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Difference between Active and Passive Components (in Electronics)


Electronic circuits are made up of various components that can be broadly classified into two categories – active components and passive components. The key difference between these two types of components is that active components require an external source of power or energy for their operation while passive components do not require any external power source. Understanding the differences between active and passive components is crucial in circuit design and analysis.

Some of the major differences between active and passive components are:

Active Components

  • Require external power source for operation
  • Can amplify current, voltage and power
  • Can control flow of electrons
  • Examples: Transistors, Integrated Circuits, Vacuum Tubes, OPAMPs

Passive Components

  • Do not require external power source
  • Cannot amplify or control current flow
  • Examples: Resistors, Capacitors, Inductors, Transformers

This article provides a detailed overview of active and passive components, their working, characteristics and applications in electronic circuits.

Active Components

Active components require an external source of energy for their operation and are capable of controlling the flow of electrons. They can amplify voltage, current and power. Let’s look at some common types of active components:


Transistors are three terminal semiconductor devices that can be used for amplifying or switching electrical signals and power. They work on the principle of modulating current or voltage between the terminals by changing the resistance offered between the terminals.

Some common types of transistors are:

  • Bipolar Junction Transistor (BJT)
  • Field Effect Transistor (FET)
  • Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT)

Transistors are used in amplifiers, oscillators, switches, regulators etc. due to their ability to amplify weak electrical signals.

Integrated Circuits

Integrated circuits (ICs) are complex semiconductor devices that consist of thousands of transistors, resistors, capacitors fabricated on a single chip. Based on their applications, ICs can be analog ICs (linear ICs) used for amplification and waveform generation applications or digital ICs used in digital computers, microprocessors and other computing devices.

Examples of common ICs:

ICs are the core components used in all modern electronics due to their small size, low cost and high performance.

Vacuum Tubes

Vacuum tubes, also called valves, are voltage amplifying devices that consist of two metallic electrodes enclosed in a vacuum sealed glass envelope. Based on number of electrodes, vacuum tubes may be diodes (2 electrodes), triodes (3 electrodes), tetrode (4 electrodes) etc.

Vacuum tubes were extensively used in early radios and audio amplifiers but have been replaced by transistors in most modern electronics. However, they are still used in some specialized high power audio amplifiers.


Operational amplifiers (op-amps) are versatile ICs that use negative feedback to provide precise amplification of voltages and signals. Op-amps have extremely high open loop voltage gain that is controlled by negative feedback.

Op-amps are used extensively in amplifiers, filters, oscillators, comparators, integrators and other analog circuits. The most common op-amp IC is the 741 IC.

Passive Components

active and passive components

Passive components do not require any external energy source for operation. They are incapable of amplifying or controlling current flow. Let’s look at some common passive components:


Resistors are components that resist the flow of electric current. They are made of materials like carbon, metal oxides and wires. Resistors are used to limit current, divide voltages, bias active components and terminate transmission lines.

Some common types of resistors:

  • Carbon composition resistors
  • Wire wound resistors
  • Metal oxide resistors
  • Variable resistors like potentiometers

Resistor values are commonly available from 1 ohm to 22 megohms.


Capacitors are devices that store electric charge and consist of two conductors separated by an insulator or dielectric material. Based on dielectric used, capacitors are classified as ceramic, electrolytic, polyester etc.

Capacitors are used for blocking DC signals, coupling AC signals, filtering, timing and tuning applications. Typical capacitance values range from 1 pF to 1 F.


Inductors are coils of wire that introduce inductance and oppose changes in current by inducing a back EMF in the circuit. Inductors are used in filters, oscillators, circuits dealing with radio signals to restrict high frequency signals.

Common types are air core inductors, ferrite core inductors, toroidal core inductors, variable inductors etc. Typical inductor values range from 1 uH to 100 mH.


Transformers consist of two electrically isolated coils wound on a ferrite core. They work on the principle of mutual inductance and are used to step-up or step-down AC voltages. Transformers need AC supply and cannot work with DC.

Transformers have no moving parts and are highly efficient. They provide isolation and voltage conversion in a single unit.

Summary of Differences

ParameterActive ComponentsPassive Components
External power sourceRequiredNot required
Amplification abilityCan amplify signalsCannot amplify
Control of currentCan control flow of currentCannot control current
Common examplesTransistors, ICs, Opamps, Vacuum tubesResistors, Capacitors, Inductors, Transformers

Applications of Active and Passive Components

Active and passive components are used extensively in various electronic systems and circuits. Here are some of their major applications:

  • Amplifiers – Use transistors and opamps (active components) along with resistors and capacitors (passive components)
  • Oscillators – Use transistors or opamps along with RLC components
  • Power supplies – Use transformer, rectifier diodes, filter capacitors and voltage regulator ICs
  • Tuned circuits – Use capacitors and inductors along with active components
  • Digital logic – Use transistors and diodes along with resistors in logic gates and sequential logic circuits
  • Switching circuits – Use transistors as switches to control power flow
  • Wave shaping – RC and RL circuits shape waveforms
  • Wireless transmission – Use inductors, capacitors along with active components in RF transmitters/receivers

So in most electronic systems, active components provide amplification while passive components help in filtering, impedance matching, voltage scaling and wave shaping functions.

Difference between Active and Passive Components – Table

ParameterActive ComponentsPassive Components
External Energy SourceRequiredNot required
AmplificationCan amplify voltage, current and powerNo amplification capability
Control of CurrentCan control electron flowCannot control current flow
Power Handling CapacityLow power handling capacityHigh power handling capacity
CostGenerally costlyCheap and inexpensive
SizeSmaller in sizeTend to be larger in size
Examples Transistors, Integrated Circuits,Vacuum Tubes,Opamps Resistors,Capacitors,Inductors,Transformers
ApplicationsUsed for amplification, oscillation, switching, control purposesUsed for filtering circuits, wave shaping, impedance matching, voltage scaling

Difference between Active and Passive Components – FQA

components manufacturers

Q1. What is the key difference between active and passive components?

A1. The key difference is that active components require an external source of power for their operation while passive components do not require any external power source. Active components can amplify signals while passive components cannot.

Q2. Give some examples of active components.

A2. Examples of active components include transistors (BJT, FET etc.), integrated circuits (Opamps, voltage regulators), vacuum tubes (diodes, triodes etc.), silicon controlled rectifiers (SCRs), optical sensors, etc.

Q3. Give some examples of passive components.

A3. Examples of passive components include resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, fuses, wires, cables, connectors, relays, sensors, switches, potentiometers, etc.

Q4. Why are active components generally more expensive than passive components?

A4. Active components are more expensive due to their complex internal structure and fabrication. They require clean room facilities and advanced semiconductor manufacturing processes. Passive components can be mass produced cheaply using simpler fabrication techniques.

Q5. What are the advantages of integrated circuits over discrete components?

A5. The key advantages of ICs over discrete components are – very small size, low cost due to batch processing, high performance, high reliability, low power consumption, improved temperature stability. Discrete components also have higher parasitic effects compared to ICs.


To summarize, the major difference between active and passive components lies in their power requirements. While active components need external power to operate, passive components don’t require any power. Active components are used to amplify and control the flow of current and signals. Passive components are incapable of amplification but are used for filtering, storing energy and limiting current. Both active and passive play crucial roles in electronic systems and circuit design. Understanding their characteristics aids in selecting the right components for specific applications during circuit design and analysis.

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