Breakdown and range of stable discharge glow in a homogeneous dc electric field are studied at various distances d between the electrodes and different inner diameters D (5, 9, 12, 18 and 22 mm) of GaAs semiconductor cathode areas. The current-voltage characteristics of the gas discharge system have been studied in a wide range of pressure p (16-760 Torr), interelectrode distances d (10 mu m-5 mm) and conductivities of the GaAs cathode. The initiation of electrical breakdown as a result of secondary electron emission from the semiconductor cathode in low gas pressure is presented in this paper. In a planar gas discharge cell with diameters much larger than an interelectrode distance, the effects of different parameters (overvoltage, electrode separation, diameter and conductivities of the GaAs cathode, gas pressure, glow current, etc) on electrical breakdown and spatial stabilization of the current have been studied. The distributed resistance of photosensitive semiconductor cathode and the impact of the ionizing component of the discharge plasma on the control of the stable operation of a planar gas discharge system at atmospheric pressure are also investigated. Through spatially uniform irradiation of the semiconductor cathode, non-stationary states which are non-homogeneous can be generated in a system. The loss of stability is primarily due to the formation of a space charge of positive ions in the discharge gap which changes the discharge from the Townsend to the glow type.