Our Latest News

What is an Electric Circuit? – Diagram, Formulas, Uses & Examples


An electric circuit is a closed loop path through which electric current flows. It includes components that add, limit, transform, or utilize the electric energy. Circuits provide controlled power and signals for countless electrical devices and systems.

This comprehensive guide covers electric circuit fundamentals including circuit diagrams, components, formulas, types, applications, and examples across various fields such as electronics, telecommunications, industrial controls, and power systems.

What is an Electric Circuit?

An electric circuit is a conductive path through which electrons can flow. It connects a source of electrical energy like a battery to various electrical devices or loads which use this energy. Wires, cables, PCB traces, and other conductors provide the connections between components.

Simple Electric Circuit

The key aspects of an electric circuit are:

  • Closed loop conductive path from source to load and back
  • Ability to control, transform or utilize electrical energy
  • Components such as sources, switches, loads, and protection
  • Conductive interconnections or wires between elements
  • Continuous flow of electrons when circuit is complete

Circuits enable the safe, regulated flow of electricity to perform useful functions across a massive range of applications.

Electric Circuit Symbols

Standardized symbols are used to draw circuit diagrams that model the components and interconnections in an electric circuit. These symbols improve understanding and communication.

Common Circuit Symbols

Some of the most common electrical symbols include:

  • Battery – Voltage source
  • Ground – Common reference point
  • Wires – Conductive connections
  • Resistor – Resists current flow
  • Capacitor – Stores electric charge
  • Inductor – Stores energy in magnetic field
  • Diode – Allows one-way current flow
  • LED – Light emitting diode
  • Transistor – Electronic switch
  • Integrated circuit – Multi-component chip

Standardized symbols provide intuitive visual representations of real-world circuit components.

Basic Circuit Diagram

A circuit diagram visually represents the components and interconnects in an electric circuit using standardized symbols. Diagrams enable analysis, communication and testing.

Example Circuit Diagram

Key elements of circuit diagrams include:

  • Symbols represent real-world components
  • Lines show conductive connections
  • Power sources such as batteries
  • Passive components like resistors, capacitors and inductors
  • Active components such as transistors and ICs
  • Input and output interfaces
  • Labels provide reference designations
  • May include dimensions, values and ratings

Circuit diagrams provide an intuitive way to visualize circuit topologies and functions. Simulators can analyze them.

Electric Current

Current is the flow of electric charge carriers through a conductor or circuit. It is driven by an electromotive force such as a battery or generator. Current is measured in Amperes.

Current Flow in Metals

In conductors like copper, current flow comprises free electrons moving through the metal lattice:

  • Voltage causes electrons to move
  • Electrons scatter but overall motion is directional
  • Rate of flow depends on conductivity

Current Flow in a Wire

Current Flow in Semiconductors

In semiconductors like silicon, current flows via electrons and electron deficiencies called “holes” in the crystal lattice:

  • Doping adds free electrons or holes
  • Applied voltage causes directional flow
  • Much lower conductivity than metals

Controlling this flow enables transistor switches and integrated circuits.

Direct and Alternating Current

There are two main types of current flow:

  • Direct current (DC) – Continuous flow in one direction
  • Alternating current (AC) – Direction cycles between positive and negative

DC comes from sources like batteries while AC comes from generators and power grids. Each enables different applications.


Voltage is the difference in electric potential energy between two points in a circuit. Voltage drives the flow of current when a circuit is complete. Measured in Volts.

Creating a Voltage

There are two main ways to produce a voltage:

  • Chemical reaction – Chemical reactions in batteries produce a potential difference between terminals. Portable, but eventually depletes chemicals.
  • Electromagnetic induction – Changes in magnetic fields induce a voltage. Used in generators to transform mechanical energy into voltage.

Voltage Polarity

Voltage has positive and negative polarity indicating direction:

  • Positive – Higher potential
  • Negative – Lower potential

Current flows from positive to negative through a load.

AC and DC Voltages

Voltages can be DC or AC:

  • DC voltage – Constant polarity over time
  • AC voltage – Alternates between positive and negative sine waves

DC comes from steady sources like batteries while AC comes from rotating generators.

Voltage and current together determine circuit behavior and how energy is conveyed and utilized.

Series and Parallel Circuits

Resistors in Series and Parallel

There are two fundamental ways components are interconnected to form circuits: series and parallel configurations.

