Barcodes and Barcode Scanners: How Do They Work?

Barcodes and barcode scanners are widely used by various businesses. Barcode scanners, in particular, are composed of very specific parts that are able to interpret and encode barcodes. This system is quite efficient for a variety of reasons such as efficient inventory recording and centralising of digital records.

However, while we know that the purpose of a barcode scanner is to read a barcode, how does this process actually work?

If you want to learn more about how barcodes and barcode scanners work, then join us as we explore this in further detail below.

What Is A Barcode?

A barcode is used to encode information in a visual pattern that can be read by a machine. They are primarily used to track products, prices, and stock levels in a centralised database contained in a computer software system.

Generally, there are two types of barcodes: the linear barcode and the 2D barcode.

The most recognisable linear barcode is the Universal Product Code (UPC), which comprises the barcode and the 12-digit UPC number. The first six numbers of the barcode represent the manufacturer’s identification number, the next five digits represent the item’s number, and the last number is the check digit that determines if the barcode was scanned correctly or not.

Barcodes and Barcode Scanners How Do They Work

Barcodes that have the UPC often appear as a line of vertical stripes that have a set of numbers printed underneath.

While a linear barcode holds text information, a 2D barcode can include more information such as price, quantity, web address, or even images. A more popular and fast becoming recognisable 2D barcode is the QR code.

A linear barcode scanner cannot read a 2D barcode, instead needing an image scanner. 

As a fun fact, the first barcode appeared in June of 1974 on a pack of Wrigley Company chewing gum. Today, you can find a multitude of businesses using barcodes because of the efficiency and convenience it offers.

What Is A Barcode Scanner?

The barcode scanner is the device that is used to read barcodes. It typically comprises of the illumination system, the sensor, and the decoder.

The illumination system is the part of the barcode scanner that generates the red light you typically see. Occasionally, the light can be green, but green light barcode scanners are known to be a bit more costly.

Meanwhile, the sensor in the scanner is what detects the reflected light from the illumination system and sends an analog system to the decoder. 

From here, the decoder interprets the signal, uses the check digit to validate the barcode, and then converts this into text. The converted text will be sent to a computer software system that contains the database of the marker, cost, and quantity of all sold products. 

Barcodes and Barcode Scanners: How Do They Work

The Barcode-Based Stock System

Barcodes and barcode scanners are part of a barcode-based stock system. This system is made of three parts, the first two being the barcode and barcode scanner themselves and the third being the central computer, where the database is contained. 

With this system, you have the ability to do things such as change prices as often as you like without replacing price tags, instantly view stock levels of certain items, and much more. A system like this definitely helps your business run more efficiently and conveniently.


Barcodes and barcode scanners are often encountered in popular places such as groceries and retail stores. They seem pretty straightforward, but how they actually work is often overlooked.

There is a lot that actually goes on with the barcode-based stock system. A barcode, which contains all kinds of information, is read by a barcode scanner, which interprets the barcode’s information and sends it to a centralised computer software system. 

This system is known to be very efficient in solving a lot of time-consuming issues that involve inventory tracking and more. Because of this, it is used by numerous businesses and corporations who are looking to streamline their operations and run a more efficient business.

For more information about QR Codes and QR code scanners, particularly for stocktaking purposes, please visit our website.

If you would like to know more about the best stocktake software and how the right set of software and point of sale systems could help you, give us a call.

Our team would be happy to discuss your needs and to help you build new, more efficient workflows that will support the best operation of your warehouse or store.

We have the right tools for companies of all sizes and will work to accommodate your business, supplying you with technologies that are tailored to suit your business to help improve your efficiency and accountability.

We are the market leader when it comes to the development of customised and packaged solutions.

This includes Inventory Management, Portable Barcode Readers, Supply Chain Management, Time and Attendance and Asset Tracking to name but a few.

Please call us today on 03 9578 7600 or 1800 061 642 or contact us through our website.