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Duplex refers to the means of bandwidth usage in a serial system. The two common means of bi-directional serial communication are full duplex and half duplex. Half-duplex communication involves a transmitter and a receiver connected to each end of the same wire or pair of wires. Because the same transmission line both sends and receives data, devices cannot send data in both directions at the same time. First, one device transmits over the wire(s) to the receiver of the second device. When the first device finishes transmitting, both devices switch the connections from their transmitter to their receiver, or vice versa. The device that was receiving data can then transmit over the line.
In full-duplex communication, the devices use a separate wire (or pair of wires) for simultaneous transmission in each direction. Thus, the devices do not switch between transmitting and receiving.
In a differential serial bus (such as RS422 or RS485), a half-duplex system transmits and receives over the same twisted pair of wires. Thus, half-duplex communication is often referred to as two-wire communication. Likewise, full-duplex communication is often referred to as four-wire communication, because the full-duplex system uses a separate pair of wires for communication in each direction.