- Black powder—invented by the Chinese foundation in the 9th Century—was the only widely-known and used practical explosive until the 18th Century. However, it is now primarily only used for fireworks, model rocket engines and in reproduction weapons.
- Smokeless powder replaced black powder as a propellant at the end of the 19th Century and is used in all modern guns.
Both forms of gunpowder burn, producing a subsonic deflagration wave rather than the supersonic detonation wave which high explosives would produce. This reduces peak pressures in a gun, but makes it less suitable for shattering rock or fortifications. However, black powder was, for a few centuries, the only blasting agent available.