adequate models for them exist. Thus, many of the commerical programs allow the designer to read in experimentally obtained data for a device from which curve fitting techniques are used to allow an engineer to proceed with the design of circuits incorporating the device. Reproducibility and acceptability of parts with tolerances are required for the commerical use of electronic circuits. Consequently, theories of the reliability of electronic circuits have been developed, and most of the computer-aided design programs allow the designer to specify component tolerances to check out designs over wide ranges of values of the elements. Finally, when electronic circuits are manufactured they can be automatically tested with computer-controlled test equipment. Indeed, an area that will be of increasing importance is design for testability, in which decisions on what to test are made by a computer using knowledge-based routines, including expert systems. Such tests can be carried out automatically with computer-controlled data-acquisition and display systems. See Circuit (electricity), Computer-aided design and manufacturing, Expert systems, Reliability, availability, and maintainability, Robotics


1. A continuous electrical path, or a system of conductors, through which an electric current is intended to flow.
2. An assembly of pipes and fittings, forming part of a hot-water system, through which water circulates.


A communications path in a circuit switching network.


A complete path through which an electric current can flow.

The term is used loosely for any device or subsystem using electrical or electronic components. E.g. "That lightning bolt fried the circuits in my GPS receiver". An integrated circuit (IC) contains components built on a Silicon die.


(1) A set of electronic components that perform a particular function in an electronic system. See hardware circuit.

(2) See communications channel.
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