Pin Header Types & Sizes Explained

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Depending on the context, "header" can have a wide variety of definitions. It could refer to the information at the beginning of a block of data, an automotive component, or even a way to strike a soccer ball. Here, however, we'll be talking about pin headers and corresponding female headers that you can use to connect small wires to circuit boards. These are occasionally referred to as "Berg connectors," named for a company that makes this type of device.

Pin Header Connector Basics

Image: Jeremy S. Cook

Pin headers are stiff metallic connectors that are soldered to a circuit board and stick up to receive a connection from a female socket. While pin headers (often called PH, or headers) are male by definition, female equivalents are also quite common, and we refer to them as female headers (FH) or header connectors.

A plastic structure holds these sets of pin headers together. This structure is often designed to snap apart as needed, though female headers are generally manufactured with a set number of pins. 

We define headers by combining:

1. The number of pins in a row.

2. An "x." 

3. How many pins wide it is.

So an 8x2 header would stack eight pins in a row, with two rows of pins attached beside each other, for 16 connections in total. 

We also define headers by the spacing (pitch) between connections, with 2.54mm (.1in) being typical. Other sizes are also available, like 1.27mm (.05in) or 2.00mm (.079in). Headers are normally through-hole devices, but you can also find surface-mount technology (SMT) headers. While straight headers are the norm, 90-degree pin headers are also common to accommodate various physical requirements.

Additional Pin Header Uses

Image: Jeremy S. Cook

In the image above, the object on the right is a standard female header that can be soldered onto a through-hole PCB. On the left is what's known as a stacking header. While they act as female headers, the male pins' extended length connectors allow it to reach through the PCB and connect to another female header underneath — which means you can stack boards or connections on top of one another.