A capacitor or condenser is a passive electronic component consisting of a pair of conductors separated by a dielectric. When a voltage potential difference exists between the conductors, an electric field is present in the dielectric. This field stores energy and produces a mechanical force between the plates.

An ideal capacitor is characterized by a single constant value, capacitance, which is measured in farads. This is the ratio of the electric charge on each conductor to the potential difference between them. In practice, the dielectric between the plates passes a small amount of leakage current. The conductors and leads introduce an equivalent series resistance and the dielectric has an electric field strength limit resulting in a breakdown voltage.

The properties of capacitors in a circuit may determine the resonant frequency and quality factor of a resonant circuit, power dissipation and operating frequency in a digital logic circuit, energy capacity in a high-power system, and many other important aspects.

**Theory of operation**

A capacitor consists of two conductors separated by a non-conductive region. The non-conductive substance is called the dielectric medium, although this may also mean a vacuum or a semiconductor depletion region chemically identical to the conductors. A capacitor is self-contained and isolated, with no net electric charge and no influence from an external electric field. The conductors thus contain equal and opposite charges on their facing surfaces, and the dielectric contains an electric field. The capacitor is a reasonably general model for electric fields within electric circuits.

**Energy storage**

Work must be done by an external influence to move charge between the conductors in a capacitor. When the external influence is removed, the charge separation persists and energy is stored in the electric field. If charge is later allowed to return to its equilibrium position, the energy is released.

**Networks**

Capacitors in a parallel configuration each have the same applied voltage. Their capacitances add up. Charge is apportioned among them by size. Connected in series, the schematic diagram reveals that the separation distance, not the plate area, adds up. The capacitors each store instantaneous charge build-up equal to that of every other capacitor in the series. The total voltage difference from end to end is apportioned to each capacitor according to the inverse of its capacitance. The entire series acts as a capacitor smaller than any of its components. Capacitors are combined in series to achieve a higher working voltage, for example for smoothing a high voltage power supply. The voltage ratings, which are based on plate separation, add up. In such an application, several series connections may in turn be connected in parallel, forming a matrix. The goal is to maximize the energy storage utility of each capacitor without overloading it.

**Non-ideal behavior**

Capacitors deviate from the ideal capacitor equation in a number of ways. Some of these, such as leakage current and parasitic effects are linear, or can be assumed to be linear, and can be dealt with by adding virtual components to the equivalent circuit of the capacitor.

**System Energy Storage**

A capacitor can store electric energy when disconnected from its charging circuit, so it can be used like a temporary battery. Capacitors are commonly used in electronic devices to maintain power supply while batteries are being changed.