RS-232 DTE versus DCE
In the RS-232 specification, DTE (Data Terminal Equipment) and DCE (Data Communications Equipment) refer to the types of equipment on either end of a serial connection. In general, DTE and DCE refer to computer equipment and modems, respectively. Because the RS-232 specification mainly involves connecting a DTE directly to a DCE and vice versa, the pinouts are defined so that cabling is simple. That is, a cable connected a computer to a modem by wiring pin 1 to pin 1, pin 2 to pin 2, and so on. This method is known as straight-through cabling.
Straight-Through Cabling in a DTE-to-DCE Interface
Straight-through cabling is still the standard method to connect a modem to your PC. However, because many applications use serial communication to connect two or more DTEs without modems, the cabling becomes more complicated. If two DTEs are wired together using a straight-through cable, one transmitter is connected to the other transmitter, and one receiver is connected to the other receiver. In this setup, no transmissions can occur. Thus, these applications must use a cabling scheme that connects the transmitter on one device to the receiver on the other device and vice versa. This method is known as null-modem cabling, because it replaces the two modems that traditional RS-232 applications would require between the two DTEs. To communicate from one DTE serial port to another, use a null-modem cable.
Null-Modem Cabling in a DTE-to-DTE Interface
PCI, PXI, USB (one port only), ENET, ExpressCard, and PCMCIA RS-232 ports are DTE serial ports.
USB-232 (two and four port only) can be configured to DTE or DCE. Refer to USB-232 Transceiver Control for more information.