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What Is a DIP Switch?

Paul Reed
Paul Reed

A dual in-line package (DIP) switch is a small packaged set of switches, commonly installed on circuit boards, that are used in consumer and industrial devices. DIP switches, sometimes written as "dip switches," are on-off switches arranged in a line and packaged in a small box or housing. A DIP switch's function is to provide a range of electrical inputs to a computer or electronic device based on the position of the switches.

The switches can be slide, toggle or rotary styles. As each switch is positioned on or off, the DIP switch can create an electrical signal that imitates a binary signal common to computers that use the numerals 0 and 1 to perform complex calculations. A rotary DIP switch has advantages over simple switches by permitting multiple choices that result in different electrical signals from the switch, versus a simple "on" or "off" position.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

DIP switches were common on computer circuit boards until the 1990s, when digital switches began to replace them. Consumer applications such as garage door openers, ceiling fan remote controls and wireless phones continued to use DIP switches into the 21st century. Home remote control devices can benefit from a DIP switch because the device might interfere with other electronics in the home. When a DIP switch is connected to a remote control transmitter, changing the switch settings can remove interference by creating a different frequency for the remote control.

Binary control is still a valuable use of a DIP switch. Computers use processors that perform calculations by designating a value of 0 or 1. DIP switches mimic this effect because each switch position is "on" or "off," the manual equivalent of a 0 or 1. For small consumer electronic products, a DIP switch might be a cost-effective substitute for digital control processors, particularly when the device needs to have different switch positions available to the user.

As digital processors have replaced mechanical switches and components since the 1970s, so have digital DIP switches begun to replace mechanical styles. A digital switch performs an identical function to a mechanical switch, but there is no physical switch to access. Digital DIP switches are managed from a control panel or computer screen. The interface might appear similar to a mechanical switch, with virtual switches that can be turned on or off with a keyboard or computer mouse. There is no longer a mechanical switch to manipulate, however, and the switch components are greatly reduced in size.

Discussion Comments

@hamje32 - Some smart phones use DIP switch settings, however they may display values in binary. A DIP switch calculator will help you to convert from dip switch to binary and back again. You can find such calculators online or your smart phone may even come with an application that will let you do that.
@allenJo - Well there’s no software based solution for garage door opener DIP switches. Garage door openers use DIP switches for a number of purposes, one of which is to program the remote and enable it to work with the receiver.

This is fine as far as it goes. However, if you lose your remote and try to buy a “universal” remote you may be out of luck. They may not have the correct dip switch settings to get them to work with your existing receiver.

The only solution in that case would be to buy both a new remote and receiver as a complete unit.


@miriam98 - I prefer using the software based version of setting up these electrical switches. I don’t like squinting and having to fiddle around with mechanical switches.

If you install certain computer devices they usually come with a CD Rom nowadays which will bring up the control panel for adjusting your device’s settings.

Some common devices that can be controlled in this manner are different kinds of cards that you install in your PC. You can usually adjust any kind of settings or fix any problems with these cards simply by using the control panel.

This is so much easier and it beats installing a device, only to find out you didn’t set the dip switch correctly, and then having to open up your computer and readjust it in my opinion.

Actually while the DIP switches may not be used in motherboards as much, you still find them in hard drives. When you install an internal hard drive you have certain dipswitch settings.

You have to choose the right one to work with your hard drive. There is a manual and illustration that will show you how to do it. The purpose of the DIP switch settings is to determine which hard drive will be the primary and which one will be the slave.

If you mess this up then your hard drives won’t work properly. Nowadays you can have multiple hard drives, including external drives, so it’s important to get this right.

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