In electronics, a diode is a two-terminal electronic component with an asymmetric transfer characteristic, with low (ideally zero) resistance to current flow in one direction, and high (ideally infinite) resistance in the other. A semiconductor diode, the most common type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material with a p-n junction connected to two electrical terminals. A vacuum tube diode is a vacuum tube with two electrodes, a plate (anode) and heated cathode.

The most common function of a diode is to allow an electric current to pass in one direction (called the diode’s forward direction), while blocking current in the opposite direction (the reverse direction). Thus, the diode can be viewed as an electronic version of a check valve. This unidirectional behavior is called rectification, and is used to convert alternating current to direct current, including extraction of modulation from radio signals in radio receivers—these diodes are forms of rectifiers.

However, diodes can have more complicated behavior than this simple on–off action. Semiconductor diodes begin conducting electricity only if a certain threshold voltage or cut-in voltage is present in the forward direction (a state in which the diode is said to be forward-biased). The voltage drop across a forward-biased diode varies only a little with the current, and is a function of temperature; this effect can be used as a temperature sensor or voltage reference.


Vacuum tube diode or thermionic diode- a positively charged electroscope could be discharged by bringing a grounded piece of white-hot metal close to it (but not actually touching it). The same did not apply to a negatively charged electroscope, indicating that the current flow was only possible in one direction.

A point-contact diode- a block of n-type semiconductor is built, and a conducting sharp-point contact made with some group-3 metal is placed in contact with the semiconductor. Some metal migrates into the semiconductor to make a small region of p-type semiconductor near the contact.

Avalanche diodes- conduct in the reverse direction when the reverse bias voltage exceeds the breakdown voltage. These are electrically very similar to Zener diodes, and are often mistakenly called Zener diodes, but break down by a different mechanism, the avalanche effect. This occurs when the reverse electric field across the p–n junction causes a wave of ionization, reminiscent of an avalanche, leading to a large current. Avalanche diodes are designed to break down at a well-defined reverse voltage without being destroyed.

Cat’s whisker or crystal diodes- type of point-contact diode. The cat’s whisker diode consists of a thin or sharpened metal wire pressed against a semiconducting crystal, typically galena or a piece of coal. The wire forms the anode and the crystal forms the cathode. Cat’s whisker diodes were also called crystal diodes and found application in crystal radio receivers. Cat’s whisker diodes are generally obsolete, but may be available from a few manufacturers.

Constant current diodes- a JFET with the gate shorted to the source, and function like a two-terminal current-limiter analog to the Zener diode, which is limiting voltage. They allow a current through them to rise to a certain value, and then level off at a specific value. Also called CLDs, constant-current diodes, diode-connected transistors, or current-regulating diodes.

Esaki or tunnel diodes- have a region of operation showing negative resistance caused by quantum tunneling, allowing amplification of signals and very simple bistable circuits. Due to the high carrier concentration, tunnel diodes are very fast, may be used at low (mK) temperatures, high magnetic fields, and in high radiation environments. Because of these properties, they are often used in spacecraft.

Gunn diodes- are similar to tunnel diodes in that they are made of materials such as GaAs or InP that exhibit a region of negative differential resistance. With appropriate biasing, dipole domains form and travel across the diode, allowing high frequency microwave oscillators to be built.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)- In a diode formed from a direct band-gap semiconductor, such as gallium arsenide, carriers that cross the junction emit photons when they recombine with the majority carrier on the other side. Depending on the material, wavelengths (or colors) from the infrared to the near ultraviolet may be produced.] The forward potential of these diodes depends on the wavelength of the emitted photons: 2.1 V corresponds to red, 4.0 V to violet. The first LEDs were red and yellow, and higher-frequency diodes have been developed over time. All LEDs produce incoherent, narrow-spectrum light; “white” LEDs are actually combinations of three LEDs of a different color, or a blue LED with a yellow scintillator coating. LEDs can also be used as low-efficiency photodiodes in signal applications. An LED may be paired with a photodiode or phototransistor in the same package, to form an opto-isolator.

Laser diodes- Laser diodes are commonly used in optical storage devices and for high speed optical communication.

Thermal diodes- is used both for conventional p–n diodes used to monitor temperature due to their varying forward voltage with temperature, and for Peltier heat pumps for thermoelectric heating and cooling.. Peltier heat pumps may be made from semiconductor, though they do not have any rectifying junctions, they use the differing behaviour of charge carriers in N and P type semiconductor to move heat.

Photodiodes- are intended to sense light(photodetector), so they are packaged in materials that allow light to pass, and are usually PIN (the kind of diode most sensitive to light). A photodiode can be used in solar cells, in photometry, or in optical communications. Multiple photodiodes may be packaged in a single device, either as a linear array or as a two-dimensional array. These arrays should not be confused with charge-coupled devices.

PIN diodes- has a central un-doped, or intrinsic, layer, forming a p-type/intrinsic/n-type structure. They are used as radio frequency switches and attenuators. They are also used as large volume ionizing radiation detectors and as photodetectors. PIN diodes are also used in power electronics, as their central layer can withstand high voltages. Furthermore, the PIN structure can be found in many power semiconductor devices, such as IGBTs, power MOSFETs, and thyristors.

Schottky diodes- are constructed from a metal to semiconductor contact. They have a lower forward voltage drop than p–n junction diodes. Their forward voltage drop at forward currents of about 1 mA is in the range 0.15 V to 0.45 V, which makes them useful in voltage clamping applications and prevention of transistor saturation. They can also be used as low loss rectifiers, although their reverse leakage current is in general higher than that of other diodes. Schottky diodes are majority carrier devices and so do not suffer from minority carrier storage problems that slow down many other diodes—so they have a faster reverse recovery than p–n junction diodes. They also tend to have much lower junction capacitance than p–n diodes, which provides for high switching speeds and their use in high-speed circuitry and RF devices such as switched-mode power supply, mixers, and detectors.

