Codabar Barcode. History and Purpose. - ByteScout
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Codabar Barcode. History and Purpose.

Codabar barcode is a one-dimensional barcode initially used for retail applications labeling. The Codabar barcode can encode numeric digits from 0-9 and five characters including Plus (+), Minus (-), Forward slash (/), Colon (:), Dollar symbol ($) and Dot (.).

Apart from numeric digits and the aforementioned character set, Codabar can also encode the first four alphabets from ‘a’ to ‘d’; however, these alphabets can only be used as the start and stop symbols. Codabar barcode is also known as, Code 2 of 7, ANSI/AIM BC3-1995, NW-7, Monarch, Rationalized Codabar, Ames Code, or USD-4.

Codabar History and Purpose

  1. Codabar History
  2. Purpose
  3. Advantages of Codabar
  4. Limitations of Codabar
  5. Codabar Applications
  6. Codabar composition
  7. Codabar security
  8. Skip reading with Codabar

Codabar History

In the year 1972, Pitney Bows Corporation developed a linear barcode which was named Codabar barcode. Codabar was developed with the intent to make it useful in the retail merchandise industry. Later on, National Retail Merchant Association (NRMA) adopted another barcode standard in the year 1975; However, Codabar did not lose its importance because people were now beginning to use it in the medical, educational, and shipping industry as well.


In the early 1970s, the need for a barcode standard was felt which could be printed with a simple dot-matrix printer and could be used on-air bills of FedEx and also on blood-bank documents. It was for this purpose that work on a barcode standard started which could suffice these requirements.

Increased adoption and use for the Codabar barcode since the late 1970s following the difficulties experienced with Monarch Code. The Monarch Code, featuring 18 element widths proved problematic with printers. In 1977, two-width symbology was adopted for Codabar which is now widely used in various sectors.

Advantages of Codabar

Some of the advantages you get with Code 2 of 7 or the Codabar barcode include high printing tolerance; secure as the code type has no information in the gaps between the narrow spaces.  It also has four start/stop combinations that provide for versatility in usage. You could have one combination for a price listing, another for a bargain price, and another for the sale price.

There are some more things to consider:

  • It can be printed on a simple dot-matrix printer.
  • Codabar is an extremely barcode standard. It can be encoded and decoded by all types of printers ranging from simpler to complex ones.
  • Simplest barcode standard, not much user training is required for understanding the encoding and decoding techniques.

Limitations of Codabar

  • It can encode only numeric digits from 0-9 and a small set of characters and alphabets.
  • It has a very small fault tolerance for damages and distortion. It is not easy to recover data even if a small portion of these barcodes is damaged.
  • If a large amount of data has to be stored, like other linear barcode types, its length has to be increased.

Codabar Applications

  • Extensively used in medical and surgical equipment owing to simple encoding and decoding techniques.
  • Used in the shipping industry to recognize the parcels and shipments.
  • Used in educational institutes and academic organizations.
  • Codabar is used by several courier services in order to store information of the sender, receive and the item itself. To read Codabar from scanned documents or photos you can use BarCode Reader SDK as one of the wide-used barcode software.

Codabar composition

The Codabar barcode has 7 elements that consist of 4 bars and 3 spaces. The Codabar ‘s 7 bars and spaces constitute one character with a start/stop character ( A, B, C, or D/ a, b, c, or d) attached at the start and the end of the barcode.

A two-width symbology is used in reference to symbol characters where there are only two elements- narrow and wide.

The Codabar barcode symbology starts with a quiet zone, then a start character followed by one or more functional characters. There is then a symbol check character (optional), a stop character and lastly, another quiet zone.

One interesting fact about Codabar is that even though the 4 bars and 3 spaces vary in sizes, the widths of characters only vary in line with the type of character you encode. In short, the width ratio of these elements remains constant. Note also that Codabar barcode’s use of linear symbols has seen it classified as 1 D-Code barcode.

Codabar security

Codabar barcode has a Self-Checking algorithm that applies to each of the characters in the code. This element of the barcode enhances data security as self-checking makes it highly sensitive to errors.

The algorithm can detect when there are changes within a character. It detects this as an error, which means it doesn’t read the code. It means that although substitution errors can occur, they only do if there are two or more individual errors in one character. But even the substitution errors can be detected if additional Check Character is employed.

Skip reading with Codabar

The likelihood of skip reading with Codabar is a lot less compared to “Interleaved Two of Five” (ITF). Nonetheless, skip reading with Codabar can still happen if the barcode printing is of poor quality. For example, in the instance that one of the spaces gets printed wider than it needs to be, a barcode reader would detect it as a stop character. In this case, there would be skip reading.

But you can avoid possible skip reading by following a recommended approach of having your Codabar settings similar to those of ITF. Use the barcode reader to specify that reading is digit numbers.

Codabar barcode is read by ByteScout BarCode Reader freeware.


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