BJT wired as a switch

Bipolar Junction Transistor circuits are wired to only power a load when the appropriate signal (some voltage and a very small amount of current) is applied.

Introduction to NPN BJT switch circuit:

NPN bipolar junction transistor BJT switch circuit introduction schematic diagram by electronzap
NPN bipolar junction transistor BJT switch circuit introduction schematic diagram by electronzap
NPN bipolar junction transistor BJT switch circuit pictorial and schematic diagram by electronzap
NPN bipolar junction transistor BJT switch circuit pictorial and schematic diagram by electronzap

NPN BJTs are placed on the low side of the load due to how current flows through them. PNP BJTs on the other hand are placed on the high side of the load due to how current flows through them. PNP current flows in the opposite direction of NPN BJT current.

Low side NPN BJT switch versus high side PNP BJT switch using bipolar junction transistors schematic diagrams by electronzap
Low side NPN BJT switch versus high side PNP BJT switch using bipolar junction transistors schematic diagrams by electronzap

Low side means that the transistor is closer to ground/negative supply in relation to the load. High side means that the transistor is closer to the Vcc/positive supply than the load.


Nice assortments of semiconductors that I use in my videos. Includes 2N3904 NPN BJTs and 2N3906 PNP BJTs. Amazon affiliate link ad.

BJT switch circuit properties:

NPN BJTs are studied before PNP BJTs for a number of reasons. I will be adding a PNP video and diagram later. The following rules apply to either type of transistor, just keep in mine that PNP current flows in opposite directions.

  • Load is connected to Collector. It is in series with the Collector and Emitter as far as the current flowing through them is concerned.
  • The load sets/limits the current through C-E current in a BJT switch circuit when the transistor is on. When the transistor is off, it cuts off current flow to the load.
  • Emitter is connected directly to  the proper power supply polarity. Negative/oV/ground for NPN BJTs. Positive/Vcc for PNP BJTs.
  • The load is connected between the collector and the other supply voltage. So, it connects to Positive/Vcc for NPN BJTs, whereas PNP BJTs connect to the Negative/0V/ground supply.
  • Maximum current through NPN BJT Collector if it has a gain aka beta of 10 or 100 illustrative diagram by electronzap
    Maximum current through NPN BJT Collector if it has a gain aka beta of 10 or 100 illustrative diagram by electronzap

    If there is no base current, then there will be. Therefore there will be no current through the load.

  •  A small amount of current from B-E (cutoff transistor), allows many times (gain) of current to flow from C-E.
  • If C-E is allowed to pass more current then the load. Then the load will be fully on (saturated transistor), and will limit the current based on it’s electrical properties (resistance and/or voltage drop).
  • If there is not enough Base current to get the Collector to Emitter to pass as much current as the load needs to conduct fully, then the transistor is in the active region. The transistor C-E limits current flow in that state, and should be avoided when you want a “switch” circuit. Always make sure to apply enough B-E current to ensure that there is enough C-E current depending on the worst case scenario gain of the BJT you are using.

Always remember that each BJT has a variable gain depending on the voltages across it, and the currents going through it. You just want to make sure that the one you use has more gain than you need.

PNP BJT circuit:

PNP bipolar junction transistor BJT switch pictorial and schematic diagram by electronzap
PNP bipolar junction transistor BJT switch pictorial and schematic diagram by electronzap

PNP Bipolar junction transistor switches work the same way as NPN (which is usually learned first), but polarities are opposite. Current of PNP BJTs flows in opposite direction of NPN BJTs, and the transistor is placed closer to the opposite supply voltage in relationship to the load, as an NPN.

PNP Bipolar Junction Transistor BJT switch schematic diagram for learning electronics lesson 0013 by electronzap
PNP Bipolar Junction Transistor BJT switch schematic diagram for learning electronics lesson 0013 by electronzap

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  • Information on this site is not guaranteed to be accurate. Always consult the manufacturer info/datasheet of parts you use. Research the proper safety precautions for everything you do.
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