A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile
A projectile is any object projected into space by the exertion of a force. Although a thrown baseball is technically a projectile too, the term more commonly refers to a weapon....

(s) at high velocity through confined burning
Combustion or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species. The release of heat can result in the production of light in the form of either glowing or a flame...

 of a propellant
A propellant is a material that produces pressurized gas that:* can be directed through a nozzle, thereby producing thrust ;...

. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration
Deflagration is a term describing subsonic combustion that usually propagates through thermal conductivity; hot burning material heats the next layer of cold material and ignites it. Most "fire" found in daily life, from flames to explosions, is deflagration...

, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation
Detonation involves a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. Detonations are observed in both conventional solid and liquid explosives, as well as in reactive gases...

. In older firearms, the propellant was typically black powder or cordite
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance...

, but modern firearms use smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 or other propellants. Most modern firearms (with the notable exception of smoothbore
A smoothbore weapon is one which has a barrel without rifling. Smoothbores range from handheld firearms to powerful tank guns and large artillery mortars.-History of firearms and rifling:...

 firearms) have rifled
Rifling is the process of making helical grooves in the barrel of a gun or firearm, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis...

 barrels to impart spin to the projectile for improved flight stability.
Beginning around 700 AD, scientists and inventors in ancient China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 developed different grades of gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 and innovated different types of firearms, including single-shot smooth-bore fire lances, multi-barreled guns
Güns or Guens may refer to:* Kőszeg, Hungary * Kőszeg Mountains, Hungary * Akiva Güns , birth name of Akiva Eger, a Hungarian-Polish rabbi- See also :* Guns * Gün, a surname...

, multiple-launch artillery rockets and the first cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

 in the world made from cast bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

Several centuries later, in late Dark Age Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, the term "firearm" was used in Old English to denote the arm in which the match was held that was used to light the touch hole
Touch hole
A touch hole is a small hole, through which the propellant charge of a cannon or muzzleloading gun is ignited. In small arms, the flash from a charge of priming held in the flash pan is enough to ignite the charge within...

 on the hand cannon.