What Is a USB Port?

Your USB cable plugs in here

A USB port is a standard cable connection interface for personal computers and consumer electronics devices. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, an industry standard for short-distance digital data communications. USB ports allow USB devices to be connected to each other with and transfer digital data over USB cables. They can also supply electric power across the cable to devices that need it.

Both wired and wireless versions of the USB standard exist, although only the wired version involves USB ports and cables.

Illustration of a hand plugging a USB cord into a USB port.
Lifewire / Miguel Co

What Can You Plug Into a USB Port?

Many types of consumer electronics support USB interfaces. These types of equipment are most commonly used for computer networking:

For computer-to-computer file transfers without a network, USB drives are also sometimes used to copy files between devices.

Using a USB Port

Connect two devices directly with one USB cable by plugging each end into a USB port. (Some devices feature more than one USB port, but do not plug both ends of a cable into the same device, as this can cause electrical damage!)

​You may plug cables into a USB port at any time regardless of whether the devices involved are powered on or off. Follow the instructions provided with your equipment before unplugging USB cables. In some cases, unplugging a USB cable from a running device can cause damage to the device or the files being used on the computer. For this reason, it is good practice to always safely eject your USB device before physically unplugging it.

Multiple USB devices can also be connected to each other using a USB hub. A USB hub plugs into one USB port and contains additional ports for other devices to connect subsequently. If using a USB hub, plug a separate cable into each device and connect them to the hub individually. 


Everything You Need to Know About USB Ports and Cables

USB-A, USB-B, and USB-C Port Types

Several major types of physical layouts exist for USB ports:

  • USB-A (Type A): The rectangular USB Type-A connector approximately 1.4 cm (9/16 in) length by 0.65 cm (1/4 in) height is typically used for wired mice and keyboards. USB sticks normally feature USB-A connectors also.
  • USB-B (Type B): Less common than type A, USB B devices are nearly square in shape and are commonly found on routers, computers, printers, and game consoles
  • Micro USB: So-called Micro USB versions of both USB-A and USB-B also exist - smaller versions than their base counterparts, popular on mobile devices. Older but now obsolete "mini USB" versions can also be found on many old devices.
  • USB Type C: With dimensions of 0.84 cm by 0.26cm, this newer standard is designed to replace both A and B with smaller ports to better support the thinner form factors of mobile devices.

To connect a device having one kind of port per device with another type, simply use the correct type of cable with appropriate interfaces on each end. USB cables are manufactured to support all supported combinations of types and male/female options.

Versions of USB

USB devices and cables support multiple versions of the USB standard from version 1.1 up to the current version 3.1. USB ports feature identical physical layouts no matter the version of USB supported.

USB Port Not Working? 

Not everything goes smoothly when you work with computers. There are a variety of reasons a USB port could suddenly stop working correctly. Check out our USB troubleshooting page for when you encounter problems.

Alternatives to USB Ports

USB ports are an alternative to the serial and parallel ports available on older PCs. USB ports support much faster (often 100x or greater) data transfers than serial or parallel.

For computer networking, Ethernet ports are sometimes used instead of USB. For some types of computer peripherals, FireWire ports are also sometimes available. Both Ethernet and FireWire can offer faster performance than USB, although these interfaces do not supply any power across the wire.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is my USB port not working? In some cases, a broken connection or a software problem could be to blame. Dirty or clogged USB ports can sometimes interfere with performance as well. While a simple restart of your computer could do the trick, try these tips for cleaning and fixing USB port issues.
  • How can I play music over USB in my car without a USB port? If you have a cigarette lighter in your vehicle, repurpose your 12V socket as a USB port. You might also be interested in adding a USB connection to a car stereo.
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