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Ean 13. History and Purpose

EAN-13 is a linear barcode type most commonly used outside America, particularly in European countries. EAN-13 is an abbreviation for European Article Number which is now called International Article Number. EAN-13 contains 13 consecutive and fixed digits in total. The first 2, 3 digits of the EAN-13 code represent the country code next 9, 10 digits represent the manufacturer code and the product code while the last digits are the checksum digits. The total 13 digits of the EAN-13 barcode are divided into two equal parts of 12 digits by a guard bar in the center.

EAN barcodes are used globally for wholesale ordering, scanning at retail points of sale, accounting, and other uses. EAN-13, therefore, serves several purposes since it was introduced in the 1970s. Taking a look at the history of how EAN-13 was envisioned should shed more insight into the purpose of EAN-13.

EAN 13 History

International Article Numbering Association has designed this EAN-13 barcode type and most of the European countries are using this barcode type. GSI is an international organization for standards. This organization defined the standard for EAN13; however, this type is not used in the USA. Initially, it was developed as Universal Product Code (UPC) with twelve digits in the USA but later on it evolved to 13 characters, 12 digits, and 1 checksum for self-checking.

Barcodes were under the control of the Uniform Product Code Council (UPCC) which was formed in 1973. The following year, 1974, the first live scan was done on a 10-pack of gum in a supermarket in Ohio. The gum had the UPC barcode with a numbering system which is now commonly seen on many products.

George Laurer was the one who originally created the 12 digit UPC system in the 1970s establishing the barcode system we have today. UPC barcodes typically work with 2 different parities each with 6 digits, a left side odd parity, and a right side even parity. However, when Europeans adopted his system, they also added an additional left-even parity which was to be used on a selection of the left-hand side digits.

The left and right-hand side of EAN-13 barcodes are still divided into 6 digits each. Hence, in the EAN-13 barcode is the first digit is always placed outside the symbol though it, however, determines the way the other digits are encoded.

In 1997, the Uniform Code Council established project SUNRISE which was an initiative were American as well as Canadian companies would have the new prerequisite of being capable of scanning and processing both EAN-13 symbols and UPC barcodes, at point-of-sale by January 1, 2005. It was an ambitious plan which has since been completed and has shaped the barcode systems.

The Uniform Code Council is now the GS1 US and is responsible for managing the GS1 System of Standards in the USA. They have taken the responsibility of controlling both U.P.C. and EAN numbers. The GS1 was created as a merger between the Uniform Code Council and international bodies.

EAN 13 Purpose

The purpose of EAN-13 was to develop a bar code which can be easily and quickly encoded and decoded. It is for this reason only numeric data can be encoded with EAN-13. This numeric-only encoding scheme fits the bill and EAN-13 can be encoded/ decoded quickly, easily and acute angles.

Additionally, an advantage is that UPC barcodes are easily compatible with EAN-13. This is important since smaller retailers typically have older accounting and inventory systems that keep UPC barcodes still in circulation. However, for larger retailers and more advanced companies, can use both UPC and EAN-13 barcodes. UPC barcodes can be converted into EAN-13 barcodes by inserting 0 as the country code thus making it 13 digits.

In line with its purpose, the EAN-13 is made of 13 consecutive and fixed digits in all which were divided into 4 parts. The GS1 prefix or country code, the manufacturer code, the product code, and the check digit. As it was designed with the purpose of international use in mind, the country code easily gives information about the country of origin of a product while the manufacturer code is unique to every producer.

The product code is a unique code assigned solely by the manufacturer and the check digit is the last number used to confirm if a bar code was scanned correctly through a mathematically determined algebraic equation that creates a checksum.


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