To study the operation of a transistor, we first consider the operation of a pair of diodes connected as shown in Figure BJT-1(a). In this circuit, current can flow from node B to node C or node E, when the appropriate diode is forward biased. However, no current can flow from C to E, or vice versa, since for any choice of voltages on nodes B, C, and E, one or both diodes will be reverse biased. The pn junctions of the two diodes in this circuit are shown in (b). Now suppose that we fabricate the back-to-back diodes so that they share a common p-type region, as shown in Figure BJT-1(c). The resulting structure is called an npn transistor and has an amazing property. (At least, the physicists working on transistors back in the 1950s thought it was amazing!) If we put current across the base-to-emitter pn junction, then current is also enabled to flow across the collector-to-base np junction (which is normally impossible) and
from there to the emitter.
Notice that the symbol contains a subtle arrow in the direction of positive current flow. This also reminds us that the base-to-emitter junction is a pn junction, the same as a diode whose symbol has an arrow pointing in the same direction.
However, pnp transistors are seldom used in digital circuits, so we won't discuss them any further.