Super barrier diodes- are rectifier diodes that incorporate the low forward voltage drop of the Schottky diode with the surge-handling capability and low reverse leakage current of a normal p–n junction diode.

Gold-doped diodes- gold (or platinum) acts as recombination centers, which helps a fast recombination of minority carriers. This allows the diode to operate at signal frequencies, at the expense of a higher forward voltage drop. Gold-doped diodes are faster than other p–n diodes (but not as fast as Schottky diodes). They also have less reverse-current leakage than Schottky diodes (but not as good as other p–n diodes). A typical example is the 1N914.

Snap-off or Step recovery diodes- a forward current has been passing in an SRD and the current is interrupted or reversed, the reverse conduction will cease very abruptly (as in a step waveform). SRDs can, therefore, provide very fast voltage transitions by the very sudden disappearance of the charge carriers.

Stabistors or Forward Reference Diodes- refers to a special type of diodes featuring extremely stable forward voltage characteristics. These devices are specially designed for low-voltage stabilization applications requiring a guaranteed voltage over a wide current range and highly stable over temperature.

Transient voltage suppression diode (TVS)- are avalanche diodes designed specifically to protect other semiconductor devices from high-voltage transients. Their p–n junctions have a much larger cross-sectional area than those of a normal diode, allowing them to conduct large currents to ground without sustaining damage.

Varicap or varactor diodes- are used as voltage-controlled capacitors. These are important in PLL (phase-locked loop) and FLL (frequency-locked loop) circuits, allowing tuning circuits, such as those in television receivers, to lock quickly. They also enabled tunable oscillators in early discrete tuning of radios, where a cheap and stable, but fixed-frequency, crystal oscillator provided the reference frequency for a voltage-controlled oscillator.

Zener diodes- can be made to conduct backward. This effect, called Zener breakdown, occurs at a precisely defined voltage, allowing the diode to be used as a precision voltage reference. In practical voltage reference circuits, Zener and switching diodes are connected in series and opposite directions to balance the temperature coefficient to near-zero. Some devices labeled as high-voltage Zener diodes are actually avalanche diodes (see above). Two (equivalent) Zeners in series and in reverse order, in the same package, constitute a transient absorber.


The first use for the diode was the demodulation of amplitude modulated (AM) radio broadcasts. An AM signal consists of alternating positive and negative peaks of a radio carrier wave, whose amplitude or envelope is proportional to the original audio signal. The diode (originally a crystal diode) rectifies the AM radio frequency signal, leaving only the positive peaks of the carrier wave. The audio is then extracted from the rectified carrier wave using a simple filter and fed into an audio amplifier or transducer, which generates sound waves.

Rectifiers are constructed from diodes, where they are used to convert alternating current (AC) electricity into direct current (DC). Automotive alternators are a common example, where the diode, which rectifies the AC into DC, provides better performance than the commutator or earlier, dynamo. Similarly, diodes are also used in Cockcroft–Walton voltage multipliers to convert AC into higher DC voltages.

Over-voltage protection- Diodes are frequently used to conduct damaging high voltages away from sensitive electronic devices. They are usually reverse-biased (non-conducting) under normal circumstances. When the voltage rises above the normal range, the diodes become forward-biased (conducting). For example, diodes are used in (stepper motor and H-bridge) motor controller and relay circuits to de-energize coils rapidly without the damaging voltage spikes that would otherwise occur. (Any diode used in such an application is called a flyback diode). Many integrated circuits also incorporate diodes on the connection pins to prevent external voltages from damaging their sensitive transistors. Specialized diodes are used to protect from over-voltages at higher power.

Logic gates

Diodes can be combined with other components to construct AND and OR logic gates. This is referred to as diode logic.
Ionizing radiation detectors.

Temperature measurements- A diode can be used as a temperature measuring device, since the forward voltage drop across the diode depends on temperature, as in a silicon bandgap temperature sensor. From the Shockley ideal diode equation given above, it might appear that the voltage has a positive temperature coefficient (at a constant current), but usually the variation of the reverse saturation current term is more significant than the variation in the thermal voltage term. Most diodes therefore have a negative temperature coefficient, typically −2 mV/˚C for silicon diodes at room temperature. This is approximately linear for temperatures above about 20 kelvins. Some graphs are given for: 1N400x series, and CY7 cryogenic temperature sensor.

Current steering- Diodes will prevent currents in unintended directions. To supply power to an electrical circuit during a power failure, the circuit can draw current from a battery. An uninterruptible power supply may use diodes in this way to ensure that current is only drawn from the battery when necessary. Likewise, small boats typically have two circuits each with their own battery/batteries: one used for engine starting; one used for domestics. Normally, both are charged from a single alternator, and a heavy-duty split-charge diode is used to prevent the higher-charge battery (typically the engine battery) from discharging through the lower-charge battery when the alternator is not running.

Diodes are also used in electronic musical keyboards. To reduce the amount of wiring needed in electronic musical keyboards, these instruments often use keyboard matrix circuits. The keyboard controller scans the rows and columns to determine which note the player has pressed. The problem with matrix circuits is that, when several notes are pressed at once, the current can flow backwards through the circuit and trigger “phantom keys” that cause “ghost” notes to play. To avoid triggering unwanted notes, most keyboard matrix circuits have diodes soldered with the switch under each key of the musical keyboard. The same principle is also used for the switch matrix in solid-state pinball machines.

Related External Links

This entry was posted in Notes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>