Series Circuits

In a series circuit, current passes through each component sequentially in a single loop:

Series Circuit

Characteristics of series circuits:

  • Single path so current is constant everywhere
  • Voltage divides across each component
  • Total resistance is the sum of all individual resistances
  • Faults can disable the entire circuit

Series configurations are simple but lack redundancy. Used for voltage dividers and filtering.

Parallel Circuits

In parallel circuits, components branch out from the source into multiple paths:

Parallel Circuit

Attributes of parallel circuits include:

  • Multiple branch paths for current to flow
  • Total current is the sum of currents in each branch
  • Voltage is constant across all components
  • Total resistance decreases as more parallel paths are added
  • Provides redundancy; a fault disables only one branch

Parallel is complex but provides robustness and capacity scaling. Both configurations are widely used.

How to Read Circuit Diagrams

Some tips for reading and understanding circuit diagrams:

  • Recognize standard vs. custom component symbols
  • Follow current flow direction using source and ground points
  • Identify series and parallel branches
  • Note voltage polarities across components
  • Distinguish inputs, outputs and bidirectional lines
  • Associate symbols with real-world components
  • Check for values, labels and designators
  • Follow signal and power flows through circuit
  • Imagine electrons moving when circuit is energized

Practice tracing current flows and visualizing voltages for intuitive understanding.

Essential Circuit Laws

Key mathematical laws govern electric circuit behaviors and help calculate voltage, current and power parameters:

Ohm’s Law

Relates current, voltage and resistance:

V = I x R

Where V is voltage, I is current, and R is resistance. Allows calculating one value when the other two are known.

Kirchhoff’s Voltage Law (KVL)

Sum of voltages in a closed loop is zero:

V1 + V2 + V3 ... = 0

The supply voltage is equal to the total voltage drops in the loop.

Kirchhoff’s Current Law (KCL)

Sum of currents into a node equals sum of currents out:

I1 = I2 + I3

Conserves current flow at junction points in a circuit. Charge cannot build up.

Power Law

Power equals voltage multiplied by current:

P = V x I

Where P is power in Watts, V is voltage, and I is current. Determines electrical power consumption.

These fundamental laws enable analyzing, designing and predicting circuit behaviors.

Common Circuit Components

Components perform key functions within circuits such as regulating voltage and current flow, storing energy, generating signals, modulating electricity, and more:


Resistors limit and control current flow. Common types include:

  • Fixed value resistors
  • Variable resistors like potentiometers
  • Resistor networks and arrays
  • Thermistors with resistance varying by temperature

Various Resistor Types


Capacitors store electrical charge and energy. Types include:

  • Ceramic disc capacitors
  • Electrolytic capacitors
  • Variable capacitors
  • Super capacitors

Common Capacitors


Inductors use magnetic fields to store energy. Common types:

  • Air core inductors
  • Ferrite core inductors
  • Variable inductors
  • Common mode chokes

Inductor Examples


Transistors control current flow to enable switching and amplification. Types include:

  • Bipolar junction transistors (BJT)
  • Field effect transistors (FET)
  • Insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT)

Various Transistors

Integrated Circuits

Artis 7 FPGA distributor
Artis 7 FPGA distributor

Integrated circuits contain multiple interconnected components like transistors, diodes, resistors and capacitors on a tiny silicon die:

  • Analog ICs – Amplifiers, filters, comparators, audio
  • Digital ICs – Logic gates, microcontrollers, memory
  • Mixed signal ICs – Data converters, SoCs

Assorted Integrated Circuits

These and other components enable the wide range of circuit functions needed in electronics.

Types of Circuits

There are many types of electric circuits specialized for particular applications:

Analog Circuits

Process continuously variable analog signals using components like transistors, op amps, diodes, resistors and capacitors:

  • Amplifiers
  • Filters
  • Oscillators
  • Analog control loops

Enable processing of audio, video, measurement signals and more.

Digital Circuits

Represent signals digitally using discrete voltage levels and perform logical operations using gates:

  • Combinational logic
  • Sequential logic
  • Microcontrollers
  • Microprocessors
  • ASICs and FPGAs

Enables sophisticated signal processing, computing and memory.

Power Circuits

Control and distribute electrical power:

  • Switch mode power supplies
  • Inverters
  • Battery chargers
  • Voltage regulators
  • Motor drivers

Provide regulated, isolated and converted power for electronics.

