Matchlocks and flintlocks are types of firing mechanisms on pistols and rifles manufactured from the 15th century to the 18th century. Matchlocks were the earliest mechanisms that allowed for a handheld pistol. Flintlocks were easier and cheaper mechanisms that allowed for the proliferation of pistols and muskets during the 18th century.
Matchlocks were mainly used between the 15th and 16th century, primarily in pistols and rifled guns called arquebuses or calivers. The matchlock was the first firing mechanism that did not require a manual use of match, allowing shooters to use both hands for aiming. Matchlocks fired by a burning match called a serpentine, which dipped backwards (towards the gun holder) into the pan of gunpowder that would propel the bullet.
Flintlocks were used extensively between the 17th and 19th centuries. They fired with a hammer striking a piece of flint, which caused sparks to fall into a tray that ignited the gunpowder in the muzzle and propelled the bullet. Flintlocks were far easier to make than their counterparts (matchlock and doglock), which turned gunbearing from a specialized role to a task for anyone on the battlefield. Flintlocks were used to make pistols for almost every kind of troop and were used extensively by footmen, cavalry and sailors. Flintlocks also ushered in the musket, used in infantry formations in Europe and the Americas. The manufacturing ease and versatility of a musket with a bayonet made it widespread in the 18th century.