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Padlocks are portable locks with a shackle that may be passed through an opening (such as a chain link, or hasp staple) to prevent use, theft, vandalism or harm.

A padlock is composed of a body, shackle, and locking mechanism. The typical shackle is a "U" shaped loop of metal (round or square in cross-section) that encompasses what is being secured by the padlock (e.g., chain link or hasp). Generally, most padlock shackles either swing away (typical of older padlocks) or slide out of the padlock body when in the unlocked position. Less common designs include a straight, circular, or flexible (cable) shackle. Some shackles split apart and come together to lock and unlock.

There are two basic types of padlock locking mechanisms: integrated & modular. Integrated locking mechanisms directly engage the padlock's shackle with the tumblers. Examples of integrated locking mechanisms are rotating disks (found in "Scandinavian" style padlocks where a disk rotated by the key enters a notch cut into the shackle to block it from moving) or lever tumblers (where a portion of the bolt that secures the shackle enters the tumblers when the correct key is turned in the lock). Padlocks with integrated locking mechanisms are characterized by a design that does not allow disassembly of the padlock. They are usually older than padlocks with modular mechanisms and often require the use of a key to lock.

The more modern modular locking mechanisms, however, do not directly employ the tumblers to lock the shackle. Instead, they have a plug within the "cylinder" that, with the correct key, turns and allows a mechanism, referred to as a "locking dog" (such as the ball bearings found in American Lock Company padlocks) to retract from notches cut into the shackle. Padlocks with modular locking mechanisms can often be taken apart to change the tumblers or to service the lock. Modular locking mechanism cylinders frequently employ pin, wafer, and disc tumblers. Padlocks with modular mechanisms are usually automatic, or self-locking (that is, the key is not required to lock the padlock)

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