Linear voltage regulator = linear regulator = voltage regulator?

Switching regulator = switching voltage regulator = switch mode power supply SMPS (e.g. step-up, step-down)?

Are the terms above correct?

  • \$\begingroup\$ A heirachical tree might help your understanding more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mattman944
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mattman944 thank you. do you have a hierachical tree of this topic please? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ More often than not an SMPS takes AC and returns DC, whereas a switching regulator takes DC and also returns DC. Thus the SMPS is highly likely to be a rectifier (for AC to DC) and a switching regulator in practice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user1850479 - That's an over simplification. All of our SMPSs take DC in and provide multiple DC voltages at varying current levels out. There are very few systems I deal with that have AC as the prime power. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveSh
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


@Mattman944 commented that a hierarchical tree might help more, and that makes sense to me, so here's one, rendered in beautiful high-definition ASCII art:

Voltage regulators
├─Linear regulators
│ ├─Series regulators
│ │ ├─Standard series regulators (NPN or N-channel pass transistor)
│ │ └─Low-dropout (LDO) regulators (PNP or P-channel pass transistor)
│ └─Shunt regulators
└─Switching converters (AKA switching regulators or switch-mode power supplies)
  ├─Isolated converters
  │ ├─Forward converters
  │ │ └─Active-clamp forward converters
  │ ├─Flyback converters
  │ │ ├─"Flybuck" converter
  │ │ └─See also: Active rectification
  │ ├─Isolated Ćuk converters
  │ └─Push-pull converters
  └─Non-isolated converters
    ├─Step-down converters
    │ └─Buck converters
    ├─Step-up converters
    │ └─Boost converters
    ├─Step-up/down converters
    │ ├─Noninverting buck-boost converters (AKA four-switch converters)
    │ ├─Single-ended primary inductor converter (SEPIC)
    │ ├─Ćuk converters
    │ └─Zeta converters
    └─Inverting regulators
      ├─Inverting SEPIC
      └─Buck-boost converters

This is an overview, and doesn't consider every possibility. Everything on this chart comes in both fixed and adjustable voltage, and it's also possible for any of the switching converters to be unregulated (it's common, for instance, for a flyback converter to be unregulated), which would of course mean they wouldn't be switching regulators, but just switching converters. Most switching converters also have two variants, called synchronous (higher efficiency, more MOSFETs) or non-synchronous (lower efficiency, simpler, uses diodes instead of some MOSFETs).

There are less common converter topologies as well, though I tried to include every one I could think of. I also did not mention charge pumps, which are switching converters that use no inductors, only capacitors, to transform voltages. They are used less frequently due to efficiency and power output concerns, but they do see use when only very little current is required or when space is a concern, as they can be much smaller than inductor-based converters.

This is entirely about DC-DC converters. Most of these can be changed into AC-DC converters by the addition of a bridge rectifier, though an isolated topology should be used if the AC input is mains. DC-AC converters also exist and come in several types, collectively known as inverters. There is also a particularly interesting type of switching AC-AC converter called a matrix converter (look that up if you want more details).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Isolated converters can be either step up or step down. Maybe under Switching Converters, you need Isolated & Non-Isolated. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveSh
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SteveSh I'm not sure the best way to include that. Let me think on it and come back to this after I get back from work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate how difficult something like is. As soon as you think your have the hierarchy (or taxonomy) correct, someone throws up an example that doesn't fit. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveSh
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SteveSh I've also in just the last couple minutes realized that I didn't even mention inverters of any type, or matrix converters... Not that I even know where a matrix converter especially would fit in here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SteveSh I took your suggestion and made "isolated" and "non-isolated" a top-level division under switching converters. I think that worked pretty well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 0:05

The terms are correct.

But if you use "Voltage Regulator" on its own it can be either linear or switching regulator. A prefix should indicate the type.


Pretty much correct.

I'd add one more:

Switching regulator = switching voltage regulator = switch mode power supply SMPS (e.g. step-up, step-down) = voltage regulator.

  • \$\begingroup\$ so the Voltage regulator can be a Linear regulator or a Switching Regulator. SMPS is for switching regulators only. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that's right. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:16

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