I'm not formally trained in this stuff, so I have some serious knowledge gaps that get me in trouble sometimes. This situation involves using a USB- to-serial adapter to flash firmware to a microprocessor in-circuit, and whether the adapter can, or should, provide 3.3V power to the MPU during this process.
So if the adapter provides power, and the regular power is switched off, it would be applied at the junction of the MPU's Vcc pin, the existing voltage regulator's OUT pin, and the capacitor there. But the regulator is powered down. So that would be applying 3.3V at the OUT pin of the regulator while it is off. I know there is a question of how much current might flow backwards through the regulator and mess up the flashing process, but what's not clear is whether just applying that voltage would destroy the regulator even if no significant current flows.
I use the MCP1702 regulator for lots of stuff, and looking at its datasheet I find this line under Absolute Maximum Ratings:
"All inputs and outputs w.r.t. .............(VSS-0.3V) to (VIN+0.3V)"
I don't understand what that means.
If it means that the voltage at OUT can't exceed the voltage at IN by more than 0.3V, then it seems to me that that is violated every time the device is powered down - unless the voltage drop on the regulator pass transistor's body diode is less than 0.3V. If the power is switched off, the voltage at IN may quickly drop to zero, but the capacitor at OUT may not do so nearly as fast.
What does that line in the datasheet mean?
The basic question is - as a practical matter, how is this issue handled with Arduinos and all the other MPU devices that need to be flashable? Are those devices always powered normally, and not from the adapter, so this issue never comes up?
If it matters, the reason why I'd like to provide power from the adapter, or at least have the option to do so, is that I'll using a soft power switch to provide normal power. The device powers on when a momentary button is pressed, but thereafter the MPU keeps the power transistor turned on by driving it from an I/O port. But the flashing process resets the device at the beginning, at which point the power would go off. So it would be necessary to keep pressing the momentary switch during the entire flashing process, which I don't think is a very reliable practice.
In the process of measuring the backwards current flow in circuit, I've applied 3.3V at OUT a number of times, and the regulator still works fine, which is exactly what I would expect. So I'm really puzzled by the datasheet.