All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?

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August 12, 2019
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All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?

What Is a QR Code?

A QR code is a matrix barcode that stores information. It is a two-dimensional barcode that encodes over 4,000 characters and can handle more data than an average barcode, plus they come in various sizes and formats. These codes can also store various pieces of identifying data, including alphanumeric data and some foreign symbols.

QR Code Example (What is a QR code)
An example of a QR code (All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?)

You will recognize a QR code by its distinct shape and appearance. The code is square and features a few black and white boxes or modules in a random pattern. You’ll also notice a few black boxes with white and black borders on a few corners. All these parts work together to store information and to help an imaging device read the code in seconds.

You can read QR codes in moments, as most smartphones have built-in QR code scanners in the camera or can utilize apps that read these codes. The box is easy to read and can work even if part of it is damaged. It is also easier to scan a QR code than a traditional barcode, as a device can read the QR code from any angle.

What Does QR Stand For?

QR stands for “Quick Response.” The name comes from how it doesn’t take long for a scanner or app to read a QR code and access to the information that is held within the code.

History of QR Code?

QR codes were invented in 1994 in Japan by Denso Wave for use in the automotive industry, specifically for Toyota. The ability of the code to store a variety of characters and more data than a traditional barcode makes it a popular tool to track parts during manufacturing processes, as people still use it to track parts today. Each item can come with a unique code that contains all the details surrounding whatever part one uses.

QR codes quickly rose in popularity to sectors outside of the automotive industry, where people can use it for many other purposes. This is due to the fact that they can quickly be read, have greater storage capacity when compared to standard UPC barcodes, and have been utilized in a broader context within many sectors of business and industry.

How QR codes were invented (All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?)

Related: Check out our blog post on the history of QR code.

What are the Uses of QR Codes?

QR codes have become popular because of their versatility and ease of use. Here are some of the many ways how people can use QR codes today:

  • Link to a website, download, social media page, or ecommerce store.
  • Direct users to specific multimedia contents.
  • Lead users to an online food menu or food ordering website/app.
  • Login into a website.
  • Join a Wi-Fi network.
  • Send and receive payment.
  • Linking to an obituary.
  • Add a vCArd to contact.
  • Send a text, email or WhatsApp message
  • Display text
  • Integrate with rewards or loyalty programs.
  • Confirm authenticity of products with a QR code to prevent counterfeit/fraud.
  • Trace products and how they are used.
  • Use with augmented reality systems to determine the positions of objects.
Sending payment with QR code (All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?)

Related: Check out our blog post on the 14 QR code types.

How Does a QR Code Work?

The Scanning Process

A QR code works like a traditional barcode. You can scan the code to identify information that connects to the code. You can use a smartphone camera and a corresponding QR code reader app to read a QR code.

The code reader will review the unique black and white boxes that make up the code. Those spots represent unique pieces of data that link to that code. The reader will scan the code and translate the encoded data.

The specific pieces of data inside the QR code can include letters, numbers, or binary code. It can also feature Kanji characters utilized in Japanese writings.

QR Code Features

You’ll find an assortment of quality features in a QR code:

  • A QR code can store more data than a barcode. While a barcode can store about 20 digits on average, a QR code can store thousands of characters. You could store up to 7,089 characters as necessary.
  • You can print a QR code on a small surface. It can be smaller than a barcode, but a scanner can still read it in seconds.
  • You can store Kanji or Kana characters if necessary. The QR code was originally developed in Japan, thus making this a necessity for its work. Each character will be distinct and easy for someone to read.
  • The error correction functionality in the code ensures you can read it even if part of the code is damaged. You could read the code even if a third of it is dirty, damaged, or otherwise missing.
  • The position detection patterns on the QR code let you scan the code from any direction. It provides a useful approach to scanning, as you don’t have to scan it in one direction like if you were managing a QR code.
  • You can combine data stored in multiple QR codes and combine it into one symbol. You can divide a QR code into up to sixteen symbols.

Parts of a QR Code

A QR code is the sum of its many parts. Here are some of the things you’ll find in a QR code:

  • Margin / Quiet Zone – The margin or quiet zone is the white border outside the code. The lining distinguishes the code from other items on the space, making it easier to read.
  • Position Detection Pattern / Finder Pattern – The position detection pattern or finder pattern entails boxes on three corners of the QR code. These appear on each corner except for the bottom-right one. The squares signal to the QR reader that it is reviewing a QR code. It shows the outside boundaries of the code.
  • Alignment Pattern – The bottom-right corner will feature a small box. This box is the alignment symbol, which produces a pattern for the reader to analyze. The array allows the code to be read even when bent, at an angle, or otherwise damaged.
  • Timing Pattern – The timing pattern is an invisible line that connects the three boxes on the finder pattern. The pattern helps the reader review the squares throughout the code. It helps repeat the data throughout the code, ensuring the reader can identify the QR code even if part of it is missing, damaged, or otherwise obscured.
  • Version Information – The version information appears near the top-right finder pattern box. The small series of boxes next to that top-right spot will list the specific QR code a reader is reviewing at a time.
  • Data Cells – The data cells are the various black and white squares you’ll find in the middle of the code. These squares are also known as modules. These cells store the message or other feature that the QR code contains.
QR code symbol structure (What is a QR Code?)
QR code symbol structure (All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?)

