How Multimeters Measure Resistance: A Detailed Explanation

This article goes into how multimeters measure resistance, highlighting the principles, techniques, and importance of accurate resistance measurements in electronics and electrical engineering.


Multimeters are versatile tools for measuring various electrical parameters, including voltage, current, capacitance, and resistance. Among these measurements, resistance plays a crucial role in electronics and electrical engineering. In this article, we will explore the fundamental principles behind how multimeters measure resistance, the different methods used, and the significance of accurate resistance measurements in practical applications.

Multimeters Measuring Resistance

Understanding Resistance

Resistance is a fundamental property of an electrical component or material that opposes the flow of electrical current. It is denoted by the symbol “R” and is measured in ohms (Ω). Resistance can be calculated using Ohm’s law, which states that the resistance (R) is equal to the voltage (E) across a component divided by the current (I) flowing through it: R = E/I.

In electronic circuits, we use resistors commonly to control current flow, set voltage levels, and divide voltages. Accurate resistance measurements are crucial for circuit analysis, troubleshooting, and ensuring proper component functionality.

The Working Principle of Resistance Measurement in Multimeters

Depending on their type (analog or digital) and the resistance range, multimeters use various techniques to measure resistance. However, the basic principle remains the same across most multimeters.

When measuring resistance, a small known current, usually in the microampere (µA) range, passes through the component under test. The multimeter then measures the voltage drop across the component. Using Ohm’s law, we can calculate resistance from the measured voltage and the known current.

For digital multimeters (DMMs), the internal circuitry has a resistance-to-voltage converter that changes the measured resistance value into a voltage, which the screen then displays.

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Two-Wire Resistance Measurement

The most common method used by multimeters for resistance measurement is the two-wire method, also known as 2-wire measurement or 2-wire ohms measurement. This method is suitable for measuring resistances in the range of ohms to kilohms.

In the two-wire method, the multimeter applies a small current to the component under test through the red (positive) and black (negative) test leads. The multimeter measures the voltage drop across the component using its internal circuitry. The multimeter calculates the resistance based on the measured voltage and the known current value.

This method is straightforward and widely used in most multimeters. However, it has some limitations, especially when measuring low resistances or in circuits with long test lead wires that can introduce additional resistance, affecting the measurement accuracy.

Four-Wire Resistance Measurement

The four-wire method, also known as 4-wire ohms measurement or Kelvin measurement, is a more accurate technique for measuring low resistances, typically in the milliohm (mΩ) range. This method overcomes the limitations of the two-wire method by compensating for the resistance of the test leads.

In the four-wire method, the multimeter applies a known current through the component under test using the outer two test leads (red and black). Two more test leads (white and green) measure the voltage drop across the component, independently of the current-carrying leads. By following this process, we don’t incorporate the voltage drop from the test leads’ resistance into the resistance measurement.

The multimeter then calculates the resistance based on the measured voltage and the known current, providing a more accurate reading of the component’s resistance without the influence of the test lead resistance.

Auto-ranging vs. Manual-ranging for Resistance Measurement

Most modern digital multimeters are auto-ranging, which means they can automatically select the appropriate measurement range for resistance based on the component under test. This feature makes resistance measurements more user-friendly, especially for beginners or when working with unknown resistance values.

On the other hand, manual-ranging multimeters require the user to select the appropriate range manually. While this may require more effort and knowledge, manual-ranging can be advantageous when working with specific resistance ranges, as it allows the user to avoid auto-ranging errors and obtain more stable readings.


Factors Affecting Resistance Measurement Accuracy

Several factors can influence the accuracy of resistance measurements in multimeters:

a. Test Lead Resistance: In the two-wire method, the resistance of the test leads can introduce errors in the measurement. The longer the test leads and the higher the resistance, the more significant the measurement error. This is why the four-wire method is preferred for measuring low resistances accurately.

b. Temperature Effects: Some resistors are temperature-sensitive, meaning their resistance value can change with temperature. This effect is more noticeable in high-precision or low-resistance measurements.

c. Contact Resistance: The quality of contact between the test leads and the component under test can affect the measurement accuracy. Ensure clean and tight connections to minimize contact resistance.

d. Self-Heating: Passing current through the resistor during measurement can generate heat, changing the resistor’s resistance value. This self-heating effect is typically negligible for most resistors, but it should be considered for highly precise measurements.

Importance of Accurate Resistance Measurements

Accurate resistance measurements are critical in various applications, including:

a. Circuit Analysis: Resistance measurements are fundamental for analyzing circuits, identifying faulty components, and ensuring proper circuit operation.

b. Component Testing: Resistance measurements help test and verify the values of resistors, potentiometers, and other components.

c. Quality Control: In manufacturing and electronics production, accurate resistance measurements are essential to ensure the quality and consistency of products.

d. Temperature Compensation: Resistance measurements can be used to compensate for temperature effects in temperature-sensitive circuits or sensors.

e. Wire and Cable Testing: Resistance measurements are useful for testing the continuity and integrity of wires and cables.


Multimeters provide a valuable and efficient means of measuring resistance in electrical circuits. By understanding the working principles behind resistance measurement and the different methods used (two-wire and four-wire), users can make accurate resistance measurements for a wide range of applications. For precise measurements, especially when dealing with low resistance values, the four-wire method is preferred. Accurate resistance measurements are essential for circuit analysis, component testing, quality control, and various other electronic applications, making multimeters an indispensable tool for engineers, technicians, and electronics enthusiasts alike.

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