I've been hunting around for RS232 converters for a little while now, trying to get my head around the way RS232 works (or at least how it's supposed to), and the way RS232-USB converters (more frequently than not, seem not to) work. Trying to understand the state of things has left me not a little confused, so I'm asking here to try and sort some of my perplexion out :P
To begin with, Wikipedia states the following about RS-232 (emphasis mine):
The RS-232 standard defines the voltage levels that correspond to logical one and logical zero levels for the data transmission and the control signal lines. Valid signals are either in the range of +3 to +15 volts or the range -3 to -15 volts with respect to the ground/common pin; consequently, the range between -3 to +3 volts is not a valid RS-232 level. ...
The standard specifies a maximum open-circuit voltage of 25 volts: signal levels of ±5V, ±10V, ±12V, and ±15V are all commonly seen depending on the voltages available to the line driver circuit. Some RS-232 driver chips have inbuilt circuitry to produce the required voltages from a 3 or 5-volt supply. RS-232 drivers and receivers must be able to withstand indefinite short circuit to ground or to any voltage level up to ±25 volts.
A bit later on, WP also says:
Other serial signaling standards may not interoperate with standard-compliant RS-232 ports. For example, using the TTL levels of near +5 and 0V puts the mark level in the undefined area of the standard. Such levels are sometimes used with NMEA 0183-compliant GPS receivers and depth finders.
All of that makes sense. But then I enter the rabbithole...
When I search for a USB-RS232 converter module (as an alternative to the $40 stuff out there that's just pure profit) which actually follows this spec, I instead find an Internet full of converters which state their operating voltage as either 3.3V or 5V. I can't find any explicitly 10V, 12V or 15V devices anywhere. This is a little worrying, because I've gotten the impression that if the converter can only tolerate 3.3V or 5V, a "real" (?!) RS232 device with 10V or 12V signalling/output voltages has a reasonably high chance of making the converter spontaneously combust in a bad way (on top of not responding to the converter's out-of-spec 3.3V/5V inputs). Thusly, my first question is, how can I tell/find/figure out/identify/etc what converters/devices will and will not work, without an oscillioscope?
The other disturbing trend I've found is that ZT213/MAXx23x voltage level converters only seem to level-shift TX and RX, and chuck all the ancillary (but in certain situations very important) RS232 signals out the window. My second question is, what do I do if I have a "real" (?!) RS232 device using ≥10V signal levels which needs (for example) a DTR line - and all I've got is a 5V USB-RS232 converter? What level shifter can/do I use then?!
Finally, this probably isn't covered by WP's article on RS-232 because it's so out-of-spec, but my third question is this: I've found a lot of the converters out there being referred to as UARTs. I don't get whether this reference is being used with regard to the converter chipset itself, or whether the implication is that it's a USB-to-UART converter, where the UART is the target device. What's the deal with this?