All these features will work together to produce a QR code that contains unique information. More importantly, these points ensure the QR code is easy to read and that it has enough room for all the things you wish to load or read at a time.

The Four QR Code Input Modes

The amount of data you can store in a QR code will vary surrounding the input mode type you utilize. But the amount you can utilize here will be significantly greater than what you might get in a barcode.

The mode you use will determine how the code stores the data. The reader will identify the mode by reviewing the version information segment in the code.

Here’s a look at the four types of QR code input modes you can manage:

  • Numeric – Numeric data entails digits ranging from 0 to 9. You can store up to 7,089 numeric characters in a code.
  • Alphanumeric – You can add uppercase letters, various symbols, and spaces alongside numeric digits. But you can only store up to 4,296 characters here.
  • Byte – The byte mode entails characters in the ISO-8859-1 set. The characters here are ASCII-based standard characters that have been in use since 1987. The system can support various foreign characters, including ones found in the Spanish, Italian, Malay, Tagalong, and Irish languages. You can store up to 2,953 characters in this format.
  • Kanji – The last mode entails the Kanji characters used in the Japanese language. These are double-byte characters that work in the Shift JIS set. This original system is not as effective, as it can only handle up to 1,817 characters. But the Kanji characters will still be distinguishable from one another in this set.
  • Extended Channel Interpretation – This bonus mode works with the UTF-8 Kanji character set. The system provides a more readable Kanji layout, although some modern QR code readers will not support this set.

Dynamic vs. Static QR Code

You can find both dynamic and static QR codes today. A static code is one where the data in that code is fixed. You cannot change the data or anything else in the code once you create it. But a dynamic code lets you update it as necessary, plus you can track how many times people scan it and when they scan the code and other factors.

Symbol Sizes

QR codes can work in many sizes. You can produce a more massive QR code if you need to store more data. A code that handles more content will require more modules.

The smallest possible QR code has a 21×21 size (version 1). The measure says there are 21 modules in both the horizontal and vertical arrays. The most massive one is a 177×177 design (version 40) that can store up to 7,089 numeric characters.

Comparison between version 1 QR code (21 x 21 modules) and version 40 QR code (177 x 177 modules) (What is a QR Code?)
Comparison between version 1 QR code (21 x 21 modules) and version 40 QR code (177 x 177 modules) (All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?)

Error Correction Method

The error correction method process is critical to ensuring the QR code stays functional. The code can be altered with a unique logo or other display feature, and it can still work if the proper error correction method works.

QR codes use the Reed-Solomon Method to identify data. It will decode a message by reviewing the positions and magnitudes of errors versus the rest of the data on the code. It will not correct these errors, but it will identify them and review the other features on the nearby code. The process improves how well you can read the content on the code.

But the Reed-Solomon Method will only be effective enough depending on its layout. You will have the check the specific error correction level on your QR code to see how much of your code can be obscured while still being capable of working. A code with an H level of coverage can have up to 30 percent of its code covered at a time, for example. Meanwhile, a Q-level code can have 25 percent of its code covered. An M-level code can work with 15 percent of the code obscured, while an L-level code will have up to 7 percent covered.

How Does One Create a QR Code?

A QR code generator program or website can help you create a QR code. You can produce a code that can store whatever bits of data you wish to handle, including:

  • A link to a website
  • An email address that you can send something to
  • Specific physical coordinates that link to a map program
  • A Wi-Fi network someone can link to; this can include the network type and password
  • Access to a digital payment account for sending or receiving funds

You’ll need to enter all the necessary information for producing your QR code. You may notice when adding data that the QR code can become more detailed after a while. You could even add a logo, a frame, or a creating design to your code if you wish. A code can even come in a different color besides black and white if you prefer.

After entering your data, you’ll need to test your code to ensure it works. You can then print out or distribute your code if it works well.

Related: Check out our blog post on how to create a QR code free.

Explore Our Creator

QR codes are unique for being easier to read than barcodes. They can handle more data, plus they use unique layouts to help you find data as necessary. The best part is that it is easy for you to create distinct codes that contain everything you want to share with others. Check out our QR code generator to see how you can produce a distinct QR code. We can help you create a new code that includes all the things you need to add.


Credits for images use in this article ‘All You Need to Know About What is a QR Code and How Does It Work?’

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Photo by David Dvořáček on Unsplash

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