A Zener diode is a diode which allows current to flow in the forward direction in the same manner as an ideal diode, but also permits it to flow in the reverse direction when the voltage is above a certain value known as the breakdown voltage, “Zener knee voltage”, “Zener voltage”, “avalanche point”, or “peak inverse voltage”.
By contrast with the conventional device, a reverse-biased Zener diode exhibits a controlled breakdown and allows the current to keep the voltage across the Zener diode close to the Zener breakdown voltage. For example, a diode with a Zener breakdown voltage of 3.2 V exhibits a voltage drop of very nearly 3.2 V across a wide range of reverse currents. The Zener diode is therefore ideal for applications such as the generation of a reference voltage (e.g. for an amplifier stage), or as a voltage stabilizer for low-current applications.