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Bootstrapping (electronics)

The term bootstrap has a number of meanings in electronics.

Origin of Terminology

Bootstrapping comes from the stories about Baron von Münchausen who got stuck in quicksand and lifted himself by grabbing his bootstraps; that the output transistor "lifts its own control voltage" is what is meant with "bootstrap" functionality.


A) In analog circuit designs a bootstrap circuit is an arrangement of components used to boost the input impedance of a circuit by using a small amount of positive feedback, usually over two stages. This was often necessary in the early days of bipolar transistors, which inherently have quite a low input impedance. The need for such arrangements has largely been alleviated by the use of modern field effect transistor designs, except when ultra-high input impedances are required. Note that because the feedback is positive, such circuits usually suffer from poor stability and noise performance compared to ones that don't bootstrap.

B) A N-MOSFET/IGBT needs a significantly positive charge (VGS > Vth) applied to the gate in order to turn on. Using only N-channel MOSFET/IGBT devices is a common cost reduction method due largely to die size reduction (there are other benefits as well). However, using nMOS devices means that a voltage higher than the power rail supply (V+) is needed in order to saturate the transistor and thus avoid significant heat loss.

A bootstrap capacitor is connected from the supply rail (V+) to the output voltage. If the capacitor is polarized then the orientation of the capacitor is as follows: Anode(marked with ‘+’)→(V+) and Cathode (marked with ‘-’)→Output. In other words, the capacitor should be between the output (source of an N-MOSFET) and (V+). Usually the source terminal of the N-MOSFET is connected to the cathode of a recirculation diode allowing for efficient management of stored energy in the typically inductive load (See Flyback diode). Due to the charge storage characteristics of a capacitor, the bootstrap voltage will rise above (V+) providing the needed gate drive voltage.

A MOSFET/IGBT is a voltage controlled device which, in theory, will not have any gate current. This makes it possible to utilize the charge inside the capacitor for control purposes. However, eventually the capacitor will lose its charge (due to parasitic gate current), so this scheme is only used where there is a steady pulse present. This is because the pulsing action allows for the capacitor to discharge (at least partially if not completely). Most control schemes that use a bootstrap capacitor force the high side driver (N-MOSFET) off for a minimum time to allow for the capacitor to refill. This means that the duty cycle will always need to be less than 100% to accommodate for the parasitic discharge unless the leakage is accommodated for in another manner.

C) Also in SMPS (Switch Mode Power Supplies) a leakage resistance can be used to trickle charge supply rail for the control circuit to start it oscillating. From then on it sources power from its own output.


AC amplifiers can use bootstrapping to increase output swing. A capacitor (usually referred as bootstrap capacitor) is connected from the output of the amplifier to the bias circuit, providing bias voltages that exceed the power supply voltage. Emitter followers can provide rail-to-rail output in this way, which is a common technique in class AB audio amplifiers.

Computer Systems

Another meaning is in connection with the booting process of a computer or other complex system, where the underlying electronics must arrange for the orderly startup of the CPU and related electronics components. This is done long before the CPU is in a state where it can begin to execute software. Nowadays the bootstrap is coordinated by special integrated circuits that monitor the raw power supply and provide the relevant signals to enable the CPU and other chips accordingly.


In a typical car alternator, a DC field current is required before the device can produce any output. Once running, a small portion of the output is fed back to keep the field alive — this can be seen as a form of bootstrapping. The initial priming current is usually obtained from the vehicle's battery, through a warning light on the dashboard — if the battery is totally flat, or if the warning light is burned out, the alternator won't produce any output voltage to spark the plugs or recharge the battery (by push starting for example) since it will be unable to bootstrap itself. However, in practice, a battery will usually have enough residual charge to avoid the first case, and some alternators are designed to self-start if the engine is revved to sufficient speed, even if the warning light is burned out.

Power Grids

In reference to a regional or national power grid, bootstrapping refers to the process of restarting generating stations and restoring power to the grid after a large-scale power outage or disaster. This is also referred to as cold starting or black starting. The process is required for reasons not dissimilar to the automobile case above: many power stations have AC generators which do not contain permanent magnets, and are incapable of starting to produce electricity unless they are fed some from an outside source to energize the coils and produce a magnetic field. Once running, they use their own output power for this purpose and are self-sustaining. Some power plants are designated within the grid as being capable of a cold start (either because they have main generators which contain magnets, or have smaller auxiliary generators which do and which are capable of bringing the main ones up), and these plants are brought on-line first, and their power output directed across the grid to other plants and used to start them. In this way, generating stations across the network can be progressively brought back up.

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