In electronics, a linear regulator is a system used to maintain a steady voltage. The resistance of the regulator varies in accordance with the load resulting in a constant output voltage. The regulating device is made to act like a variable resistor, continuously adjusting a voltage divider network to maintain a constant output voltage, and continually dissipating the difference between the input and regulated voltages as waste heat. By contrast, a switching regulator uses an active device that switches on and off to maintain an average value of output. Because the regulated voltage of a linear regulator must always be lower than input voltage, efficiency is limited and the input voltage must be high enough to always allow the active device to drop some voltage.
Linear regulators may place the regulating device between the source and the regulated load (a series regulator), or may place the regulating device in parallel with the load (shunt regulator). Simple linear regulators may only contain a Zener diode and a series resistor; more complicated regulators include separate stages of voltage reference, error amplifier and power pass element. Because a linear voltage regulator is a common element of many devices, integrated circuit regulators are very common; linear regulators may also be made up of assemblies of discrete solid-state or vacuum tube components.