Part of the Electronics glossary:

A resistor is an electrical component that limits or regulates the flow of electrical current in an electronic circuit. Resistors can also be used to provide a specific voltage for an active device such as a transistor.

All other factors being equal, in a direct-current (DC) circuit, the current through a resistor is inversely proportional to its resistance, and directly proportional to the voltage across it. This is the well-known Ohm's Law. In alternating-current (AC) circuits, this rule also applies as long as the resistor does not contain inductance or capacitance.

Resistors can be fabricated in a variety of ways. The most common type in electronic devices and systems is the carbon-composition resistor. Fine granulated carbon (graphite) is mixed with clay and hardened. The resistance depends on the proportion of carbon to clay; the higher this ratio, the lower the resistance.

Another type of resistor is made from winding Nichrome or similar wire on an insulating form. This component, called a wirewound resistor, is able to handle higher currents than a carbon-composition resistor of the same physical size. However, because the wire is wound into a coil, the component acts as an inductors as well as exhibiting resistance. This does not affect performance in DC circuits, but can have an adverse effect in AC circuits because inductance renders the device sensitive to changes in frequency.

This was last updated in April 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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