is an electrically operated switch
. Many relays use an electromagnet to mechanically operate a switch, but other operating principles are also used, such as solid-state
relays. Relays are used where it is necessary to control a circuit by a separate low-power signal
, or where several circuits must be controlled by one signal. The first relays were used in long distance telegraph
circuits as amplifiers: they repeated the signal coming in from one circuit and re-transmitted it on another circuit. Relays were used extensively in telephone
exchanges and early computers to perform logical operations.
A type of relay that can handle
the high power required to directly control an electric motor
or other loads is called a contactor. Solid-state relays control power circuits with no moving parts, instead using a semiconductor
device to perform switching. Relays with calibrated operating characteristics and sometimes multiple operating coils
are used to protect electrical circuits from overload
or faults; in modern electric power systems these functions are performed by digital instruments still called "protective relays".
relays require one pulse of coil power to move their contacts in one direction, and another, redirected pulse to move them back. Repeated pulses from the same input have no effect. Magnetic latching relays are useful in applications where interrupted power should not be able to transition the contacts.
Magnetic latching relays can have either single or dual coils. On a single coil device, the relay will operate in one direction when power is applied with one polarity, and will reset
when the polarity is reversed
. On a dual coil device, when polarized voltage
is applied to the reset coil the contacts will transition. AC controlled magnetic latch relays have single coils that employ
steering diodes to differentiate between operate and reset commands.