transistor basics

Transistor Tutorial Summary

We can summarise this transistors tutorial section as follows:

bipolar junction transistor tutorial

  • The Bipolar Junction Transistor (BJT) is a three layer device constructed form two semiconductor diode junctions joined together, one forward biased and one reverse biased.
  • There are two main types of bipolar junction transistors, (BJT) the NPN and the PNP transistor.
  • Bipolar junction transistors are “Current Operated Devices” where a much smaller Base current causes a larger Emitter to Collector current, which themselves are nearly equal, to flow.
  • The arrow in a transistor symbol represents conventional current flow.
  • The most common transistor connection is the Common Emitter (CE) configuration but Common Base (CB) and Common Collector (CC) are also available.
  • Requires a Biasing voltage for AC amplifier operation.
  • The Base-Emitter junction is always forward biased whereas the Collector-Base junction is always reverse biased.
  • The standard equation for currents flowing in a transistor is given as:  IE = IB + IC
  • The Collector or output characteristics curves can be used to find either Ib, Ic or β to which a load line can be constructed to determine a suitable operating point, Q with variations in base current determining the operating range.
  • A transistor can also be used as an electronic switch between its saturation and cut-off regions to control devices such as lamps, motors and solenoids etc.
  • Inductive loads such as DC motors, relays and solenoids require a reverse biased “Flywheel” diode placed across the load. This helps prevent any induced back emf’s generated when the load is switched “OFF” from damaging the transistor.
  • The NPN transistor requires the Base to be more positive than the Emitter while the PNP type requires that the Emitter is more positive than the Base.

Related Products: Diodes, Transistors and Thyristors | Darlington BJT | Digital BJT | GP BJT | RF BJT

Field Effect Transistor Tutorial

  • Field Effect Transistors, or FET’s are “Voltage Operated Devices” and can be divided into two main types: Junction-gate devices called JFET’s and Insulated-gate devices called IGFET´s or more commonly known as MOSFETs.
  • Insulated-gate devices can also be sub-divided into Enhancement types and Depletion types. All forms are available in both N-channel and P-channel versions.
  • FET’s have very high input resistances so very little or no current (MOSFET types) flows into the input terminal making them ideal for use as electronic switches.
  • The input impedance of the MOSFET is even higher than that of the JFET due to the insulating oxide layer and therefore static electricity can easily damage MOSFET devices so care needs to be taken when handling them.
  • When no voltage is applied to the gate of an enhancement FET the transistor is in the “OFF” state similar to an “open switch”.
  • The depletion FET is inherently conductive and in the “ON” state when no voltage is applied to the gate similar to a “closed switch”.
  • FET’s have much higher current gains compared to bipolar junction transistors.
  • The most common FET connection is the Common Source (CS) configuration but Common Gate (CG) and Common Drain (CD) configurations are also available.
  • MOSFETS can be used as ideal switches due to their very high channel “OFF” resistance, low “ON” resistance.
  • To turn the N-channel JFET transistor “OFF”, a negative voltage must be applied to the gate.
  • To turn the P-channel JFET transistor “OFF”, a positive voltage must be applied to the gate.
  • N-channel depletion MOSFETs are in the “OFF” state when a negative voltage is applied to the gate to create the depletion region.
  • P-channel depletion MOSFETs, are in the “OFF” state when a positive voltage is applied to the gate to create the depletion region.
  • N-channel enhancement MOSFETs are in the “ON” state when a “+ve” (positive) voltage is applied to the gate.
  • P-channel enhancement MOSFETs are in the “ON” state when “-ve” (negative) voltage is applied to the gate.

The Field Effect Transistor Chart

field effect transistor chart

Biasing of the Gate for both the junction field effect transistor, (JFET) and the metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor, (MOSFET) configurations are given as:

Type Junction FET Metal Oxide Semiconductor FET
Depletion Mode Depletion Mode Enhancement Mode
N-channel 0v -ve 0v -ve +ve 0v
P-channel 0v +ve 0v +ve -ve 0v

Differences between a FET and a Bipolar Transistor

Field Effect Transistors can be used to replace normal Bipolar Junction Transistors in electronic circuits and a simple comparison between FET’s and Transistors stating both their advantages and their disadvantages is given below.

Field Effect Transistor (FET) Bipolar Junction Transistor (BJT)
1 Low voltage gain High voltage gain
2 High current gain Low current gain
3 Very high input impedance Low input impedance
4 High output impedance Low output impedance
5 Low noise generation Medium noise generation
6 Fast switching time Medium switching time
7 Easily damaged by static Robust
8 Some require an input to turn it “OFF” Requires zero input to turn it “OFF”
9 Voltage controlled device Current controlled device
10 Exhibits the properties of a Resistor
11 More expensive than bipolar Cheap
12 Difficult to bias Easy to bias

Below is a list of complementary bipolar transistors which can be used for the general–purpose switching of low-current relays, driving LED’s and lamps, and for amplifier and oscillator applications.

Complementary NPN and PNP Transistors

BC547 BC557 45v 100mA 600mW
BC447 BC448 80v 300mA 625mW
2N3904 2N3906 40v 200mA 625mW
2N2222 2N2907 30v 800mA 800mW
BC140 BC160 40v 1.0A 800mW
TIP29 TIP30 100v 1.0A 3W
BD137 BD138 60v 1.5A 1.25W
TIP3055 TIP2955 60v 15A 90W


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  • A

    Good explanation. It is more practical if you put some simple switch circuits & amp. circuits with the summary. Thank you for the effort to put the world empowered by electronics. SURENDRA.

  • Nathan Battan

    Great summary – thank you! Your third bullet says “Transistors are ‘Current Operated Devices'”. Taken out of context this could mislead beginners to believe it’s true for all transistors, including FETs. Could you please edit to clarify that this statement applies specifically to bipolar transistors?

  • D

    it would be nice if you include some sample calculations especially in identifying if a given circuit is NPN or PNP

  • J

    Great tutorial, it includes everything it needs to know!! It would be great if you include more practical design approach and calculation. BTW Great job!!

  • H
    Himesh Gupta

    Dude…. CE, CB and CC configurations are used in BJT. and you can not put high voltage or current gain in differences as it varies in configurations. Moreover, differences are should be on constructional n working basis rather than on characteristics.


    nice article about transistor. but u should make it more interactive by asking more questions and answer it.

  • A


  • o

    there is a “high” missing in row 3 of the table (input impedance of FET).
    nice work here, kutgw

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