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What Is a IEC Socket?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 16, 2024
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An IEC socket is the female receptacle of a standardized family of power connectors used on a wide variety of electrical appliances and equipment. The connectors get their name from the IEC 60320 International Electrotechnical Commission standards, which governs the construction specifications of a specific group of appliance couplers. There are several categories and sub-categories of connectors subject to these standards, all of which are available in matching plug and socket sets. Most feature-molded, insulating outer housings with specific profiles prevent accidental use with non-compliant equipment. IEC socket and plug sets are available with a wide variety of pin types, which may include ground pins or feature polarized configuration.

Standardization of the specifications for electrical equipment and peripherals has been one of the most significant evolutionary processes in the electrical industry over the last 100 years. Driven by electrical appliance manufacture by an ever-growing and far-flung global supply base, standardization has brought not only convenience, but also safety to the industry. One of these sets of standards is the IEC 60320, which applies to electrical power connectors rated to 250 volts. These connectors are typically used on equipment and appliances that feature separate power cables that plug into a dedicated power socket mounted on the equipment and interconnectors used to join cables. The plugs and their associated sockets are typically made of tough, impact- and heat-resistant plastics and rubber, and are usually specifically profiled to prevent accidental use on incorrectly rated equipment.

The IEC 60320 standard for connectors is divided into two categories — 60320-1 and 60320-2 — the second of which is further divided into four sub-categories. Each features a range of different plug and socket types of two- or three-pin configuration. IEC socket and plug sets that fall into the 60320–1 category are used as power supply cables. In this category, the female part of the pair supplies the power to a male-pinned socket mounted on the equipment, preventing accidental contact with the live pins. These connectors may feature ground pins and are either polarized or non-polarized depending on the design of the equipment.

The other main category of IEC socket and plug sets is the 60320–2, which is subdivided into four categories: 60320–2-1 through 60320–2–4. These connectors are used to interconnect cables or to provide an outlet for equipment that supplies power. The same standard applies in these cases with the female receptacle on the equipment or supply cable transferring power to the male-pinned plug. These IEC socket and plug sets may also include ground pins or polarization.

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