What is QR code and how does it work?

What is QR Code

So you must have seen those fancy looking black lines, with spaces in between, on product packaging when you visited a supermarket?

No, they aren’t QR codes, they are Bar codes.

QR codes are an innovation one step up from Bar codes.

Let’s find out everything about QR codes.

What is a QR code?

QR code stands for Quick Response Code.

A QR code usually looks like:

QR code for this  webpage

In fact, scanning the above QR code will lead you to this article you are reading.

Seems amazing, right?

QR code incorporates many such functionalities I will tell you about, in a short while.

A QR code is a two-dimensional arrangement of square grids (black and white squares) that can be used to store a multitude of information.

It is called quick response because despite storing such a plethora of information, each one can be read very easily and with 10x greater speed than a bar code.

Almost all modern smartphones have an integrated QR code reader/scanner (like IOS 11).

You can judge the abilities of this code by imagining the fact that it is capable of storing up to 4296 characters of text.

You can also embed special characters and punctuation marks into it.

Let us look at a brief history of how QR code came into existence.

How was the QR code developed?

The innovation of these 2-D barcodes can be traced to Japan, where automobile manufacturers needed to track their vehicles and the parts that they sold.

Masahiro Hara, along with his team, thought of a technology that could fulfill individual tracking of products with more information than the barcode.

Masahiro Hara - developer of QR code
Masahiro Hara

In 1994, he introduced the world to QR code.

Since then, it has been a registered trademark of DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED.

Since the company did not maintain a patent for the technology itself, it eventually transformed as an open source technology.

QR code was even included in the ISO International Standards in 2000, meaning that now it could be used globally without any restrictions.

If you want to know some interesting facts about QR codes, read the next section.

Facts about QR code

  1. It is regarded as Automatic Identification and Data Capturing Technology by ISO Standards.
  2. It is versatile and can store information in both horizontal and vertical patterns.
  3. Its orientation and presence can be quickly identified in an image.
  4. It can digitally present much more data than its perceived size.
  5. It is easily scannable by cell phones, without the need for a specific reading device.
  6. Search Engines like Google simply treat them as images.
  7. It can contain any combination of objects out of 4000 numbers, symbols, and letters.

Structure of QR code

Every QR code consists of 7 parts that frame data into its format.

Here is the full list:

NameFunction
Position Detection MarkersIndicate the direction in which code is printed.
Alignment MarkingsHelp to configure code drawn on a curved surface.
Timing PatternHelp Scanner to know how big the data matrix is.
Version InformationOut of 40 versions of QR codes, tells about the version of code.
Format InformationDetermines error tolerance and data mask pattern.
Data and Error Correction KeysContains all encoded data and error correction mechanism.
Quiet ZoneTo distinguish QR code from its surroundings.

Out of these 7 parts, 3 can be identified very easily.

#1 Position Detection Markers

These boxes are located at three corners of the code. They help the reader accurately recognize the code and in its speedy comprehension.

QR code - Position Detection Markers

#2 Alignment Markings 

This is a block that helps interpret code drawn on a curved surface by straightening it for the scanner.

It is smaller than the Position Detection Markers.

QR code - Alignment Markings

#3 Quiet Zone 

This works as a separator for the code and helps specify the boundaries of the code square.

This way, it enhances the readability of the code.

QR code - Quiet Zone

Types of QR code

On the basis of method of information storage, QR codes can be classified into:

#1 Static QR code

  • This type of code has some fixed information encoded into it.
  • Its content cannot be changed once the code has been generated.
  • The size of the code increases with the amount of data stored, and the structure becomes more complex. It will then require more alignment patterns.

#2 Dynamic QR code

  • Content is not directly embedded into the code.
  • To store some information, a short redirection URL is assigned to it and the URL is encoded into the code.
  • Updating, changing, and editing of the information is allowed as many times as u wish.
  • The assigned short URL itself can’t be changed, but the destination content can be changed.
  • It remains small in size, and this facilitates its integration in print and packaging design.

What is QR code used for?

A variety of information can be encoded into a QR code. Some major examples are:

  1. Contact details in business cards
  2. Business identities
  3. Images and Gallery of pictures
  4. PDF documents
  5. Location and Navigation data via geo-coordinates
  6. Sounds and Video playlists
  7. Coupons and offer details
  8. Website visit URLs
  9. Product and company details
  10. Plain Text
  11. Events and competition details
  12. Social profile links

If you own a business, you can generate a product ID for each of your products for easy access to users.

You can even add a Google Analytics Tracking ID to track conversions.

In fact, we have assigned a QR code for this article (attached at the top of the article).

What this means is that anybody can scan that QR code and land on this page.

Let’s head on to a special Q&A section for some additional information related to QR codes.

Q&A

Q.1 Can 2 QR codes be the same?

Ans. QR code is always unique.

Even if you generate codes putting in the same data twice, these two will lend you the same information but may appear different visually.

Also, different generators will lend codes that appear different but lead to the same content. 

This is simply because they may be using different versions of QR code (in total, there are 40 versions).

So, two QR codes can lead to the same information, but don’t necessarily look the same visually.

Q.2 Do QR codes expire?

Ans. Static QR codes do not expire in any way. They are permanent codes.

However, the life span and usage of a QR code largely depends on the generator you may have used to encode it.

In dynamic URLs too, if a QR code points to a URL that doesn’t exist now, then the QR code will not open that webpage/resource.

In such a case, the destination content has expired, not the code itself.

Q.3 What can be changed in a QR code?

Ans. The destination of a dynamic QR code can be changed at any time, even if you have printed the code somewhere.

The new information will still be accessible with the same code.

Q.4 Is QR code safe ?

Ans. QR codes cannot be hacked because they dont have any executable program data.

QR code is largely considered secure because it’s just like an image.

To adjust any changes to it require access to the user account that created it in the first place.

Such manipulation is not possible because the code contains no data about the user account.

Q.5 Can you fake a QR code?

Ans. Anybody and everybody can generate a QR code containing any kind of information with ease.

Because of the availability of such free tools, faking a QR code is a pretty easy job.

You can manipulate data with your choice and present it online.

Conclusion

Uses of QR code can be endless. It can be used to access any kind of digitally available information you could imagine of.

One amazing fact is coming your way 🙂

Even if a QR code print is damaged, its data keys use error correction mechanism inherently.

Because of these data duplications, upto 30 % of damage to the code will not have any impact on it.

These redundancies help readers and scanners to check the code even if it is damaged.

What this means is that a QR code will work even if it is blurred, if you take a screenshot, if you laminate it, and even if you had thrown your cell phone to get it’s screen cracked.

One more fun fact for QR code is here 😉

QR codes aren’t restricted to Black and White (colors of the old age), other colors can be used to make it feel lively.

I hope you would have known everything about QR codes you ever wanted to.

Also, be sure to come up with your own ideas to use QR codes and share with us in the comments below.

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