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How Does Barcoding Work

Like RFID, barcoding is a form of Automatic Identification technology used most often by people and companies. Auto ID technology like barcoding is a method of identifying information and features on an object and capturing that information directly into a database or computer system. This process of capturing the information requires little, and often no, human effort.

In this blog we are going to discuss Barcoding, what it is and how it works.

What is Barcoding?

DataMatrix OsirisCODE39 OsirisBarcoding is the most widely used form of automatic identification technology. Barcoded items have symbols printed or attached to them that contain identifying data. A barcode reader or scanner is then used to decode these symbols. The decoded barcodes can either be stored on the device (batching and collection) or be transmitted directly to a system as soon as they  are scanned.

The objective is to give physical objects a digital label that can be accessed whenever needed. For example, in a retail store like a supermarket, the barcode or digital label will contain the product’s ID that allows information like price and product details to be retrieved when it is scanned at the till. Barcodes are an effective way of transferring real world information into a computer system.

How does Barcoding work?

There are basic elements of barcoding which are universal to the technology. A barcoding system consists of barcodes, readers and software. The barcodes may already be present on items or it might be necessary to attach custom barcodes to them. The reader needs to be able to read the barcode information and the software needs to be able to decode or understand the information sent to it from the reader.



Barcodes are classified as either 1D or 2D. 1D barcodes are encoded by using different widths and spacings of parallel lines or bars. Depending on the encoding, these lines and spaces can represent numeric (e.g. 12345) or alphanumeric (e.g. Abc123) information.




2D barcodes are encoded using geometric shapes and patterns allowing greater data storage in less physical space. Devices capable of reading 2D barcodes can usually read or decode 1D barcodes as well. The amount of information, encryption method and physical dimensions of the barcode will determine how potent the scanner needs to be. Small, densely packed barcodes, like the PDF417 used on RSA driver’s licenses, can be particularly difficult to scan and decode.



There are always continuous improvements in barcoding technology, these improvements have made handheld and portable barcode readers more cost effective, facilitating the implementation of identity verification and access control solutions. The ability to implement a scanning station or security checkpoint without needing to permanently install equipment has cost and flexibility advantages.

Mobile solutions enable organizers to prepare ad-hoc responses to better deal with over-utilized control points and also enables service providers to offer less intrusive rental or subscription services at reduced lead times.

There are many different kinds of barcode readers from driver’s licence scanners to mobile & handheld readers. Find out more about differing options now.

Systems and software


Once a barcode has been scanned/digitised, the information needs to be processed by a system. Naturally, software systems differ in sophistication and scale. An example of a system in use is QR Codes; these 2D barcodes can be scanned with a smartphone allowing information, like contact details or website links, to be shared digitally from a physical barcode.

As needs become more specific, software often needs to be developed that can provide a system with the necessary intelligence to serve those needs. Since barcoding has been around for a few decades, some of these needs are well understood and ready-made barcoding apps and programmes are available.

How are barcoding systems configured?

The application needs that most influence the configuration of a barcode system are mobility, communication and feedback complexity. Here are three typical configurations that are possible;

Batching 2


For batching applications mobile scanners are used to scan and collect barcodes and eventually uploaded as a batch. Barcode batching is similar to data logging where data is collected offline and accessed at a later stage. This configuration is popular for stock taking and is easy to implement.


Fixed point

Fixed point

For this configuration, barcode readers are located at dedicated locations and additional tasks can be performed at the point where they are scanned, requiring a user interface with complex feedback. For example, supermarket till points.



Smart reading

Smart reading/Mobile computing

Smart readers use mobile barcode scanners, with communication capabilities (Wi-Fi, 4G, GPS) and user interfaces to collect barcode data and perform additional tasks. Smart barcode reading devices are essentially smartphones designed for barcode reading applications with built-in barcode scanners and toughened enclosures.

Barcodes can be read using the device’s camera but when compared to a dedicated barcode scanner, the camera requires a few moments to adjust/focus before it starts the barcode reading process.  In comparison a barcode reader can read barcodes in milliseconds and only needs to be aimed correctly.

Typical needs for barcoding configurations:

 MobilityCommunicationUser feedback
Fixed pointNoneContinuous/Ad-hocComplex
Smart readingHighContinuousComplex

Not all applications have the same needs and combinations of these configurations can be used to customise a solution. For example, if high mobility, ad-hoc communication and complex feedback is needed, a smart device can be used to scan batches of barcodes while limiting communication to occur only as and when needed. Or when only some mobility is required, a batch scanner can be used at a fixed point and removed to scan barcodes elsewhere if needed.

How can Barcoding be implemented in my business?

Before knowing what kind of barcoding solution to implement in any of our customers businesses, at Osiris Technical Systems, we first have to consult with the client to understand the needs and desired outcomes. This allows us to recommend the right technology and hardware components for the solution. We also partner with developers and support centres to create the most holistic and customised-as-possible software solutions

For more information on barcoding technology and systems contact Osiris Technical Systems today on 0861 674 747 or email info@osiris.co.za