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An analytical model is proposed to understand backgating in GaAs metal–semiconductor field-effect transistors (MESFETs), in which the effect of channel–substrate (CS) junction is included. We have found that the limitation of CS junction to leakage current will cause backgate voltage to apply directly to CS junction and result in a threshold behavior in backgating effect. A new and valuable expression for the threshold voltage has been obtained. The corresponding threshold electric field is estimated to be in the range of 1000–4000 V/cm and for the first time is in good agreement with reported experimental data. More, the eliminated backgating effect in MESFETs that are fabricated on the GaAs epitaxial layer grown at low temperature is well explained by our theory. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.