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What is a Breadboard? - Basics & Layout

Instructor: John O'Hair

John taught engineering for 11 years. He's developed 22 course and taught over 3500 hours to graduate and undergraduate students. Degrees: Ph.D., MSEE, BSEE, MBA

When you are designing and building a circuit, there comes a time when you have to actually build the circuit. Rather than running to a manufacturer (expensive!), we first build breadboard versions of our circuits to test them.

Prototyping Circuits ... Inexpensively!

There comes a time in the circuit design process when you just have to build the circuit and see if it works. At this point, you've defined your circuit requirements (what it's supposed to do), and you've calculated what components you need to make it work. You may have even run a computer simulation to see how well your design should work, but until you build a working real-world version, you don't know that it will really work. It's time to build a prototype, and that's where breadboards come into the process. Breadboards are used throughout the world as part of the design process in companies' labs, universities, and at home by hobbyists.

Plug-in Boards

Breadboards come in two basic categories. The first is often called a plug-in board, or solderless breadboard.

An empty plug-in board
Empty Plug-in Board

It has the advantage of requiring the least amount of tooling, a set of wire strippers is all you need, and it can be reused for multiple projects or variations of the circuit you are currently trying to make. The name comes from the fact you just plug-in your components in to it. You connect the components using wires that you cut to length, strip the ends, and insert into one of the extra plugs that are connected to your component. This process of connecting the components or wiring the board is called jumping and the wires themselves are called jumpers.

A plug-in board with a working circuit installed...just add power
Full Plug-in Board

In this plug-in board, each pin of the component can have as many as four connections to it. Each row of five plugs are wired together underneath the surface. There is a small pressure connector in each hole; so, as you insert your component or wire in to each hole it is clamped gently into place. The connection is generally solid, but over time and with reuse the clamping action gets worn. As a result, the electrical connections get, well, wonky (and yes, that's the technical term for flaky, unpredictable, hit-or-miss, irritating...you get the idea). This is especially true if the boards operate in a heavy vibration environment.

Solder Boards

The fix for that is to not use plug-in boards. If you're confident enough in your design to spend five to ten dollars (sometimes more), you can buy a one-time-use breadboard, which is sometimes called a solder board or solderable board. Instead of plugs, these boards have holes through which you insert the pins of your components that you then solder into place.

Some boards are designed like the plug-in boards and have connections between each hole in a row. There are others that don't interconnect the holes for you, but we'll focus on the ones that do here.

An empty 63 row solder board
Empty medium solder board

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