Home Retail in Detail Barcode Scanners How do Bar Code Scanners Work?

How do Bar Code Scanners Work?


Barcode scanners read an encoded imprint (the barcode), decode it, and output the information (usually in text format) through a USB or keyboard wedge connection to the computer. Two separate categories of barcode formats exist: 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes.


1D barcodes appear as a series of black lines with varying widths. The UPC format, found on most consumer goods, is the most common. Use a scanner with 1D capability to read all common 1D formats.

2D barcodes frequently appear square in shape and contain data which is read both horizontally and vertically by the scanner. 2D barcodes require a scanner with 2D capability. All 2D scanners also read 1D barcodes.

Programming the barcode scanner

Configuring a scanner is basically “telling” it what you want it to do. Through scanning a series of barcodes in the users guides, as with all programming, you can select the interface you are using, the barcode format you want to scan and any other functions you want it to perform such as prefixes and suffixes or advanced data formatting as explained below.

Carriage return line

The most common programming request is for a carriage return line, so the cursor begins on a new line after a scan. Most scanners will perform this after being defaulted and configured as normal however, if this is not the case then you can program it as a suffix as explained below.

Advanced data formatting

This form of programming enables the user to split up a barcode into separate fields and then only send a selected part of the barcode to the PC. For example if your barcode is 123456 but you only want to send the last 3 digits, then you can specify how many characters in field 1 and in field 2 the request that only field 2 is sent to the PC when the barcode is scanned.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Prefixes and suffixes are data strings that can be sent before or after a barcode. So if defaulting the scanner does not give you a carriage return line then you can program the scanner to scan the barcode then enter the “enter” key after the information. This works for any keys and different scanners can have different length strings, the average is 20 characters excluding the barcode.

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