Radio Frequency (RF) Circuits

Generate and process high frequency radio waves:

  • Oscillators and synthesizers
  • Mixers
  • Amplifiers
  • Modulators
  • RFID

Enable wireless communication, radar, and other applications.

Specialized circuits provide tailored solutions across the realm of electrical engineering.

Printed Circuit Boards

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) house interconnected circuits and components:

Populated Printed Circuit Board

Key attributes of PCBs:

  • Laminated non-conductive substrate
  • Etched copper traces interconnect components
  • Pads and holes for soldered component leads
  • Multilayer boards sandwich traces inside
  • Components mounted on surface (SMT) or through holes
  • Protective solder mask layer
  • Integrated circuits soldered directly
  • High density wiring enables miniaturization

PCBs provide the foundation to assemble complex reliable circuits in compact packages.

Circuit Analysis

Analyzing circuits involves:

  • Creating circuit diagrams
  • Identifying known values
  • Labeling voltages, currents and power
  • Determining passive component values from codes
  • Applying Ohm’s law and Kirchhoff’s laws
  • Developing equations describing behavior
  • Calculating unknown variables
  • Validating against expected performance

Thorough analysis predicts circuit behaviors and ensures proper operation before ever powering up.

Circuit Simulation

Circuit simulation programs like SPICE model the behavior of circuits virtually:

Circuit Simulation Software

Benefits of simulation:

  • Simulates circuits before prototyping
  • Performs complex analysis
  • Models non-ideal component effects
  • Determines theoretical limits and tradeoffs
  • Optimizes designs faster and cheaper
  • Verifies proper performance
  • Provides building blocks for larger systems

Simulation enables optimizing circuits and troubleshooting problems before testing physical prototypes.

Common Circuit Applications

Electric circuits enable functionality across countless electrical and electronic systems:

Consumer Electronics

Power supplies, amplifiers, microcontrollers, data converters, drivers, radio circuits, batteries, sensors, interface controls.

Industrial Controls

PLCs, drivers, contactors, relays, regulators, process controllers, instrumentation amplifiers, solenoids.

Wireless Communications

Antennas, oscillators, mixers, filters, modulators/demodulators, frequency synthesizers, power amplifiers, receivers.

Computers and Servers

Memory, microprocessors, cache, disk controllers, motherboards, interface buses, power regulation.

Automotive Electronics

Engine and stability control, infotainment, power windows/locks, active suspension, safety systems.

Electric circuits bring functionality, intelligence and control across electrical engineering.

Circuit Troubleshooting

Debugging faulty circuits involves:

  • Understanding normal operation
  • Reproducing failure conditions
  • Making observations – symptoms, readings
  • Forming failure hypotheses
  • Changing one variable at a time
  • Ruling out potential causes
  • Proceeding methodically until defect found
  • Repairing faults – blown capacitors, cold solder, etc.
  • Confirming root cause and fix restored operation

Systematic circuit troubleshooting identifies malfunctions and guides repairs.

Circuit Design Process

Designing optimized circuits involves:

  • Specifying requirements – function, environment, interfaces
  • Researching design approaches and selecting architecture
  • Sourcing components from trusted suppliers
  • Modeling and simulating candidate circuits virtually
  • Prototyping circuit on breadboard or PCB
  • Testing prototype thoroughly against requirements
  • Analyzing results to identify improvements
  • Iterating on design to enhance performance
  • Repeating integration, testing and analysis
  • Finalizing design once validated to meet specifications

Careful iterative design delivers robust, optimized electric circuits.


In summary, electric circuits provide the pathways for controlled electrical currents and voltages to power everyday devices and systems ranging from simple switches to smartphones to massive computing centers and industrial plants. Circuit analysis techniques, simulations, prototyping, and testing enable optimized designs while troubleshooting maintains reliable operation. The wide diversity of configurations, components and circuit types enables limitless functional solutions across electrical engineering. As technology progresses into areas such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, IoT edge devices, and AI acceleration, continued electric circuit innovation will provide the robust foundations underlying these advancements.



    We'd love to

    hear from you

    Highlight multiple sections with this eye-catching call to action style.

      Contact Us

      Exhibition Bay South Squre, Fuhai Bao’an Shenzhen China

      • Sales@ebics.com
      • +86.755.27389663