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Difference Between Socket, Outlet and Receptacle

What is the Main Difference Between Outlet, Socket and Receptacle?

The terms “socket” and “outlet” are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings in electrical terminology. In electrical trade and wiring installation, the terms that often get confused are “socket”, “outlet” and “receptacle.” While they may seem similar, they actually refer to different things with different applications in the world of electricity.

Difference Between Socket, Outlet and Receptacle

In American English, both terms of “outlet” and “socket” are used, specifically having some distinction between them. For example, electrical outlet, light socket (bulb holder in the UK), power outlet etc. Keep in mind that these are different terms having different characteristics, aspects and applications.

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According to NEC, An Outlet is a point which is used to provide electric supply (by taking out the current for further utilization) to the electrical appliances, devices and equipment.

For example, an outlet is a point into which electrical cords and plugs are plugged to power ON a device.

Outlets (generally known as wall outlets) are devices used for supplying electric power directly from your home’s main circuit breaker panel box via insulated copper wires and cables to the appliances.

An outlet is a point that electricity comes out of. For example, An electric power outlet is known as an outlet because power comes out of it to utilize in the electrical equipment.


According to NEC article 100, A Receptacle is a contact device installed at the outlet for the connection of an attachment plug. For example, a single receptacle outlet, an outlet having two receptacles and so on (see the above image for more clarification).

Good to Know: A receptacle can be an outlet but an outlet can’t be only a receptacle.

A socket (also known as a receptacle) is a point where plugs are inserted, fitted or simply an electrical equipment plugged into it. For example, a light socket – NEC (bulb holder in IEC) is known as a socket because a light bulb (lamp) is inserted into it.

Good to Know:  Outlets, Sockets & Receptacles are the same in the Canadian National Codes (CNC) as the American National Electrical Codes (NEC).


In British English, a socket is a unit installed in the wall where a plug can be inserted to connect the appliance to the main electric supply. Outlet may be used in technical specifications and contexts but it has other meaning and applications too. In short, the Outlet in the US is a Socket in the UK.

Good to Know: Outlet in the US is a Socket in the UK. Additionally, There are outlets that are not sockets and vice versa. Additionally, sockets may be outlets and vice versa however, not every socket is an outlet and so on.

According to IEC, A Socket is the female receptacle designed for power connectors which is used to connect electrical equipment, devices and appliances to the electric supply.

The official designation of GPO “General Purpose Outlet” is commonly known as “Socket Outlet” in the Australian Standards (AS/NZS 3000). Same is the case for New Zealand.

The official designation in Australia used to be “General Purpose Outlet” (GPO). However, the official designation is NOW “Socket Outlet”.

In the US, a socket is a point into which a light bulb is screwed and fitted. For example, a light socket (bulb holder) etc.

Commonly used in the USA, a socket is typically found inside an appliance or device like a light bulb or lamp holder; it is designed specifically for connecting the device into an outlet so that power can be supplied from your home’s mains supply system.

Main Difference Between Outlet, Socket & Receptacle

As the above statement may be ambiguous because of the fact that power also comes out of the socket to the electrical appliance, you may use (and consider) the specific terms instead e.g. power outlet, light outlet, smoke alarm outlet, light socket and so on especially in technical documents.

As a conclusion, the terms “Outlet, Socket & Receptacles” in electrical trade and wiring installations are different with specific characteristics and applications in the US.

  • A Receptacle: Each individual power jack on an outlet is a receptacle. For instance, a 120V, 15A duplex GFCI outlet is an outlet having two receptacles).
  • An Outlet: It is a point which has one or more power jacks. For example, a 15A, 120V duplex outlet (It is a One outlet with two receptacles).
  • A Socket: It is a point where a device is inserted e.g. A light bulb inserted in the light socket (bulb holder).

In summary, the main difference between a socket and an outlet is that a socket is the female component of an electrical connection (such as light socket), while an outlet refers to the complete electrical connection, including receptacles, socket and the plug or connector.

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