What is a Barcode?

When you purchase an item from any store, you will notice a label with thin, black lines across it, along with a variation of different numbers. This label is then scanned by the cashier, and the item's description and price automatically come up. The word for this is called a barcode, and it is used to read data and information based upon the widths of those small black lines. The barcode has many uses, although most of us think of them as simply a way to price items in the grocery or department store. Barcodes are becoming more and more common in just about every facet of consumer life. For example, car rental companies now identify their rental vehicles by using a barcode. Your luggage gets assigned a barcode when you check it into the airport in order to assure more accuracy when it comes to keeping track of it. Even driver's licenses today have barcodes on them in most states. Medicine prescriptions, library books, and tracking different shipments are also other ways that a barcode can be used.

So what exactly is a barcode? The technical definition for a barcode is a machine readable form of information on a scannable, visual surface. They are also often known as UPC codes. The barcode is read by using a special scanner that reads the information directly off of it. The information is then transmitted into a database where it can be logged and tracked. Merchandisers and other companies must pay an annual fee to an organization called The UCC, or Uniform Code Council, who then generates special barcodes specific to that particular company. Each number on a barcode has a special meaning, and often these numbers are added, multiplied, and divided in some formula that gives them each their own special individuality. Barcodes are very useful for maintaining accurate information about inventory, pricing, and other important business-related data.

Different companies' barcodes use a different amount of number and bar combinations. Some of the larger manufacturers will have a longer number, but this goes much deeper than how many numbers are listed. Every single number on a barcode has a meaning. For example, if the barcode number starts with a 0, then it is what's known as a standard UPC number. If the number begins with a 1, then it is what's called a "random-weight item", meaning the price of the item will depend on its weight. This is typically applied to such things as meats, fruits, or vegetables. If an item starts with the number 3, it is a pharmaceutical. There are several other variations of these numbers, and each one represents something different. If a coupon is used that has a barcode, information goes through a system that links that coupon and its value to the item previously scanned, and then the amount is automatically deducted. A complex computerized system reads every single barcode that is scanned, but these barcodes are system-specific depending on what company they belong to. There are ways the average consumer can "decode" a barcode if they know what to look for and are familiar with the variations of numbers. Barcodes make our lives much more efficient, and shopping much faster.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcode#Linear_barcodes
http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/upc.htm

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