How do barcode scanners work? Simple Explanation

Barcode scanners are the technological wizard that helps computers read barcodes. It scans the printed barcodes using a light beam and converts them into digital information that the computer can understand. The barcodes contain all the important product information, and the scanner aids the computer in accessing all the details.

As a customer, you might have seen this device scanning the items at various supermarkets, malls, and retailers. You probably wondered what exactly it did or how do barcode scanners work every time you saw it. You might have even tried peeking into the computer to satiate your curiosity!

We are here to break that down for you in a simple manner.

Moreover, if you are a business owner, understanding the working of a barcode scanner can help you provide your customers with the best services.

How do Barcode Scanners Work?

A barcode scanner basically consists of a lens, a light source, and a light sensor. The light sensor translates optical impulses into electrical signals. The decoder then analyses the data received from the sensor, recognizes the barcode symbols, translates the bars and spaces, and finally transmits the captured information of a product as output to the host computer in a readable format.

How do Barcode Scanners Work on Phones?

Earlier barcode scanners required a wired connection to transmit information from the device to the computer. But not anymore! Smartphones have made life so much easier with apps and software that can easily read and decode barcodes. A smartphone can simply connect with a Bluetooth-enabled device from a considerable distance and decode the barcodes using its image reader.

All you need to do is follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Install an app that can scan barcodes.
  • Step 2: Open the app and use it to read the required barcode.
  • Step 3: Sync your smartphone to a computer or tablet using your Bluetooth 
  • Step 4: Access all the information that you need.

You can also opt to use just your phone to access the details without connecting it with other devices. Below are the steps to use barcode scanners directly on phones:

  • Install a Barcode Scanning app on your smartphone.
  • Launch the Barcode Scanner.
  • Position the barcode to fit inside the box appearing in the middle of the screen.
  • Once the app completes reading the barcode, it will provide you with several options.
  • Choose the option that best suits you: Launch a Google Search, Visit a Website, Save the Information, Product Search, Web Search, etc., depending on the information you want to discover.

Getting barcode scanners to work on phones is very easy if you install the right apps and follow the steps correctly.

How do Barcode Scanners Work With Excel?

How do Barcode Scanners Work With Excel?

Barcode scanners can also drop the scanned data into Excel sheets to create databases to keep the records and monitor the works-in-progress or send and receive record files. In some cases, you might also need some additional software alongside the scanners for complex requirements. 

This process eliminates the need for collecting data manually and hence reduces the chances of encountering human errors. It also speeds up data collection and quickens tasks like asset management, transactions, and inventory tracking.

Below are the steps to make barcode scanners work with Excel:

  • Connect the barcode scanner to the host computer.
  • Install your preferred Scanner Software if necessary.
  • Open Microsoft Excel.
  • Click on the cell where you want to input the scanned data.
  • Select the barcode type.
  • Use the barcode scanner to scan the required barcode.
  • The scanner will enter the scanned information in the selected cell.
  • Adjust the size (width, height, module, etc.) of the barcode if required.
  • Press enter or select another cell.
  • Continue scanning other barcodes and entering the data into the Excel sheet.

You can now save this data on the computer to keep the record and then send it or use it for future references.

It is very simple to use a barcode scanner alongside an Excel sheet and is so much easier than entering data manually, leaving it susceptible to errors. 

How Barcode Scanner Works in Stock Management?

Stock management or inventory management is the practice of managing the goods that a company plans to sell. It’s an important process in business to store, organize, order, track and control the stocks. 

Barcode scanners that work in stock management are called inventory scanners. These scanners are very helpful to automate and streamline the process of stock management, reducing the chance of errors to a great extent.

Inventory scanners work the same way as the barcode scanners, scanning and decoding the barcodes of the products, which are then tracked by a central computer system. It can effectively store all the details of the products in an organized manner, supplying them as and when needed. 

Scanning a product with an inventory scanner, you can easily identify important details such as the exact location of the product in the warehouse and the exact number of the available product. This can help you to find a product easily as well as to keep track of the stock. Moreover, you can also track when the product was ordered, when the manufacturer shipped it, when the product arrived, etc. 

In short, a barcode scanner works in stock management to create a better inventory storage system, avoid stockouts, keep track of products, and ensure full visibility into the stock management process. Plus, it gives you the liberty to manage your own inventory as it’s cost-effective, consumes less effort, and is less time-consuming.

Do Barcode Scanners Read the Black or White Bars?

Barcode scanners scan and read both the black and the white bars by illuminating the barcode with a red light and then converting it to a computer-readable format. Now, since the computer can understand only binary coding, that’s precisely how barcode scanners pass the information.

The barcode is a binary pattern where the black lines correspond to one while the white lines are zero. When the LED or laser light of the barcode scanner shines upon the barcode, the white areas reflect most of the light while the black areas reflect the least.

Hence, as the scanner moves over the code, it generates a pattern of on-off pulses, converted to binary digits by an electronic circuit before transmitting it to the computer. 

The computer then reads the binary information, understands it, and reverts with the information related to each barcode.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How the barcode scanner reads the barcode?

A: Barcode scanners use a light source (like LED or laser) and different sensors to recognise and calculate the strength of light reflected by the black and white bars using a photodiode. The photodiode then produces an electric signal based on the information it receives, converted to binary information for the computer to read and understand.

Q. Can you scan a barcode off your phone?

A: Yes, if you can have a barcode scanner app installed on your smartphone, then you can scan the barcode of your phone with the help of that app.

Q. What is the best barcode scanner app?

A: There are many good barcode scanner apps available in the play store like Bar-Code, QuickMark, Quick Scan, NeoReader, etc. They vary slightly in their features and the cost of the facilities they offer. Some apps serve you for free, like the ScanLife barcode scanner, but their features are limited. You can choose the one that best suits your purpose.

Q. What is the purpose of a barcode scanner?

A: The ultimate purpose of a barcode scanner is to scan and decode a barcode and then transmit the information to a computer via cable for the final interpretation.


Many companies are resorting to barcodes and barcode scanners to aid them in the billing processes and create a better stock management system. The process has contributed a great deal in quickening the pace of several record-keeping and tracking tasks and reducing the risk of encountering errors. In place of their efficiency and reliability, barcode scanners are now found in many top-quality inventory and asset management systems worldwide.

Jaren worked for nearly 10 years in the industry. He started his career with FedEx but he later also worked with companies like USPS and Deutsche Post.

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