A resistor is a passive two-terminal electrical component that implements electrical resistance as a circuit element. In electronic circuits, resistors are used to reduce current flow, adjust signal levels, to divide voltages, bias active elements, and terminate transmission lines, among other uses.

Read the full article by Pritish Kumar Halder to understand the concept of the common electrical networks and electronic circuit resistors.

High-power resistors that can dissipate many watts of electrical power as heat may be used as part of motor controls, in power distribution systems, or as test loads for generators. Fixed resistors have resistances that only change slightly with temperature, time or operating voltage. Variable resistors can be used to adjust circuit elements (such as a volume control or a lamp dimmer), or as sensing devices for heat, light, humidity, force, or chemical activity.

Resistors are common elements of electrical networks and electronic circuits and are ubiquitous in electronic equipment. Practical resistors as discrete components can be composed of various compounds and forms. Resistors are also implemented within integrated circuits.

Theory of operation

Ohm’s law

The behavior of an ideal resistor is described by Ohm’s law:


Ohm’s law states that the voltage V across a resistor is proportional to the current I passing through it, where the constant of proportionality is the resistance R. For example, if a 300-ohm resistor is attached across the terminals of a 12-volt battery, then a current of 12 / 300 = 0.04 amperes flows through that resistor.

The ohm (symbol: Ω) is the SI unit of electrical resistance, named after Georg Simon Ohm. An ohm is equivalent to a volt per ampere. Since resistors are specified and manufactured over a very large range of values, the derived units of milliohm (1 mΩ = 10−3 Ω), kilohm (1 kΩ = 103 Ω), and megohm (1 MΩ = 106 Ω) are also in common usage.

Series and parallel resistors

The total resistance of resistors connected in series is the sum of their individual resistance values.


The total resistance of resistors connected in parallel is the reciprocal of the sum of the reciprocals of the individual resistors.


A resistor network that is a combination of parallel and series connections can be broken up into smaller parts that are either one or the other. Some complex networks of resistors cannot be resolved in this manner, requiring more sophisticated circuit analysis. Generally, the Y-Δ transform, or matrix methods can be used to solve such problems.

Fixed resistors

Lead arrangements

Through-hole components typically have “leads” leaving the body “axially”, that is, on a line parallel with the part’s longest axis. Others have leads coming off their body “radially” instead. Other components may be SMT (surface mount technology), while high power resistors may have one of their leads designed into the heat sink.

Carbon composition

Carbon composition resistors (CCR) consist of a solid cylindrical resistive element with embedded wire leads or metal end caps to which the lead wires are attached. The body of the resistor is protected with paint or plastic. Early 20th-century carbon composition resistors had uninsulated bodies; the lead wires were wrapped around the ends of the resistance element rod and soldered. The completed resistor was painted for color-coding of its value.

Thick and thin film

Thick film resistors became popular during the 1970s, and most SMD (surface mount device) resistors today are of this type. The resistive element of thick films is 1000 times thicker than thin films,[16] but the principal difference is how the film is applied to the cylinder (axial resistors) or the surface (SMD resistors).

Variable resistors

Adjustable resistors

A resistor may have one or more fixed tapping points so that the resistance can be changed by moving the connecting wires to different terminals. Some wire wound power resistors have a tapping point that can slide along the resistance element, allowing a larger or smaller part of the resistance to be used.

Where continuous adjustment of the resistance value during operation of equipment is required, the sliding resistance tap can be connected to a knob accessible to an operator. Such a device is called a rheostat and has two terminals.


A potentiometer (colloquially, pot) is a three-terminal resistor with a continuously adjustable tapping point controlled by rotation of a shaft or knob or by a linear slider. The name potentiometer comes from its function as an adjustable voltage divider to provide a variable potential at the terminal connected to the tapping point. Volume control in an audio device is a common application of a potentiometer.