Breadboards: The Basics And How To Use Them
I bet you've already heard of breadboards, the perforated prototyping tool that makes electronics plug and play.
Breadboards look like flat slabs of plastic with rows of small holes that fit the wires to your sensors and actuators. Breadboards work like this: The rows on the sides are all connected vertically, and the center-left and center-right rows are connected horizontally.
But this is easier to explain if you can just rip the back off of a breadboard and look at it:
Breadboards are really just a bunch of metal bars. The holes in the breadboard hold your wires so that they touch the bars. Since metal conducts electricity, this basically extends the reach of your wire and gives it a bunch more connectors. So instead of holding your components together, taping them, or permanently soldering them, you can temporarily attach them to the breadboard. This lets you test components in a way that is easy to see and understand.
The problem is that breadboards are large, and they are meant to make temporary connections. If you try to take a breadboard on the go, you're liable to knock something loose and break what you've made. If you want something durable and permanent, you need a protoboard. But more on that later.
An extra note about headers
Your breadboard holds your wires extra well, and that's because there are basically two kinds of headers that we use regularly: wire points and wire holders. Wire points are called "male" headers, and wire holders are called "female" headers. (Although both are equally useful and can obviously be used by anyone of any gender.)
Depending on what you need, you can get male-male jumper wires, male-female jumper wires, or female-female jumper wires. Most components also have a standard connector at one end, making it easy to plug them into your breadboard's wire holders.
Now go build some things! Check out the #hack section if you need inspiration.