A breadboard is a convenient way to prototype electronics projects. It’s essentially a plastic board with a ton of holes in it. You stick electronic components into those holes to build circuits without the need for soldering things together (most of the time). On a breadboard, the holes are also interconnected in a couple of different ways, and that helps to make electrical connections without having to run a wire for every little thing.
Sometimes they are taller (more rows), other times they are wider (more center groups), but they almost always look something like what is shown here. In general though, a breadboard looks a bit like this.
Sometimes there are letters or numbers to identify the rows and columns a lot like a chessboard, but I haven’t bothered putting those labels on my diagram. Some very small breadboards do not have the vertical power rails.
A breadboard wouldn’t be much use if they just had holes in a plastic board with nothing else going on. After all it would be impossible to make a circuit if there were no electrical connections being made. Nearly all breadboards, regardless of what color, size or shape they are, have the same basic connection layout. Along the sides of the board you have the power rails. These connect the whole way from the top to the bottom and are typically used to provide easy access to power and ground no matter where you are on the breadboard. In the middle you have groups of connected holes. These are usually two groups of five holes per row. Large breadboards can have several groups of five holes. Here is a diagram to explain how the holes are connected inside the breadboard.
Here is a simple example circuit where an LED has a power switch to turn it on and off. In this case, the power comes from a battery that we’re pretending has enough voltage for what we are trying to do. The battery is plugged into the power rails on the breadboard, which means we now have a way to get positive and ground any where we want. Next, positive power goes through a switch that straddles the gap down the middle. We get the positive from the output side of the switch and run it over to an LED. On the other side, we use a resistor to get ground over to the LED. Now when we turn on the switch, the LED comes on and when we flip the switch again the LED turns back off.
While this may be one of the easiest ways to make a circuit, and it may be a simple device to use, if you didn’t know how the holes are connected together, well, it could be a bit like some crazy magic and not terribly useful for you. Hopefully now you know what’s going on and are already imagining all the things you can do with them. If you want to buy one or six, head over to the Shopping Recommendations page for my suggestion.