What Are QR Codes and How Do You Scan Them?

What Are QR Codes and How Do You Scan Them?
8 min read
05 October 2023

What is a QR code?

QR codes, short for Quick Response codes, are 2D barcodes that store data in a square grid of black and white squares or modules. Originally invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Japanese company, QR codes have gained widespread use for their ability to store various types of information, such as URLs, text, contact details, or commands. They can be scanned and decoded swiftly by smartphones and other QR code readers, making them a versatile tool for accessing digital content, sharing information, and facilitating transactions in various fields, from marketing and retail to logistics and mobile payments.

If you've employed a QR code to establish a connection to a Wi-Fi network or display a menu on your mobile device, you might perceive these square codes as a form of contemporary enchantment. Nonetheless, they were originally devised in 1994 by the Japanese automobile manufacturer Denso Wave. Initially, QR codes were implemented to enable high-speed scanning and monitoring of components during the manufacturing process.

Although the meaning of QR codes has evolved as compatible technology has matured to provide new ways to engage customers, most QR codes (also called qcodes) are designed simply to transmit URLs. 

How do QR codes work?

In today's digital age, the demand for efficient data encoding and sharing is on the rise. This is where a QR code generator comes into play. A QR code generator is a valuable tool that simplifies the process of creating QR codes, which can store various types of information. Whether it's for business cards, marketing materials, or contactless payment systems, a reliable QR code generator empowers businesses to quickly and effectively share data with their audience."

If you're adept at using a laser reader to scan barcodes, you're essentially familiar with the process of scanning QR codes. The primary distinction lies in the hardware employed for reading. Unlike the linear arrangement of traditional barcodes, QR codes have the capacity to contain significantly more information due to their dual vertical and horizontal encoding.

All QR codes have a standard structure that makes information readable. Let’s break it down

  • Quiet Zone: The empty white border around the outside of a QR code.
  • Hinder pattern: The three black squares in the bottom-left, top-left, and top-right corners.
  • Alignment pattern: a small square near the bottom-right corner, which ensures the QR code can be read, even if it’s skewed or at an angle.
  • Timing pattern: an L-shaped line that helps to identify individual squares within the whole code, making it possible for a damaged QR code to be read.
  • Version information: identifies which version of the QR code is being read.
  • Data cells: The rest of the QR code communicates the actual information—the URL, phone number, or other data.

Usually, you don’t need to use a special QR app scanner—smartphones will link to the content in the QR code when you point your camera app at it. If you’re offline or think you’ll need to access the code again, taking a picture of it will make the QR code scan again when you view it later.

Types of QR codes

Besides every QR code being completely distinct, various types of QR codes exist. Certain ones consist solely of black and white squares, whereas others feature specific symbols at their core. Although all QR codes fulfill the same fundamental purpose, some vary in their methods of interpreting and recording data.

Here are some different types of QR codes for links, tracking data, and other info:

  1. QR code: The original version of the QR code created by Denso Wave in the 1990s.
  2. Aztec code: contains concentric squares in the center and doesn’t require a “quiet zone” around the edge.
  3. Maxi code: used by the US postal service.
  4. PDF417: A mix between a QR code and a barcode
  5. Semacode: has no need for the components of a QR code, like the hinder pattern.

Each of these QR formats has different pros and cons, like varying levels of readability when part of the encoded image is damaged or different amounts of data that can be stored in a given amount of space.

A QR code’s data capacity is determined by storage type, or “mode.” Here are the various storage modes a QR code app can read:

  1. Numeric mode: A string of numbers.
  2. Alphanumeric mode: A string of numbers and letters.
  3. Byte mode: 8-bit single-byte code.
  4. Kanji mode: Japanese characters.

QR code examples

There are all sorts of uses for QR codes beyond accessing restaurant menus and validating concert tickets. For example, by making information more readily accessible, QR codes can help improve education practices and enable more integrated healthcare systems.

  1. Product packaging: These QR codes can reveal nutritional information or special offers.
  2. Customer support: Quickly scanning QR codes can help customers access customer support more quickly.
  3. Coronavirus tracing: In the UK, as in many other countries, visitors to hospitality venues are invited to scan a QR code upon arrival using a Covid-19 track and trace app.
  4. Postal services: QR codes can help you or your postal service track packages and other shipments.
  5. Education: Schools use QR codes to help engage with students and locate resources.
  6. Social media: People can easily share social media profiles and specific content via 24fps QR codes.

Third-party apps

Using third-party scanning apps for mobile isn't recommended. Most smartphones already come with fully integrated, safe, and effective QR scanning technology, and using untrusted apps may compromise your privacy and security. It’s also needlessly complicated—why not just open the camera, point, and scan?

Are QR codes safe?

QR codes themselves are generally safe, as they are just a means of encoding data in a two-dimensional format. However, the safety of a QR code depends on the content it links to. Here are some considerations:

  1. Content Source: The safety of a QR code depends on the source of the code. If the QR code is from a trusted and reputable source, it is more likely to be safe. Be cautious with QR codes from unknown or suspicious sources, especially if they are shared in unsolicited emails or on unverified websites.
  2. Content Verification: Before scanning a QR code, take a moment to check where it leads. Most smartphone camera apps will display the URL or information contained in the QR code before you follow the link. Verify that the content is legitimate and safe.
  3. Phishing Risks: QR codes can potentially be used for phishing attacks. For example, a malicious QR code could lead to a fake website designed to steal your personal information. Always be cautious when scanning QR codes, especially those that request sensitive information.
  4. App Permissions: Be mindful of the permissions you grant to apps when using QR code scanners. Some QR code scanner apps may request access to your camera, location, or other information. Make sure you trust the app and its developer before granting such permissions.
  5. Malware Risks: While QR codes themselves cannot directly install malware on your device, they can lead to websites or apps that may contain malicious content. Keep your device's operating system and security software up to date to protect against malware.
  6. Physical Security: In some cases, malicious individuals may place fraudulent QR codes over legitimate ones. For example, they could place a fake QR code on a product label to redirect users to a malicious website. Always scan QR codes from trusted and secure sources.

In summary, QR codes are generally safe when used responsibly, but it's essential to exercise caution and follow best practices when scanning them. Verify the source and content of QR codes before scanning, and be cautious about sharing personal or sensitive information through QR codes.

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Marry rose 3
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