How does a barcode scanner work – Guide

A barcode reader (or barcode scanner) is an optical scanner that can read printed barcodes, decode the data contained in barcodes, and send the data to a computer. Like a desktop scanner, it consists of a light source, a lens, and a light sensor that translates optical impulses into electrical signals. In addition, almost all barcode readers have decoder circuitry that can analyze the barcode image data provided by the sensor and send the barcode content to the scanner’s output port. You’ve probably seen scanners “reading” the barcode. We know that some sort of intelligent understanding occurs when a flashing red light passes over a barcode. But what is really happening? The purpose of a barcode scanner is to scan or read barcode symbols and then provide electrical output to the computer through the decoder and cable. The decoder recognizes the type of bar code symbology it is viewing, translates the bar and space contents, and transmits the data to a computer in human-readable format. You don’t need special software to get barcode information. Just as the human brain works and how we understand what a number, letter, or image means, the decoder puts the barcode into usable context. Sometimes it may just drop data into an Excel or Access database. For more complex requirements, you may need specialized application software to keep this data in inventory records, to send and receive files, or to monitor work in progress. If you want to print barcodes from this downloaded data, you will also need specialized printing software such as BarTender® to transfer the barcode back for human reading.

How a barcode scanner works

There would be no point in having barcodes if we didn’t have the technology to read them. Barcode scanners need to be able to read the black and white zebra lines on products extremely quickly and feed that information into a computer or checkout terminal, which can immediately identify them using a product database. For this simple example, let’s assume that barcodes are simple binary on-off patterns, with each black line corresponding to one and each white line to zero. (We’ve already seen that real barcodes are more sophisticated than that, but let’s keep things simple.

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