How Do Barcodes Work?

Uncover the technology behind barcodes and how they work in the scanning process, including linear and 2D barcodes.

How Do Barcodes Work?
Photo by NASA / Unsplash

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the intricate patterns on every product in the grocery store?

At first glance, a barcode seems like a simple combination of black and white lines, but these patterns contain a wealth of information.

Let's delve into the inner workings of barcodes to uncover how they function.

The Basics of Barcodes

A barcode is a distinct pattern of black and white lines that represent various numbers and additional information.

These patterns adhere to specific standards and are crucial for inventory and sales tracking.

The Scanning Process

When a product with a barcode is placed under a scanner, the device emits light onto the barcode.

The black bars on the barcode absorb the light, while the white spaces reflect it, enabling the scanner to detect the pattern.

The scanner then translates this pattern into an electrical signal.

Communication with the Computer

The electrical signal generated by the scanner is sent to a computer, which has a database matching each pattern to a specific item.

Once the computer decodes the signal and matches it with the item in its database, it sends a signal back to the scanner, identifying the product.

Can You Create a Functioning Barcode?

You might be curious about replicating a barcode exactly as it appears on a product and whether it would work.

Surprisingly, there are various types of barcodes, and duplicating one would not guarantee that it would function correctly.

Each barcode type has specific rules and regulations, making duplication more complex than it might seem at first glance.

The Technology Behind Barcodes

In addition to traditional linear barcodes, there are two-dimensional (2D) barcodes.

These 2D barcodes, commonly used in industries such as healthcare and logistics, can contain more data than their linear counterparts.

The next time you're at the checkout counter, take a moment to appreciate the technology behind that simple set of lines—it's a lot more than meets the eye.