Plug and Play

Plug and Play, often abbreviated as "PnP," is an automatic process that configures computer peripherals as soon as they are connected. The user does not need to manually install drivers or configure device settings, as those tasks are handled instead by the operating system. Plug and play is the standard behavior for connecting new devices to Windows, macOS, and Linux computers, as well as mobile devices and tablets.

When you attach a new plug and play peripheral, your computer performs several automatic steps. First, the operating system detects and identifies the device through an identification protocol (although the exact method varies depending on the interface). Next, it locates and installs the appropriate device driver from a local driver library or online repository. Finally, it configures the new peripheral by assigning necessary resources like memory addresses and interrupt requests (IRQs). For example, when you plug a new mouse into one of your computer's USB ports, the operating system automatically identifies which model mouse it is and who made it, and then installs the correct driver. Within a few seconds, the new mouse is ready to use.

Most expansion interfaces on modern computers support plug and play, including external interfaces like USB, Thunderbolt, HDMI, and DisplayPort, as well as internal expansion slots like PCI Express and SATA. Devices connected over external interfaces are often hot-swappable, letting you connect and disconnect them without rebooting your computer. Adding new internal components requires you to turn off your computer first, but it will automatically recognize and configure PnP-compatible components once the computer boots.

Updated September 28, 2023 by Brian P.

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