How Does Current Flow In The Circuit?

What is an electrical circuit?

An electrical circuit is a closed loop path through which electric current can flow. It is a complete and continuous path. For current to flow, the circuit must be complete with no gaps. A simple electrical circuit contains three main components: a power source like a battery, wires, and a load like a light bulb or a resistor. The battery provides the power or pushes the electrons through the circuit, while the wires allow current to flow through them to connect the various parts. The load then receives the power to perform work. All of these components are connected together with no breaks to form a complete loop.

A switch can be added to open or close the circuit. When the switch is off and the circuit is open, no current flows. Flipping the switch on closes the loop and allows electrons to flow from the negative terminal of the battery through the wires and load and back to the positive terminal. This closed loop system with a voltage source, conductors, and a load is the basic structure of an electrical circuit.

Current Flow Basics

Current refers to the flow of electric charge in a circuit. Electric charge flows when there is a voltage – a difference in electric potential energy. This charge flow is referred to as an electric current.

Current is measured in amperes (amps). An ampere is defined as one coulomb of charge passing a given point per second. So a 1 amp current means 1 coulomb of charge is passing by each second. The greater the current, the more charge is flowing.

Electric current can be compared to water flow in pipes. The volume of water flowing per second is analogous to current. Just as increasing the water flow increases the volume rate, increasing the current increases the rate of electric charge flow.

The amount of current depends on the voltage applied and the resistance in the circuit. Higher voltage and lower resistance results in higher current flow. Ohm’s Law shows the relationship between current, voltage and resistance.

Conventional Current Direction

When describing the direction of current flow in a circuit, conventional current is the standard model used. Conventional current assumes that current is carried by positively charged particles. This means that in conventional current, the direction of current flow is from the positive terminal of the voltage source, through the circuit, to the negative terminal of the voltage source.

For example, in a simple circuit with a battery and a resistor, conventional current flows from the positive terminal of the battery, through the resistor, and back to the negative terminal of the battery. At the atomic level, it is actually electrons that carry the electric charge in a circuit. However, for simplicity, conventional current assumes positive charge carriers. The flow is depicted as moving from areas of higher potential energy (the positive terminal) towards areas of lower potential energy (the negative terminal). This allows current direction to be shown in a consistent and intuitive way, regardless of the actual charge carriers involved.

Electron Flow

Electricity is comprised of tiny particles called electrons that carry a negative charge. Electrons are the charge carriers that enable current to flow in a circuit. Unlike conventional current, which depicts current flowing from positive to negative, electron flow is the actual motion of electrons in a circuit. Electrons flow from areas of negative charge towards areas of positive charge.

All matter is made up of atoms that contain electrons. Some materials have electrons that are tightly bound to their atoms. These are called insulators. Other materials have electrons that are loosely bound and can move freely between atoms. These are called conductors. Metals like copper are good conductors.

When a voltage source like a battery is connected in a circuit, it applies an electric field that gives electrons the energy to move. The excess electrons in the negative terminal flow through the conductors towards the positive terminal, where there is a lack of electrons. This flow of electrons from negative to positive enables electric current to occur in the circuit.

So while conventional current depicts the flow of positive charges, the actual movement of electrons is in the opposite direction – from negative to positive. Understanding electron flow theory provides deeper insight into how electricity works at the atomic level.


Resistors are components designed to resist the flow of current in a circuit. They are specifically made to provide resistance, measured in ohms, to limit and control how much current can flow through a circuit. The most basic relationship governing current and resistance is described by Ohm’s Law:

V = IR

Where V is voltage (in volts), I is current (in amps), and R is resistance (in ohms). This states that the current flowing through a resistor is equal to the voltage applied across it, divided by its resistance. For example, if there is a 5V potential difference applied across a 100 ohm resistor, the current would be:

I = V/R
I = 5V / 100 ohms
I = 0.05 Amps

So in this circuit, the resistor would allow 0.05 amps of current to flow. The higher the resistance value, the more it restricts current flow for a given voltage. Resistors are incredibly useful components for controlling voltages and currents in all kinds of electronic circuits.


Wires serve as the conductors that allow current to flow within a circuit. Good wires have very low electrical resistance so that current can pass through them easily. Copper is commonly used in wires because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. The mobile electrons within copper can move freely, allowing charges to flow through the wire with minimal collisions that lead to resistance. Other good conducting metals like aluminum and gold can also be used for wires, but copper is generally preferred due to its balance of conductivity and affordability. The lower the resistance of the wire, the more efficiently current can flow through the circuit.


Batteries are electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. They act as a source of potential difference in a circuit by creating an electric field that allows current to flow. Within a battery, chemical reactions take place that cause excess electrons to build up at the negative terminal and a shortage of electrons at the positive terminal. This separation of charge creates a potential difference measured in volts.

When the battery is connected in a closed circuit, the potential difference drives electrons to flow from the negative terminal, through the circuit, and back to the positive terminal. This electron flow is the electric current. In this way, the chemical energy stored in the battery is converted into electricity that powers the components in the circuit. The battery sustains the electric field even as current flows, allowing sustained circulation of current.


Switches are a key component in electrical circuits and serve to either open or close the circuit. When a switch is in the open position, it breaks the continuity of the circuit, preventing current from flowing. In the closed position, the switch allows current to flow uninterrupted through the circuit.

The most basic switch has two contacts that are either connected or separated. When the contacts are connected, current can flow. When the contacts are separated, the circuit is opened and current stops. This on/off function allows switches to control the flow of electricity in a circuit.

Some common types of switches include toggle switches, push-button switches, rocker switches, slide switches, and limit switches. Switches may be operated manually, like a light switch, or automatically, like a thermostat. Regardless of type, a switch enables control over a circuit and the attached electrical components.


Capacitors are electronic components that store electric charge. They consist of two conductors separated by an insulator or dielectric. When voltage is applied, electrons accumulate on one conductor while electrons are “pulled away” from the other conductor. This separation of charge creates an electric field that allows the capacitor to store energy.

The ability of a capacitor to store charge is called capacitance and it’s measured in farads. Capacitors are added to circuits whenever there is a need to store charge for some period of time. Some common applications of capacitors include:

  • Storing energy for electronic flash units
  • Smoothing out ripples in power supply circuits
  • Tuning radio frequency circuits
  • Timing circuits
  • Coupling and decoupling signals

Capacitors vary greatly in size and capacitance ratings. Smaller capacitors are used for coupling signals and filtering noise in circuits. Larger capacitors are used for storing large amounts of energy and power conditioning. In all cases, capacitors serve a valuable role in circuits by adding capacitance and the ability to store electric charge.

Real-world examples

Electrical circuits power many of the devices we use every day from simple things like flashlights and toys to complex electronics like computers, appliances, and vehicles.

A basic flashlight circuit contains a power source (batteries), a light bulb, wires connecting the components, and a switch to open or close the circuit. When the switch is closed, electrons can flow through the wires from the negative terminal of the battery to the positive terminal, powering the light bulb to emit light.

More advanced circuits like those found in computers contain additional components like resistors, capacitors, diodes, and transistors along with integrated circuits. These components work together to power and regulate different parts of the computer like the CPU, memory, motherboard, and peripherals.

No matter how simple or complex the circuit, the same principles of electron flow, current, resistance, and voltage apply. Understanding these basics helps explain how electricity powers the devices we depend on every day.

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