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Universal Serial Bus (USB) is an industry standard that establishes specifications for cables, connectors and protocols for connection, communication and power supply (interfacing) between computers, peripherals and other computers. A broad variety of USB hardware exists, including 14 different connector types, of which USB-C is the most recent.

First released in 1996, the USB standards are maintained by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF). The four generations of USB are: USB 1.x, USB 2.0, USB 3.x, and USB4.

USB was designed to standardize the connection of peripherals to personal computers, both to communicate with and to supply electric power. It has largely replaced interfaces such as serial ports and parallel ports, and has become commonplace on a wide range of devices. Examples of peripherals that are connected via USB include computer keyboards and mice, video cameras, printers, portable media players, mobile (portable) digital telephones, disk drives, and network adapters.

USB connectors have been increasingly replacing other types as charging cables of portable devices.

The connectors the USB committee specifies support a number of USB's underlying goals, and reflect lessons learned from the many connectors the computer industry has used. The female connector mounted on the host or device is called the receptacle, and the male connector attached to the cable is called the plug.: 2–5 – 2–6  The official USB specification documents also periodically define the term male to represent the plug, and female to represent the receptacle.

By design, it is difficult to insert a USB plug into its receptacle incorrectly. The USB specification requires that the cable plug and receptacle be marked so the user can recognize the proper orientation. The USB-C plug however is reversible. USB cables and small USB devices are held in place by the gripping force from the receptacle, with no screws, clips, or thumb-turns as some connectors use.

The different A and B plugs prevent accidentally connecting two power sources. However, some of this directed topology is lost with the advent of multi-purpose USB connections (such as USB On-The-Go in smartphones, and USB-powered Wi-Fi routers), which require A-to-A, B-to-B, and sometimes Y/splitter cables.

USB connector types multiplied as the specification progressed. The original USB specification detailed standard-A and standard-B plugs and receptacles. The connectors were different so that users could not connect one computer receptacle to another. The data pins in the standard plugs are recessed compared to the power pins, so that the device can power up before establishing a data connection. Some devices operate in different modes depending on whether the data connection is made. Charging docks supply power and do not include a host device or data pins, allowing any capable USB device to charge or operate from a standard USB cable. Charging cables provide power connections, but not data. In a charge-only cable, the data wires are shorted at the device end, otherwise the device may reject the charger as unsuitable.

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